Taxi fare hike revisited

Singapore December 22nd, 2007

I was late for a send off this morning and had to take a taxi to the airport. Yes, it’s dreadful to think about the exorbitant amount that I have to pay to get to the airport.

So what did I do? I called a cab. Yes, that’s about the only other option I have. However, being a weekend morning – especially a Saturday morning, shouldn’t be getting a cab pretty easy? Well yes, however, I’d probably have to pay through my nose with all the increase in taxi fare! Calling cabs would in fact reduce this.

An oxymoron? Not quite. You see, Premier Silvercab taxis are the only taxis that have yet to raise their metered rates. I figure that despite paying an additional $2.50, I’d still be able to save a fair bit on the distance traveled.

True enough, while I didn’t calculate the exact raise in terms of metered fare (now with their 20 cents jump instead of a 10 cents jump) in addition to a complex tiered fare, I compared my metered fare to one with a 12% increase – and that worked out to be about the same fare if I were to add in the booking fee! In addition, because there is minimal waiting time (which is really the killer in the recent hike), this does not reflect the savings that I get. All in all, my fare worked out to be about S$19.00 inclusive of booking fee. This means that I would have to travel for at least $16.50 based on the normal fare before I can quantify booking for a cab. Hmm… either way, I lose.

Anyway, one of my readers left a message defending the taxi driver that took a break for 7 minutes so that he can earn that extra S$4.00. While I empathize with the possible situation that the driver could be in, I am unable to condone this kind of behavior. As another reader puts it, if the taxi drivers are choosing their passengers, then life couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Someone once told me that being a taxi driver is really the last job that anyone would want to take. To a certain degree, I have to agree with that statement because the driver is literally stuck behind his wheels the entire day – with no time for a proper meal or a break and having to work when people are not. Of course, the converse may be true but I am in no position to postulate that. However, as I have mentioned, if the drivers choose to play the market by waiting for peak hours so as to earn the extra surcharge, he is in effect breaking the law. If you see such drivers, you should just call 1800-CALL-LTA. Am I heartless? Perhaps. However, as I have mentioned, if everyone gives in to the taxi drivers, who are going to give in to the passengers. Mind you, not every passenger is getting a pay rise, and not everyone is taking a cab because they want to enjoy the luxury of taking one, but rather because every other option runs out.

Seriously, if anyone were to think that the cab drivers deserve a raise just like any of the people who are working (and not everyone is getting a raise anyway), then why should the burden be passed on to the passengers? Why are the transport companies not doing anything to help them? In addition, there are always entry-level jobs that will always hover around the pay of S$1200 to S$1800 and not change through the years. Even if the starting pay does get raised, it doesn’t go up by 30% to 50% within 1 year. So, if we were to argue that taxi fares should be raised by leaps and bounds just like any other private sector job, does it mean that in 5 years time, we will be paying up to 8 times more the current taxi fare?

The argument that the fares should be raised in accordance to that of the salary in the private sector is definitely flawed. In addition, because there are no appointments and rankings for taxi drivers, it is not fair to raise the fares across the board because the older taxi drivers deserve a pay raise.

Take for instance a company who is hiring a software engineer. Assuming that the pay for an entry level engineer is S$2800, he may jolly well get about S$3400 (as a senior engineer?) 3 years down the road. By then, an entry level software engineer may be paid about S$2900 (and not S$3400 since he’s still an entry level engineer) taking into consideration inflation – and he rises up the ranks as he works.

Now, when people mention that the taxi drivers deserve a raise and recommend that fares be raised, this meant that newer taxi drivers (akin to entry level engineers) will be earning as much as drivers who have driven for a longer time (akin to senior engineers); and because there is no differentiation (and there shouldn’t be, else it’d be chaotic) between the taxi drivers, there is no way to have a "fair fare hike" across the board. People have to understand that while the taxi drivers deserve a pay raise, the system, in reality, has many constraints and is different from most jobs that do not depend on a constant pay across the board.

I am not in the opinion that the taxi drivers to not deserve a raise. However, I feel that they should earn it honestly and not cut corners where they can. At the end of the day, if it is illegal, they will eventually be caught. Caring more for the family? I beg to differ.

What I do feel will help the taxi drivers would be the consistency that the taxi companies can give – by not raising the drivers’ rental soon after they apply for a fare hike – in the name of the betterment of the drivers. As per conversation with some drivers (sorry, I can’t show you their ICs), this is a pattern that they have observed – especially from the veteran drivers. This may be a biased view for all I know, but the taxi companies are not disclaiming it at all. If it’s a fallacy, the companies should clarify it once and for all instead of letting the rumour ruin the goodwill of the company.

At the end of the day, it’s up to everyone else to judge if this is a fair hike – given all the excuses and reasons to raise the fare. After all, it’s beyond me.

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