Seriously, I had lost count of the number of surcharges we have to pay....
SINGAPORE: Even as the Land Transport Authority brings out the big stick in its bid to rein in errant cabbies starting today, a Member of Parliament has proposed a peak-hour carrot - a "location surcharge" - to improve taxi services in areas with greater demand.
MP Seng Han Thong has suggested an additional sum for busy places like clubs, pubs, hotels, shopping malls and Raffles Place.
The root cause of soliciting, refusing to pick up passengers and overcharging lay in the pricing mechanism, he said, and errant cabbies resorted to such behaviour because demand for taxis exceeded the supply at certain times and places.
The MP, who is adviser to the six-affiliate Taxi Operators' Association, wrote in the latest edition of NTUC This Week: "Taxi companies need to impose surcharges at taxi stands in the CBD (central business district) and Orchard Road areas during peak hours, and at lobbies of hotels, major tourist attractions and nightspots."
He said: "Only location surcharges can address the problem of balancing the demand and supply of taxi services at specific places and time, while allowing taxis to charge a more affordable rate at other places such as HDB estates and neighbourhood shopping malls."
Singapore's approximately 45,000 taxi drivers have been getting a lot of bad press recently for soliciting, overcharging, meter-less rides, accepting advance bookings but not turning up, and refusing to pick passengers at taxi stands.
Effective today, the LTA will enforce harsher penalties on drivers for refusing to pick up passengers - a S$300 fine, six demerit points and an immediate two-week suspension.
Those guilty of touting will be docked 12 demerit points, fined S$500 and suspended for four weeks, while drivers caught overcharging by more than S$20 will have their licences withdrawn.
A TODAY reader complained recently that a taxi driver had charged him and his friend S$50 for a ride to Changi Airport from Boat Quay, while others said they were stood up by cabbies despite confirmed advance bookings.
But Mr Seng noted that the "silent majority" of taxi drivers were hardworking, making an honest living.
"We know that a very small group of errant taxi drives have given the Singapore taxi service a bad name whereas the silent majority is not as vocal as others in explaining the problems they have to face everyday," he wrote.
He said taxi drivers' biggest concern was the rapidly rising operating costs, which had increased to some S$780 a month.
"The pressure on them is immense because they have to work hard to earn the extras in order to settle these increases in operating costs," he said.
The parliamentarian's proposal did not sit too well with bunker trader Lynn Chong, who said: "No, there's enough surcharge. There's already a peak-hour charge. It already costs up to S$7 upfront if you take a cab in the CBD or town area during the peak hour." It will cost even more if one makes a call booking.
Ms Carol Loo, a financial adviser who spends between S$600 and S$800 a month on cabs, agreed, laying the blame on errant drivers who just cruise around waiting for call bookings. A price change will not make a dramatic effect.
She suggested that the taxi companies re-look their business models: "Their practices are lousy in the first place. A price fix won't be fair to people, they should be paying more for better service or quality."
But marketing undergraduate Nur Iskandar Malik welcomed the proposed increase during peak hours: "I wouldn't mind paying."
It would be better than having to wait in vain for a cab. Like many other long-suffering commuters, he will find out tonight if the LTA stick will see the return of the "disappearing" taxis during peak hours.