Friday, December 07, 2007

Gim Kopi

Last evening, I was at the Singapore General Hospital due to an emergency in the family. Eventually, I stayed up to 11pm before I left. The taxi seemed the only way home, which is located at the north-east of the island. I was just too tired to manage walking out to the MRT since the free internal bus service had stopped its services for the day.

Fortunately the queue wasn't very long, I was the third in line. The place was very quiet and I didn't see many taxis around. I began to worry. What if my wait took me over the hour? Then I would need to pay 1.5 times the usual amount. Somehow, in the quiet of the night, with no taxi in sight, your imagination becomes more vivid. Then a taxi whiz pass. Its 'For Hire' lights were not on, but I looked closely and saw no one in the cab except the driver. Oh well...

Then two women joined the queue just behind me, followed by several others who didn't join the queue. I had a sense of dread. Don't tell me these people are going to spoil my wait and beat the queue by booking for a cab? Whenever people did that, taxis just don't show up at all! I surmise that taxi drivers would be alerted to 'booking' business and would thus have no incentive whatsoever to drive up to any taxi queue until and unless called upon. Fortunately, these people 'cleared out' in private cars that came by to pick them up.

Still no sign of a cab. Then I notice the same cab I had seen whiz by before whiz by again - still with no passenger on board. This time, the two women behind me also noticed this. One of them said, rather sarcastically, that the driver is probably going for his Kopi fix before he would pick up any passenger at midnight. Well, it seemed to me that if that were true, he had been drinking his kopi in his car for a while. I thought this cruising around would have stopped with the skyrocketing price of petrol. It seemed that, whether deserved or not, local taxi drivers have gained a notoreity about 'disappearing just before midnight to reappear miraculously at the stroke of the hour. I just didn't want to believe this would happen to me last night, but the cynicism of these women was telling.

This is nothing new. It's been happening for a long long time. Its just that it almost happened to me last night. No wonder that Singaporeans NEED to own a car, probably for occasions like these. Something has gone very wrong in the way cabbies and taxi operators provide their services. I dare say these errant behaviour can be traced back to the people who set the policies and police the transport industry on this island. It is all a sad state of affairs. In Beijing or Shanghai, I wouldn't have this problem. That this has persisted for so long without a resolution to the problem is a crime.

If this is what a world-class transportation system is shaping up to be, I would rather have none of it. Just give me an honest, hardworking cabby and we can toss the world-class thing out the window.


James Chia said...

Lucky it's not raining then else your mood would be even worse!

Epilogos said...

Yeah, if it had rained, as it has been raining heavily these days, all of us would have had no choice but to whip out our cellphones and called for a cab.

God, not luck, was on my side that night...

Anonymous said...

Only top civil servants' pay in Singapore is truly World Class.

Anonymous said...

Hi host.

Host is this the first time u encounter such a problem? It seems to be so. This problem has been around for ages actually. the taxi companies happily slap surcharges after surcharges but providing solutions for one problem only leads to another. But I daresay the problem is not as endemic as you think it is, because there are also quite a few good cabbies around who don't resort to this. Also like what you have said, the driving around aimlessly is very petrol costly so the problem is not so much waiting for the midnight hour to strike as
waiting for people to start booking for cabs. This is the real devil and it happens everywhere, even in town. empty cabs would circle around until the exasperated customer-would-be starts to call for one. this is the failure of our taxi market. This situation is extremely tricky and frankly speaking rather difficult to tackle.