Recently, Singapore Daily (http://singaporedaily.net/) suggested that I write a concisely informative blog post of a typical Singaporean cabby's life and experiences but leave the "ranting" part out. It was a great idea and a challenge. Besides being informative, they advised that my post should be factually good read and the bread/butter issues should resonate with the readers. It should also inspire young readers. I think the resonance and inspirational parts are beyond my writing ability.
Anyway, knowing that it was a tall order, they were kind to mention that I should do it only when I've the time and provided me with many relevant pointers to help me along. But they stressed that I should not "politicizes" this post nor strain relationship between them and my company. I admit that these are wise advice but I must also bear in mind never to compromise the "interests" of my fellow buddies.
So, here I'm, doing the best I can. And to make things easier for myself, I used SG Daily's questionnaires as leads and materials for this post. The views and experiences posted here are solely from my perspective and knowledge and do not represent ALL Singaporean cabbies. Each of us is unique as a human being and taxi driver.
1a) what time u start work, what time u knock off?
I drive the night shift (6pm to 6am, Monday - Friday). Each taxi driver have their own schedule, mutually agreed between a hirer and relief driver. Taxi companies do not get involved with our shift arrangement. Another relief driver might starts from 5pm to 5am or any other 8 or 12 hours time frame. I normally don't start work punctually at 6pm but tend to laze around a bit and start around 7pm when traffic is less heavy. I usually knock off at 2am except Wednesday and Friday. On these two exceptionally busy nights, I knock off a bit later at 4am.
Sometimes, after midnight when my last customer's destination is near my home, I called it a day. So, my working hours is flexible and income is also variable. But I earn more than a Train Officer at SMRT at first glance. No pun intended at Gintai. (http://gintai.wordpress.com/smrt-train-officer/). But, on deeper scrutinizing, I think he earns more than me when his overtime, paid annual leave, medical/dental benefits, annual wage increments/supplements/bonuses, employer's CPF contributions and other benefits are factored in. A cabby has no such benefits, whatsoever. He is self-employed.
1b) what are the various peak hour surcharges and it's effect on your income?
The current evening peak-hour surcharge is 25% on top of metered fare and starts from 6pm to midnight ( 6hours ), everyday of the week, including public holidays. Previously, it was 35% from 5pm to 8pm ( 3hours. Mon - Sat). Before the change, most night shift taxi drivers would take to the road punctually at 5pm to earn the 35% peak-hour surcharge till 8pm. After 8pm, when the 35% surcharge ceased, some taxi drivers would disappear correspondingly and reappear only at midnight, when a new 50% mid-night surcharges kicks in. The present longer duration of peak hour surcharge is less confusing but unfortunately, taxi commuters have to pay more.
To a taxi driver, the extra 3 hours of peak hours motivates him to spend more time on the road as it means more income. Therefore, it's easier to get a taxi in the evening between 8pm to 12midnight now because more taxi drivers are on the road
A 50% midnight surcharges kicks in after 12 midnight till 5am, while the morning peak hour surcharge is also 25% from 6am to 9.30am (Mon - Fri). Basically, surcharges are imposed to bring supply to demand and also helps to improve the taxi drivers' lot.
(2a) are u the main hirer who share ur cab with another co-driver?.
No, I'm a relief driver now. When I started as a taxi driver 7 years ago, I was the main hirer for 3 years. As a hirer without a relief, it was very stressful and tiring because I have to drive long hours of at least 12 to 14 hours daily in order to earn a decent income. It's not easy to find a suitable relief driver to take half the rental. As a relief driver now, I work 5 days a week (Monday to Friday) for 9 hours a day and earn a sustainable income.
I'm more relax now with shorter driving hours. I'm an old man of 65 with no major financial commitments or debts to service. My needs are simple and few. Therefore, I don't need to work so hard. As long as I achieve a nett income of about $70/$80 a day, I head for home. Many younger taxi drivers with family to support are less fortunate than me. They have to slog for at least 60 hours a week to make ends meet in this increasingly expensive country.
(2b) Do u had any issues with your main driver?
No. I've no major issues with my main driver who stays next to my block. We've been together for almost 5 years but meet face to face on less than 5 times a year. We communicate mainly through sms. Most partnerships are difficult to forge or last long, especially when one party is perceived to be petty over trivial issues, like quarrels over dirty taxis, cheating on diesel refill, late handover etc...
I've none of these issues because I don't wash my taxi. Instead I pay my hirer a daily $3 for him to keep the taxi clean. And I also pay him the diesel cost based on the mileage I clocked at $12 per 100 kilometers. Therefore, I do not refill diesel at the end of my shift and nullified the "cheating of diesel" issue. Both of us don't start work punctually, so late handover is never an issue too. So far so good.
(3) what is the rental u pay to taxi company daily?
My hirer pays the taxi company $104 daily for a Sonata taxi and I pay half of that amount to my hirer plus $1 for car park charge. So, my rental is $53 a day. Different taxi companies charge differently for their taxis. And rental is based on the age and type of model of taxi leased. COMFORT charges $105 for a new Sonata, whereas a 5 years old Toyota Crown cost about $84 daily. SMRT charges $118 for a new Chevolett and $146 for a Chrysler. Because of different rental rates, the flag down price of taxis are differentiated correspondingly.
There are about 8 taxi companies in Singapore and each has different rental and incentives schemes for their drivers. Taxi companies are solely responsible for routine maintenance and repair of taxis and drivers do not have to pay a cent in these two aspects, except in accident cases when the guilty party is the driver. I shall touch on this accident thing later.
4) what are the daily diesel costs?
COMFORT has many diesel refill stations in many parts of Singapore and they charge their cabbies about $1.11 per liter. A typical taxi driver doing about 300 kilometers daily, pays about $30/$35 as diesel cost depending on the fuel efficiency of the taxi.
5) how could one be a cabby? are there courses to take?
Only Singapore citizen can be a cabby (no PR or FT) and it's easy to be a cabby here. Briefly, as long as you can speak simple English, has a valid driving license and above 30 years old, you can apply to LTA for a taxi vocational license. You'll be call up for a simple interview, attend a one month evening theory course, pass a written test and off you go...to earn a living as a cabby with a taxi company. You'll get immediate employment, no questions asked, except you've to pay a deposit of about a thousand dollar with the taxi company as a "contract" hirer or a relief driver with them.
Many taxis companies are desperate to have you as their "partner" in this business and provides attractive incentives to get you on board. I know there are a few individuals who lease about 20 to 30 taxis from the "big boys/personal taxi owners" and sublet them to drivers who drive on an ad-hod basis without a need for deposit or contract. Some drives on weekends only to earn extra cash while others get a license as a backup in case of unemployment. I think in Singapore, we have at least over 100,000 vocational taxi license holders but only about 70% are active taxi drivers.
(6) what happens if cabby does not pay rental?
Simple. A hirer gets sacked if rental is not paid after a short period of time. I don't know after what period of time. But he can easily join another taxi company. There are 7 other "big boy & individual freelancers" to choose from.
(7) do u like customers who pay via NETs or Credit Card? i know some cabbies prefer to "hutang" their rental, so they dislike NETS / Credit Card payment as the fares go into their GIRO account.
Yes, the statement is correct and true. But, I don't mind customers paying me via NETs or credit cards. However, I get irritated when they insist on paying small taxi fare like $5 via these plastic cards or in big bills like $50 or $100. The "hutang" (Malay word for "owe") part is never an issue for me. Usually, when customers pay by cards, I've no choice but to accede their demands or else I had to forgo the fare. A typical taxi driver do not keep more than $150 in loose change for daily transactions.
(8) do u know of cabbies who overwork?
Most of my buddies are night shift drivers and much younger than me. All of them looks healthy and strong. None looks overworked but I'm sure there are many cabbies who have to "overwork" to service their obligations. A common joke among us is :- "overwork to fatten the doctor's wallet only".
(9) how do cabbies handle illness or HDB loans?
Cabbies are like shopkeepers who lease their shops from HDB and pay daily rental regardless of whether the shop is open for business or not. Unlike salaried employee, a cabby do not have medical benefits and therefore, have to bear the medical bill themselves and pay the rental even when he is unable to drive due to illness.
As a relief driver, I pay half of my normal rental to my hirer whenever I'm unable to drive for whatever reasons. The amount is $52 divided by 2 i.e. $26. But when my hirer is sick, he can't pay half of the rental to the taxi company. He must pay the full $105. Basically, all taxi drivers are self-employed and have to contribute to MediSave to validate their vocational license yearly.
Cabbies do not have CPF contributions from any source. Therefore, most cabbies pay their HDB loans through GIRO, cash or banks. unless they have monies in their CPF.
(10) how do u handle TP or traffic offences?
From my experience, I do not get any special treatment or sympathy from traffic police or LTA officers when I commit a traffic offence. In fact, the reverse is more prevalence and they are more stringent with taxi drivers. They say that as a "public transport operator", I have to be extra vigilant in term of safety as I'm transporting public commuters.
Sometimes, I do get a waiver or deferment on appeal when the traffic offense is minor like illegal parking for a short period of time without obstruction or forgetting to turn on the headlight immediately after 7pm in the evening. Unfortunately, most of my traffic offenses involves picking/unloading passengers at unauthorized lanes, queuing outside the rank, illegal U-Turn, speeding and beating traffic lights. For committing such serious traffic offences, no matter what valid reasons I give, they are always rejected. Appeals via my MP is a waste of time . So, I paid the fines and boar the brunt.
Recently, I got my license suspended for 3 months for...a) beating the traffic light while turning left at slow speed at the intersection with a speed camera,.....b) speeding twice at about 80kmph at a 60kmph designated road and....c) picking passengers at unauthorized spots. In total, I collected more than 24 demerits points in 20 months and paid a total fine of about $800. Another two more suspension, my license gets revoked. touch wood!
Now, I'm getting tired writing. I've covered about half the questionnaire and shall leave the rest for another post at latter date. Meanwhile, if you've any questions related to the main subject of this post, please send me your comment and I shall try my best to answer them as truthfully and factually as possible. Bye.......