A Possible Solution to the Taxi problem in Singapore

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Finally, some people cannot take it anymore about the taxi problem in Singapore (Check out this article by Tabitha Wang in Today). Of course, we have heard countless complaints about taxi drivers ranging from their bad service to profit mongering during peak hours. I am giving the government a break by acknowledging the civil servants must have worked out all possible scenarios in their meeting room to come to the present set of transport policies. However, the picture from the ground is clearly opposite to what they have in mind.

Here is the problem cut down into one paragraph. There are many customers during the peak hours and there are finite number of taxis. In order to create incentive for the taxi drivers to fetch customers, the taxi companies increase the surcharge and the number of taxis after clearing permission from the Ministry of Transport. Strange enough, till today, people are still complaining. Why is it so?

The reason is because the taxi drivers have beaten the system. First of all, the taxi drivers gave excuses for not fetching some people because the distance is too far. For example, a taxi driver finds no incentive to drive someone up from the city to Jurong because he would have difficulty finding an customer such that he can enter back into the city. So, as a result, most drivers, after sending their first customer out of the city, are wasting time hovering around the town areas like Jurong, Ang Mo Kio, Pasir Ris and Yishun. Second, the surcharge system is abused blatantly. During peak hours, you are likely to get a SilverCab or a SMRT cab than getting a Comfort-Delgero cab (both the blue and the yellow ones). The reason is the phone booking system and the surcharges. Since the blue and yellow Comfort cabs make up the bulk of the taxi population, the tendency is for a rogue taxi driver to sit out and wait for the phone call so that he or she can earn a few dollars more. As Tabitha Wang puts it clearly, having surcharges actually encourage bad behaviour by penalising good cabbies. In fact, the cab drivers made it blatant to have their supper between 10.30 to 11.30 pm such that they will pick up all those poor people waiting outside Clarke Quay after that time with the surcharge.

So, is there a possible solution to the problem to solve both problems? Yes, the solution is simple – take away the surcharges during peak hours and force the taxi drivers to compete fairly. By doing that, you reduce the chances of bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. In fact, we need to do one more thing to make it work, that is hold the taxi companies responsible for their bad behaviour. Our government should find a way to impose fines on the taxi companies (since they are clearly the largest benefactors and not the taxi drivers) for bad services.

Author’s Note: I totally support Tabitha’s suggestion that in setting up a website to publish the licence plate numbers of those who cruise along empty but refuse to pick up passengers. In fact, the citizen journalists can clearly help with their phone cameras and video cameras.

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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist