It’s been quite a long while since I last hopped onto a taxi without thinking much of the cost – after all, the papers and industry are right – the cost of taxi transport is relatively cheaper when compared to other developed countries. Of course, this was before the taxi operators decide to raise the fares of taxis recently, effectively bringing up the cost of taking a cab by almost 50% during peak hours.

On the fateful day that the fares were raised, all these changed. I stopped raising my hands as often as I would and I would think twice about the damage that I’d suffer should I decide to take the cab. Effectively, I have not taken a cab during peak hours. I wasn’t sure if I’d have an impact anyway, since the newspapers had been giving anecdotes of taxi drivers who praised the fare hike and that now they are earning a lot more.

However, there were recent news that some taxi drivers are in fact not earning as much as the papers have portrayed. It seemed that their businesses dipped tremendously – to the extent of some putting up notices of discounts. Unfortunately such innovations by the taxi drivers are not welcomed by LTA, who immediately slammed them (left, right and center), mentioning that this is illegal. There were reactions from some readers, with one highlighting the following:

When just a taxi driver give discounts, the authorities reacts so fast in the media. When so MANY taxi drivers tout, the authorities takes weeks to react.

Posted by: hongchris at Tue Jan 08 07:40:44 SGT 2008

There were also others who dug out the Public Transport Council Act:

The Public Transport Council Act (CAP 259B) states:

Bus, taxi and rapid transit system fares
23. —(1) No person shall be entitled to demand and take any bus, taxi or rapid transit system fare in excess of that approved by the Council.

(2) Subsection (1) shall not prevent any person from demanding or taking a lower fare than that approved by the Council.

This seems to shoot the LTA down, but no further details are known at this moment. However, the LTA thinks that by providing discounts, this may result in touting and is hence illegal. Hmm… so much for entrepreneurship.

There are also taxi drivers who are on the verge of swearing off driving taxis should business not pick up after Chinese New Year. After all, it’s during Chinese New Year that most businesses are gained, especially when the majority of Singaporeans are Chinese and that quite a handful probably do not own cars given the increased cost of ownership (COE, ERP, fuel hike).

The uncertainty, of course, lies until after Chinese New Year – since that’s when the litmus test really begins. A question that burns in my head is if Singaporeans really do have memory the size of a mouse? Are Singaporeans really that forgetful? Will "incentives" help them get over such things? What if the government throws in a transport rebate of $20, $50 or even a $100 to everyone before an impending transport fare hike? Will this help sooth any knee-jerk reactions?

Frankly, I don’t have the answers. However, there are still many people ("analysts") in Singapore who predicted this knee-jerk reaction and are persisting that we are still in the phase of a knee-jerk reaction – which I do not deny. After all, it’s still barely 1 month from the day that the fares were increased and conflicting anecdotes from taxi drivers do not really help much. LTA, of course, can only provide data after everything has "stabilized", by then, if the lack of customers persisted, I’m not sure how many taxi drivers would be emptying their saving accounts to pay rent if they are not already dead dead broke.

For me, I have struck off taking cabs as a means of transport and am usually left pondering the travelling salesman problem. It’s only in times of urgency and rush that I suddenly discovered a new form of (rather expensive) transport called taxis. Even then, it’d take a lot to get me to take one during peak hours. However, I know of business owners who take still believe that taxi fares are still really affordable in Singapore and are encouraging everyone to support the poor taxi drivers who really didn’t bring it upon themselves.

I sometimes wonder if ComfortDelgro had put any thought into this and if they really believed that Singaporeans are indeed forgetful. Food for thought, perhaps?

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