I had been to Clarke Quay a couple of times and had waited for my friends at the infamous taxi stand known for the touts that always target foreigners, particularly Indonesian tourists.

I observed the same situation at Harbour Front, where touts were also spotted, usually targeting tourists who just came back from a short trip from one of the islands.

However, this touting seemed to have stop at Clarke Quay, where now you see a long snake queue of taxi instead. I have not been down, so I am not sure of the truth of the article. Perhaps I’ll just pop by to see one of these days, but I wonder if the effect of the LTA’s stiffer rules will still be felt. After all, it only takes 1 taxi driver to call their bluff.

In a refreshing change from the norm, cabs were waiting for passengers at taxi stands, and commuters in the Central Business District (CBD) did not have to wait more than 10 minutes for a taxi most of the time during the evening peak hour yesterday.

It was Day One of the new and harsher penalty regime against rogue taxi drivers.

With the Land Transport Authority (LTA) continuing its operations yesterday to weed out errant cabbies who solicit for, overcharge or refuse to pick up passengers — the numbers will be revealed at a later date — the situation at various hotspots and CBD taxi stands Today visited showed that the new penalties seem to have had the desired effect.

At Lucky Plaza, at least five cabs could be seen queueing at the taxi stand at any one time. Today did not spot any of the drivers turning away passengers.

At tourist hotspot Clarke Quay, there seemed to be no sign of limousine taxis touting for commuters — a vast difference from last month, when newspapers carried reports that these touts would only accept passengers who were willing to cough up the exorbitant fares they quoted.

According to several customers who frequent the numerous pubs and eateries around the area, the situation seems to have improved after the LTA intensified its clampdown on errant cabbies about a month ago.

Errant drivers now face higher fines, more demerit points and suspensions of their vocational driving licences.

For example, a taxi driver who refuses to pick up passengers will now have to pay a $300 fine, and will get six demerit points and an immediate two-week suspension — compared to a $100 fine and three demerit points previously.

But will the stiffer penalties deter errant conduct for good?

Said Englishman Terry Malone, 61, an expatriate who has been working here for eight years and who said he has been approached by taxi touts in the past: "There’s always a shock value when tougher measures are introduced, but if it’s to be a long-term solution, these measures have to be consistently enforced."

Some commuters felt that the new penalties may address the symptoms, but not cure the problem. They felt that cabbies are "forced" to turn to illegal methods because it is hard for them to earn a living.

Said banker Ms Linda Chua, 32: "Fuel prices have increased and whether they work or not, they still have to pay the rental. Maybe the authorities should look at ways, like subsidies, to go easy on taxi drivers’ pockets."

Article obtained from todayonline.com on 20th November 2007

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