An article that ran in Straits Times recently showed taxi drivers coming up with creative manners of getting their customers by waiving the additional 35% peak hour surcharge. This was done by advertising it over their windscreens, usually on a piece of cardboard that spells out the discount and differentiating them from the rest of the taxi drivers in the queue.

While this was OK’d by the spokesperson from ComfortDelgro, citing that the taxi drivers are after all teir own businessmen, the action was slammed by LTA who indicated that this was illegal – or at least that was what the headlines screamed. However, the spokesperson from Transcab merely said that it is against company policy and mentioned nothing of it against the law.

While some taxi drivers have reported an increase in earnings due to the fare hike, most views are anecdotal and nothing can really be claimed until much later – especially after Chinese New Year, since there may be a knee-jerk reaction and most commuters may be shying away from taking taxis initially. Some taxi drivers also feel that Singaporeans will get used to the fare hike soon and business will improve tremendously.

How optimistic.

‘Hey…want to take cab? No surcharge for peak hours’

Passenger drought after fare hike forcing cabbies to come up with strategies to draw customers

By Mavis Toh

AS MR A.L. Tan’s cab comes into sight, an A4-size handwritten sign on his dashboard is what a potential passenger will see first.

‘Not 35% surcharge peak hour’, it says.

He has resorted to waiving the surcharge after last month’s cab fare hike.

‘I used to make up to $130 during peak hours,’ said the cabby of 15 years in Mandarin. ‘Then the customers were scared off and I couldn’t even make $10!’

Cabbies complain that passengers are disappearing during morning and evening rush hours. What used to be a $2 flat surcharge for travelling between 7am and 9.30am, or 5pm and 8pm, is now calculated as 35 per cent of the metered fare.

A passenger travelling from Ang Mo Kio MRT station to Choa Chu Kang’s Lot 1 Shopping Centre pays about $14 outside peak periods. Slap on the surcharge during peak hours and the fare is now $19.

Although cab companies are optimistic that the recent fare changes will raise drivers’ incomes, cabbies themselves are not so sanguine.

Most of the 20 cabbies The Sunday Times spoke to say that passengers are more receptive to the 30-cent higher flag-down fare, but baulk at paying the peak-hour surcharge.

Of the 10 passengers The Sunday Times spoke to, seven said they now avoid taking cabs whenever possible, especially during peak hours. The others said that they still take a cab at least once a day.

Property agent A.C. Yeo, 54, said she now takes the train to work instead. A cab ride from her Bishan flat to her office in Toa Payoh used to cost her $6.50 during peak hours. Now, it has gone up to about $8.

To encourage more passengers to catch taxis during peak hours, some cabbies such as Transcab’s Mr Tan have come up with their own strategies.

Comfort cabby B.P. Pang, 52, is giving out discounts together with his business card in the hope of increasing his passenger base.

For a $27.40 trip from Tampines to Cecil Street, including peak-hour and Electronic Road Pricing surcharges, Mr Pang charges his passenger $21, giving him a 23 per cent discount.

He usually gives discounts only to customers whose fares exceed $20, in the hope that they will call for his cab in future.

‘I used to get at least six customers during peak hours, now I don’t even get two,’ said the cabby of three years in Mandarin.

Comfort cabby Jack Ng, 47, admits to touting at bus stops for potential passengers. Down goes his windscreen as he drives by and yells out: ‘Taxi, taxi, no surcharge.’

He said in Mandarin: ‘Many people have turned to buses and trains since the fare hike. So I try my luck at bus stops and tempt them with my cheaper fare, without the surcharge.’

Even with his new tactic, Mr Ng says he takes home about $80 a day, a 30 per cent dip from before. But he is optimistic that business will pick up as more customers are asking for his phone number and calling him when they need rides.

Sales manager Maria Woo, 35, for example, has become Mr Ng’s regular passenger, ringing him for a ride during peak hours. She takes a cab at least five times a day for business meetings.

‘He doesn’t charge me the 35 per cent and the on-call charges, saving me up to $65 a week!’ she said.

Asked if it was legitimate for cabbies to offer customers discounts, a spokesman for Comfort, Singapore’s largest taxi operator, said that cabbies are essentially their own businessmen.

She added: ‘It is their prerogative to give discounts to their customers should they so desire.’

While some cabbies are fighting the passenger drought, others are using the lax period to take longer breaks at coffee shops.

SMRT cabby S.K. Tang, 50, said: ‘Driving around looking for passengers is just costing me more diesel.’

Comfort cabby D. Ghing, 60, said cabbies are now trying to ‘out-drive’ each other for passengers.

‘Customers are like Hollywood stars now – one passenger flags, four cabs will zoom in,’ said the cabby of 25 years. ‘It’s a dog-eat-dog world here.’

Marketing tactics and soliciting are against company rules and the law

By Maria Almenoar

A CABBY’S attempts to get more passengers by advertising his discounted rates has been shot down by authorities.

Trans-Cab driver A.L. Tan had placed a handwritten cardboard sign at his windscreen offering to waive the new peak hour surcharge, which is 35 per cent of the metered fare, compared to old rate of a $2 flat fee.

According to cabbies, since the fare increase last month, many passengers are avoiding taking cabs during the peak hours of 7am to 9.30am, and 5pm to 8pm.

Mr Tan’s cab company has warned him that his marketing tactics run against Trans-Cab’s company policy.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Monday backed the taxi company.

‘If these drivers advertise, there will be an increased tendency for them to solicit for customers based on lower fares advertised if no commuters board their taxis,’ said the LTA spokesman.

Articles obtained from on 8th January 2008

Reader's Comments

  1. hanneng | January 8th, 2008 at 7:46 am

    according to some taxi drivers I spoke to recently, some may return their cab to company after Chinese New Year, if the business don’t improve.

    Giving discount to commuters not a new practices ..

  2. xizor2000 | January 8th, 2008 at 8:19 am

    I met the most courteous taxi driver the other day. It never happened before. Subsequently, my friend told me on MSN that life must really have been so tough for them to result in that change in attitude. He said in Cantonese: ” 德士佬认错?死到临头。走投无路!”

    For those who don’t understand Chinese characters, it means ” A cabbie apologise? Death must be near. Or he has come to the end of the road! ”

    The only way the transport operators will feel the pain is when cabbies empty all their money from their bank accounts and refuse to pay when the next rental is due, and commuters should do a ‘no cab day’, and drive the demand so low to make the LTA, PTC and the transport operators the ” 死到临头。走投无路!” feeling.

  3. Daphne Maia | January 8th, 2008 at 8:36 am

    yay! cabbies fight back! hope the authorities listen to them n to the commuters.

    yeah a lot of the drivers i’ve spoken to (i take cab at least 1x a day, on average) say that their earnings are lower now, especially during peak hour. so the cabbies are getting poorer and poorer now. this 35% surcharge to increase their earnings supposedly, is actually causing their business to drop by some 30%. so where is the logic of it all?

    anyway, i myself avoid taking a cab during the peak hours. for example, if my tuition begins at 0930, n if i have to take a cab, i’d rather be late for tuition, n flag a cab down only after 0930.

  4. Daily Sg: 8 Jan 08 « The Singapore Daily | January 8th, 2008 at 11:41 am

    […] contradiction betwen first world regulator and first world transport companies – Simply Jean: Discounts by taxi drivers are ILLEGAL – Singapore Patriot: Fear not, cab companies…LTA to the […]

  5. Aaron | January 8th, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    What can i say? LTA and the transport companies should have seen this coming.

    With a reduced number of people taking cabs (did they really not foresee this?), cabbies are bound to take matters into their own hands.

    After all, it IS their livelihood we’re talking about here.

    Desperate times call for desperate measures..~

  6. The Ignorantsoup | January 8th, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    […] LTA has said that it is illegal to give such discounts (for more information, read Simply Jean’s post), because it would mean soliciting and soliciting is […]

  7. CelluloidReality | January 8th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    Well, you want creativity? There. You’ve got it.

    The market has spoken.

  8. motd | January 9th, 2008 at 2:09 am

    The place where you can find the most cab during peak hours is at Changi Airport. It stretches all the way to the expressway.

    An accident is just waiting to happen.

  9. Vandalin | January 9th, 2008 at 7:50 am

    The entrepreneur says, someone should head over and start selling coffee and tea to these taxi drivers.

  10. Simply Jean | January 29th, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    @hanneng: hmm… i guess giving discounts is a business decision, but it’s probablt the advertising that the LTA is nit-picking on

    @xizor2000: nay, don’t think that’s ever going to happen

    @Daphne: well… it might be because they may not be frequent users of taxis and they may not fully understand the angst that some passengers are going through. but you have to agree that there are more taxis on the road now right? they did solve the problem 😉

    @Aaron: actually I believe that they did see it coming. The current state is probably intended effect 🙂

    @CelluloidReality: well, but you have to agree that it is *ahem* quite creative, right? 🙂

    @motd: yeah… nothing new yet 🙂

    @Vandalin: hmm.. yes! I agree! Wait, have you applied for your vendor licence yet?

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