Even the strong enforcement of fines and demerit points are unable to keep taxi touts away – which do so probably for more money with lesser trips. I would stress the "lesser trips" factor here because judging from the report, taxi touts are banging on the opportunity to scope an unsuspecting commuter. While taxi touts have kept clear of "hot areas" such as Clarke Quay and Sentosa, they have now struck back at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

The fare they quote is usually $40 for one stop and $50 for two stops. Such arrangements are apparently legitimate, but are supposed to be made over the taxi counter at the terminal, instead of being approached by the taxi drivers themselves. In other words, these taxi drivers are not supposed to make such offers but should have instead picked up passengers from the taxi queue. However, the non-moving taxi queue doesn’t make things better and most commuters have no choice but to succumb to the touts. A ride to Orchard would have cost just $12 and to Jurong would have been no more than $30.

With such taxi touts to smear the good name – or what’s left of the taxi drivers’ reputation, there’s little wonder why some Singaporeans detest the taxis in Singapore. Commuters are often at the mercy of the taxi companies who impose fare hikes and surcharges as and when they like, usually quoting tough times and inflation as the cause.

I wonder if the taxi companies have started collecting higher rents from the taxi drivers since the last fare hike. Anyone has any idea?

Taxi touts strike at ferry terminal

Drivers offer a flat rate of $40 or $50, higher than the metered fare

By Melissa Sim

DESPITE tougher penalties and enforcement checks by the Land Transport Authority, taxi touts are back – this time at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal.

When The Straits Times visited the terminal last Sunday night, about 15 SMRT Mercedes-Benz taxis and MPV cabs lay in wait, evidently for unsuspecting tourists.

They were parked in front of the exit, just opposite the regular taxi queue.

Each time ferry-loads of passengers from Batam or Bintan arrived, the drivers, in their white shirts and black pants, would approach the Caucasians exiting the terminal, offering rides at a flat rate of $40 for one stop, or $50 for two.

The metered fare from the terminal to, say, Orchard Road would have cost only $12.

That day, at least six tourists took up driver’s offers. Some who shunned the touts at first finally gave in after a 20-minute wait in the taxi queue, which was not moving.

The drivers who had less luck would drive out of the carpark before the hour was up – and then back in again – to take advantage of the carpark’s one-hour grace period during which they may park for free.

While SMRT does run a limousine booking counter at the terminal and said the fares quoted by the limousine cabs were legitimate, the Land Transport Authority’s rules state that limousine cabs can only be booked at the official counter or on the phone.

This means that drivers should not be the ones negotiating with or approaching customers.

Sundays appear to be the favoured day for the touts since that is when many would return back from weekend trips. The number of touts also balloons at about 10pm, when the last ferries come in.

But there are also touts who pop by the terminal every day, said other taxi drivers who declined to be named.

When ST visited the terminal again on Tuesday, there were just six taxis in wait, with a coordinator who seemed to be negotiating the fares.

That evening, after the last ferry came in, some Singaporeans, faced with a dearth of cabs, also relented and took the $40 rides.

One Mercedes-Benz cab driver was overheard telling his colleague: ‘Don’t ask them where they are going. Just get them in the cab.’

The touts seem undeterred by the prospect of a fine of $500, 12 demerit points and an immediate four-week suspension if they are caught.

New and stiffer penalties for errant cabbies kicked in last November, prompted by the increasing incidence of touting, overcharging and cabbies refusing to pick up passengers.

An LTA spokesman said that the number of errant taxi drivers caught has fallen from an average of 29 offenders a week to seven a week since the harsh penalties came into effect.

The LTA has also been conducting enforcement checks several times a week.

But while the new penalties appear to have kept touts away from the old hot spots like Clarke Quay, Sentosa and Orchard Towers, they are now trying their luck at more secluded places like the ferry terminal.

On its part, SMRT said it ‘will continue to remind its drivers at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal not to conduct any errant acts’.


Source: Straits Times Interactive, http://www.straitstimes.com/Prime%2BNews/Story/STIStory_256851.html

Article extracted on 12th July 2008

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