Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How much is that again?

$2.80, $3, $3.20, and now $3.80. Taxi fares in Singapore have gone mad. So too the people who allow this state of affairs to carry on. What are these numbers, you ask? Those in Singapore who have boarded a taxi in the last month or so will know. Just 3 weeks ago, I boarded a cab and was taken aback when the meter read $3.80. I learnt later that taxi companies have decided unilaterally to impose an increase in flag down fares for newer models of it fleet of cars because of the extraordinary prices that these cars were acquired, no thanks to the COE system of buying a car in Singapore. An occasional taxi commuter wouldn't able to determine this type of taxis when they stick out their hands to flag for one traveling towards them. More often than not, they'd just have to pay the going rate because it is still quite difficult to get another taxi. From the consumer point of view, this whole system is blatantly unfair.
Today we insist on fair employment practices, but the powers that be seem happy to let this discriminatory taxi fare practice to take place. I believe all taxi flag down rates need to be approved by the authorities. But their stance is that taxi companies are free to set their rates because they are private enterprises, never mind that other private transport operators such as buses and trains do not have such discretion.
What riles me particularly is that you cannot pick and choose the cab you take in a queue. It appears that there is a gentleman's agreement among cab drivers that the cab in the front of the queue must be boarded first. The ones behind this cab will refuse to take you even though the reason why a commuter would want to do so is because the flag down fare is lower. The only way is to let others willing to pay the higher fare to board first until you get to the desired taxi. What if I am the only one in the queue?
And it is not as if the cab drivers are benefitting from this discriminatory pricing. They don't earn more as the rental of these newer cabs are higher. So who are making away with the increases? The taxi companies of course. But since they pay for the sky high COEs, the one which ultimately makes the money is the Government, no? We're already suffering from increasing costs. Why do the governed have to bear this cost, especially when those who take the cab likely do not own a car?
Fairness is not a hallmark of life in Singapore.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wayang wayang

In Singapore, we like to wayang. The latest show we want every business to put on is that they must show fairness in their recruitment advertisements. This means that the ads cannot contain words like 'fresh graduates', 'Permanent Residents', 'foreigners', 'women', etc. You just shouldn't, not can't, be too specific in who you are looking for. The exception is the word 'Singaporean'. Now this is allowed. It's the golden word. The mother of all words. I don't know what our HR professionals must be thinking. I for one think its ridiculous. Its plain and simple stupid. Even our highly educated senior government ministers are singing the same tune. I am calling this a wayang because you can don't use those words in the ads, but when the recruiter shortlists applicants for interviews, only specific people will be invited, no? Looked at another way, you are giving false hopes to people. The more job seekers do not get replies, the more demoralize they will get.

Thus this policy causes people to waste a lot of time writing in when they aren't suitable to start off with, and wasting recruiters' time having to sift through a larger than necessary pile of applications. The result will probably be no different from employers' original intentions anyway. I am sure we have something more meaningful and productive to occupy our minds.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wi Wait?

SBSTransit reportedly plan to install internet access points in it train stations so that commuters can surf the internet for free. But the caveat is that once you get onto their trains, you are on your own. No internet signal will be available inside the train. In this case, you will likely have to switch back to your 3G or 4G data plans.

If this is the case, I find this exercise a waste of time and resource. No commuter wants to stay a second more in the station if he has a choice. The shorter the wait for the next train, the better. So who really would benefit from the free Wi-Fi? And even if the WiFi proves useful, it will be short-lived and ultimately useless.

It appears from reports that the real reason for this largesse is data collection more than anything else, This can be quite sinister, especially when the user is not informed of what is going on behind the scene. But maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe the train company has nothing but good intentions. But as it stands, this is really a half-baked idea.

Go the full distance, I say, just like what Hong Kong and Japan have done. Make whatever you invest in useful to your customers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Speaking in tongues

Over the last year or so, the Singapore government has scaled back on the once highly generous policy of giving out various types of employment permits, which has caused the population to swell to unacceptable levels - in terms of exceeding public infrastructure capacity (read crowded trains/buses, skyhigh property prices and crowded public places (eg. Little India)).

The other bugbear is the unease that locals feel when they are served in restaurants and shops. More often than not, they are greeted by foreign-sounding English speakers. Some speak in barely comprehensible English, like yesterday in a hardware store. This local Chinese woman (you know she is local because she spoke in unmistakable Singaporean English) asked about a product she was looking for. The sales assistant was obviously a non-local Chinese, very likely China Chinese, judging by his incomprehensible English and intonation. Needless to say, the woman asked for someone else whom she could understand in English.

Granted this has been happening for some time now. But can we not have some patience in these encounters, I wonder? No matter what one thinks of foregners in our midst, at least you cannot but admire these people who are trying hard to learn the language. In this instance he could have switched to Chinese, as another sales assistant did when he conversed with me. But he bravely attempted in whatever English he knew. Admittedly his English was atrocious, but I could still understand some of what he was saying. Frankly all it would require is just clarify whatever is not clear. My father could not speak a full sentence in English, but he worked for the British for well over twenty years though obviously not in a position that required constant conversation in the language. It is incredible how arrogant we Singaporeans have become. We are bilingual, but never use this ability to bettter understand foreigners in our midst. Sometimes I really wonder what all those years of learning in the rigorous  Singapore education system has produced?

One must admire those who try, and help them become better in that process of learning. Isn't this what we would want our teachers to do for us and our children?