Taxi Experiences Around the World – Singapore vs. Bangkok & Beijing10 October, 2013
There is no doubt that taxis are the most convenient mode of transportation anywhere in the world (most of the time except maybe during traffic jams) – even here in Singapore. Our taxi experience during our trips to different parts of the world vary greatly from being ripped off in Budapest to booking “secret” discounted 八折的士 taxis in Hong Kong. Taxi scams are one of the most common rip-offs around the world – with a quick read-up on what others have experienced with their taxi rides in a particular country, you can save a lot of grief from dealing with errant taxi drivers e.g. our taxi experience in Budapest made us work hard in doing homework for the next leg of our trip in Central Europe where we identified a few tips to avoid being scammed by unscrupulous taxi drivers in Prague.
Of course for taxis without meters built-in like Bangkok’s infamous Tuk-Tuk “taxis”, you will have to bargain hard to get the right fare (provided you know what a “right” fare would look like). If you get a very cheap quote – also beware! Usually they will quote a ridiculously cheap fare and say “1 Stop” – that 1 stop is not your stop; it is a stop enroute to your destination where you would be brought to some jewelry shops or tailors who would hard-sell you their products (you are not obliged to buy but they will make it seem so!); the Tuk-Tuk driver’s reward for this stop – a fuel voucher.
Bangkok’s “proper” taxis do have meters and they are generally quite cheap (especially when compared to taxi fares in Singapore). However, some taxi drivers can be quite selective in using their meters depending on the location you board. At places where demand clearly outstrips supply e.g. around Pratunam shopping mall areas, you can expect taxi drivers to negotiate fares with you and refuse to turn on the taxi fare meter – the negotiated fare can be as high as ten times more than the metered fare!
During our recent trip to Beijing in August, we experienced the taxi fare hike that was implemented in June 2013 where the taxi flag-down fee (for the 1st 3 kilometres) was increased by RMB 3 (about S$0.60) to RMB 13 (about S$2.60). The distance charge also went up from RMB 2 to RMB 2.3 per kilometer as well as the implementation of a traffic jam fee. The fare increase was an effort to solve the city’s long-existing taxi problems – not being able to get a cab at rush hour. Even with the fare increase, travelling in Beijing by taxi is still quite affordable (our taxi ride across town – about a 20-30 minute ride with slight traffic jam cost us only about RMB 30!). However, Beijing also faces the same problem with errant taxi drivers not turning on their meters and negotiating for fares at tourist destinations such as Wangfujing shopping street.
Image courtesy of Boris van Hoytema
What was quite different about taxis in China are the metal bars that separate the passengers from the driver – i guess security for the taxi drivers is quite a concern too; I remembered seeing such barriers in cabs at certain USA cities too.
These taxi experiences around the world made me thankful for my taxi experience here in Singapore – while the taxi fares are definitely more expensive than in Bangkok and Beijing, the fares are still considerably cheaper than other developed countries in Asia e.g. Tokyo where the taxi fare for the same distance covered in Singapore can be 3-4 times more! Hong Kong taxi fares are also slightly more expensive!
Realistically, depressed fares, while beneficial to commuters, can have a negative effect in the long run as seen in the Bangkok example above where taxi drivers would prefer to save their fuel and park at popular tourist destinations to negotiate for fares! It is challenging to manage the varying interests of different stakeholders – taxi drivers: higher fares for better take-home pay; taxi companies: higher rental for better profits; commuters: lower fares.
Some overseas unions aggressively push for fare reforms to ensure better take-home pay for the taxi drivers, but these had received major pushbacks from both taxi companies and commuters – some of these had even resulted in strikes which crippled the transport system.
In Singapore, there is a National Taxi Association (NTA) representing more than 13,000 taxi drivers. It turns out NTA’s affiliated to NTUC, which is the umbrella body for trade unions. This might come as a surprise to some (especially those who thought NTUC only as a supermarket/insurance company/pre-school).
Image courtesy of justin.z
NTA does not strike like overseas unions but does collective bargaining with the government and the taxi companies to meet taxi drivers’ needs. For example, when taxi drivers’ take home pay was hit in 2008 (when prices of diesel rose by more than 50% over 6 months), to defray the drivers’ extra diesel costs, NTA highlighted their worries to the taxi companies, which then implemented a temporary 30-cent diesel surcharge, which was removed when diesel prices stabilised.
There are other instances where taxi drivers benefited from having a collective voice under NTA which recently proposed 10 recommendations to the LTA to improve the industry, such as having a mediation system to resolve disputes among drivers, taxi operators and insurance firms.
Image courtesy of KwokCH
Earlier this year in Parliament, Mr Ang Hin Kee from NTA raised issues like how taxi drivers hope to receive more CPF support from the government and taxi operators, and also Workfare Income Supplement which is only available to employees now (taxi drivers are considered self-employed).
During the recent haze in June, when Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) levels reached record highs, many taxi drivers were still on the road but the hazy conditions resulted in a 25 percent drop in commuters, and directly impacted the livelihood of taxi drivers. At the same time, drivers were still expected to meet taxi availability indicators (such as minimum mileage and hours travelled a day) or face penalties.
Image courtesy of NTUC
NTA called upon the LTA to review these indicators that drivers need to clock when the PSI level hits more than 200. Taxi operators were also urged to look at lowering rental costs when PSI levels are in the unhealthy range. Taxi drivers braving the haze received masks and eye lotion from NTA to help them deal with the suffocating haze.
The approach taken by the NTA is really quite different from that taken by taxi unions in some countries in getting the concerns of taxi drivers addressed.
Thus, while Singapore’s taxi fares are relatively more expensive, I am glad that I do not have to bargain and negotiate taxi fares everytime I board a taxi at the CBD area, sit behind metal grilles/bars during the taxi ride or plan my schedule around strikes.