Why taxi always not there when we need one?


Why taxi always not there when we need one?

In the recent telecast of Red Dot in channel 5, a scenario of a local taxi drought was covered in the episode. Indeed, it seem to have spoken some sense about the situation of the taxi industry in Singapore.

A summary of what the Red Dot had said in the program:

From 2002 to 2012, the population in Singapore increased by 27%, ridership of taxis increased with 16% while population of taxi increased 48%. But why are taxis still always not enough when we need one?

Accordingly to Terence Fan, Associate Professor of Strategic Management of Singapore Management University (SMU), cited the main reason of uneven geographical demand of taxi across Singapore.

In the program, it highlighted the following points:

  1. Why taxi drivers do not want to take calls
  2. Confusing fare structure
  3. Monopoly of the taxi industry by single company.
  4. Individual Booking System

I would attempt to give some insights to the issues highlighted in the program from the perspective of a taxi driver. 

Associate Professor Terence Fan had correctly pointed out the issue with uneven geographical demand of taxi across the island. The main destinations in the morning peak hours are industrial areas like Tuas, CBD Areas like Shenton Way. When we drop off the customer, we will leave the destinations without passengers and travel to the nearest residential area for another pick up.

As I have shared with a reporter before, the places of the least difficulty to get a taxi in the morning are: Jurong, Tampines, Pasir Ris, River Valley, Tiong Bahru, Redhill area, Geylang, Simei. While passengers in the other residential area will probably have difficulties in getting a taxi. Why?

The reason is very simple, say for example. I stay in Choa Chu Kang, when I start my shift and pick a customer to Shenton Way, would you think I would drive back to Choa Chu Kang to pick another customer? The answer is would likely be a ‘NO’ as we want to use the least amount of time to pick up another customer, thus driving to the nearest residential area is a more viable option to take. This results in the scenario of limited taxis in the other residential areas which are further from industrial and commercial areas.

As for the evening peak hours, majority of the customers are going home from industrial area and Central Business District (CBD). After dropping of the customer, only luck has it for us to pick up a customer from residential area, often than not, we will need to drive an empty taxi back to the area where there are more customers.

1) Why don’t taxi drivers pick up the call booking?

If you call for a booking for a pickup at the busstop/taxi stand or main road, likely they will assume you to hop onto an empty taxi to save the booking fee. Since there is no laws to says that customer must wait for the booked taxi to arrive. This hold true especially when it comes to places within electronic road pricing (ERP) areas.

A lot of times, commuters call us up (SMRT) when they couldn’t get hold of the taxi from comfort/citycabs. A lot of times, I would  relate to them the situation with an analogy:

If 1 million commuters are calling them (comfort/citycabs) at the same time, what would your success rate be even though they have more than 16,000 taxi on the road? You probably know the answer yourself.

2) Confusing Fare Structure

Indeed, the fare structure is very confusing with all the surcharges in different areas! Even myself being a taxi driver, I need to think hard on which taxi model does which fare structure. Let alone a common citizen or tourist as an end consumer. With the latest publications of confusing fare structure in the newspaper and TV program, are the taxi company gearing for a fare revision soon? Keeping my fingers crossed!

3) Monopoly by Single Company

As data have shown, currently Comfort/CityCabs is dominating the taxi industry with more than 60% of the total taxi population. Any fare increase/decrease is determined solely by this single company. This has an unhealthy effect to the competition in the industry. Moreover, LTA had put a cap on how much the taxi companies can increase the taxi fleet (that is 2% per year), which means no other taxi companies can really grow and have a head-on with Comfort Delgro in terms of its taxi fleet.

4) Single Booking System

As the programme have correctly pointed out, the current booking system the Land Transport Authority (LTA) have is just to have the phone booking by individual company, so the customer will have to call each company one by one to book for a taxi. A single booking system on the other hand covers all the taxi companies with a single phone call, every taxi in the surrounding area will be able to bid for the job, be it company A or company B or Company C.

With all the advantages towards solving the taxi booking system, there is one major road block in the way. The taxi companies which have a bigger booking pie will not want to go into the system as this would mean their profit from the call booking might decrease tremendously. Therefore in order to solve this situation, the only way out is through legislation by LTA.

In summary, the program did show a good in-depth look at the taxi industry in Singapore. However apart from the issues discussed, the service standard does need to be improved as well as the waiting time of the taxis. As a small note, I am expecting a fare revision soon as a prediction of mine.

For tips of how to hail a cab when you can’t find one. Read my blogposts

Tips on getting a taxi during peak hours and rainy days – part I

Tips on getting a taxi during peak hours and rainy days – part II

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