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The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Great ComfortDelGro Taxi Rip-off

Singaporeans, although they don't necessarily know it, already receive one of the worst taxi services in the world. Taxi drivers use every ploy in the book and some that aren't (ie. read "unethical") to increase their income at the expense of the Singaporean public. Yet, the situation is just about to get a lot worse.

ComfortDelGro, the largest taxi fleet in Singapore, comprising Comfort, CityCab and Yellow-top taxis, making up fully 65 per cent of all Singaporean taxis, with 15,000 of Singapore's 23,000 cabs, is going to DOUBLE taxi fares from Monday.

There have been hints, in recent days, of a "30 cent rise" in flag down rate. The fact that they would dribble out the news with that parsimonious description of the true state of affairs, is rather insulting to Singaporeans who may, now, be unable to afford a cab at all.

The flag down rate is indeed rising from $2.50 to $2.80. More significant, however, is that the rate of charge, for time and distance is DOUBLING to 20 cents per unit, from the present 10 cents. This means that taxis will now cost twice as much as before, on a per distance, per time basis. Yet, that is just the beginning of the price rises.

During the peak period - when people are most likely to be travelling, which is Monday to Friday, 7 am to 9.30 am and Monday to Saturday, 5 pm to 8 pm, there will be a 35% premium charge on the metered fare. Currently, the peak surcharge is a flat $2 no matter what the distance or time of journey.

The City Area Surcharge, for pick ups in the City area will TRIPLE to $3 and will be payable for a greater part of the day (Monday to Saturday, 5pm to Midnight). Currently, it is $1 payable Monday to Thursday, 5pm to 8 pm and Friday to Saturday, 5 pm to 11.30 pm.

The late night surcharge will be 50% of the metered fare, added on, from midnight to 5.59 am. Currently, there are staggered rates from 11.30 pm to 5.59 am.

The only improvement, from the point of view of the passenger, is that booking fees will be reduced to $3.50 prime time, Monday to Friday, 7 am to 9.30 am and 5pm to 11 pm. Currently they are $4. Off peak booking fees will remain at $2.50.

So what do all these changes mean to how much it will now cost to take a cab in Singapore?

Well, let us do an analysis.

For someone taking a cab home after work, at say, 7 pm, from the City area, for a journey which presently costs, say $12, what will the new cost be? Well, under the old regime, the flag down portion of that $12 is $2.50. The City Surcharge is $1. The peak charge is $2. The rest, $7.50 is the metered portion based on time and distance.

Under the new regime, the flag down would be $2.80. The metered portion would be charged at DOUBLE the rate, making it 2 times $7.50 = $15. The City area surcharge would be $3. This makes a total of $20.80. On top of this there will be a 35% peak period premium, giving a total for the fare of an astonishing $28.08!

They spoke of a "30 cents rise"...but what actually are ComfortDelGro doing? New prices on a typical sample journey are 234 % of present prices. This now makes taxi taking an unaffordable service for most Singaporeans. Almost no-one is going to agree to pay almost 30 dollars for a journey that until now has been 12 dollars, or so, on a regular basis. That is just for short trips. Long trips such as runs to the airport will now cost perhaps 50 or 60 dollars, compared to just over 20 dollars, presently, for many Singaporeans.

Singaporeans are being cheated on every front by the public taxi service. They are driven by poorly trained, ignorant, dishonest drivers who don't know where they are going and try to cheat the passenger every way they can - and now they will be gouged, by truly ugly fares everytime they board a cab.

It is, I feel, a time for Singaporeans to show what they think of these new fare rises: by never taking a cab from ComfortDelGro again. Should other cab services raise their fares in a similar way, they too can be avoided. If no-one agrees to these fares by taking cabs anymore, then they will have to reduce the fares to what they were before - or something similar.

Why is ComfortDelGro doing this? Well, it says it is an answer to the problem of unavailability of cabs, when people need them. I find that ludicrous. Why were cabs unavailable? Because the cab drivers were acting in unison, to cheat the customers, by "hiding" and refusing to pick up passengers unless they called them out, and paid call out charges. The drivers were only unavailable because they were busy cheating the consumer. Now, ComfortDelGro has had the inspired idea of rewarding these dishonest drivers by making the practice of gouging the customer official and ensuring that ALL taxi journeys are a complete rip-off. Thirty dollars for a modest trip out of town, for a country in which salaries are modest by Western standards (really, really modest, if the truth be known, for most Singaporeans), is far, far too much. Taxis, henceforth, will be for tourists only - who really don't have a choice and don't know any better.

The real answer to the issue of vanishing taxis and the inability to get one unless a call-out is made is much simpler than across the board, greedy fare rises. The real answer is to penalize any driver who behaved like that. There should have been high fines and perhaps custodial sentences for repeat offenders. That is what works in Singapore to bring behaviour into line - and that is what should have been done for taxi drivers. Their behaviour should have been made illegal, with stiff penalties.

Another alternative would have been to abolish the call-out charge altogether - and made it illegal not to take a call-out booking. That would have worked equally well.

In Singapore, taxi drivers will never do the right thing, in terms of service. They will always do what makes them the most money, even if that action is a dishonest one - or an illegal one (if no-one is looking). The notion of giving good customer service has not entered the consciousness of this particular workforce - nor, it seems, has it entered the minds of the ComfortDelGro executives who have just decided to multiply the price of a typical taxi journey by 2 and a third times.

Decisions like ComfortDelGro's affect the quality of life of everyone who lives and works in Singapore. Such decisions should be made with much more care. They say they are looking after the interests and livelihoods of taxi drivers. Well, what about everyone else's interests and livelihoods? My experiences with Singaporean taxi drivers have been very mixed. Some of the poorer experiences have led me to the opinion that drivers do not deserve special consideration. Many of them have behaved extremely dishonestly towards me. They need to be regulated - not rewarded with higher fares.

From Monday, the viable transport options of millions of Singaporeans will be reduced by one modality. For from Monday, millions of Singaoreans will no longer be able to afford one of the most convenient forms of transport previously available: the taxi cab.

The only hopeful possibility is if people stop taking cabs. If no-one takes cabs anymore, then prices will have to return to previous levels. I, for one, will do my utmost to find any other mode of transport than a taxi cab, in future. Quite frankly, with the levels of DISservice, presently common, and the new price rises - they don't deserve my custom - or yours, for that matter.

Note: Source of data on the new taxi fare structure: today's Today newspaper, page 3.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:09 PM 

7 Comments:

Anonymous The Singapore Daily said...

It sure feels like a rip-off.. Anyway I've featured your post at The Singapore Daily [singaporedaily.wordpress.com]. Great article and keep blogging!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Molly Meek said...

The metered fare isn't really doubling. Instead of jumping 10 cents each time, it will jump 20 cents each time. But the distance covered for each 20-cents jump will be longer (though less than twice) than what it used to be.

1:24 PM  
Blogger PanzerGrenadier said...

I share your sentiment but to say that taxi drivers are all dishonest and unethical is too sweeping. Most are just trying to earn an honest living and instead of Comfort-Delgro helping in terms of giving rebates off their rentals or making the call-booking system even better, the use of surcharges is an over-used way of managing demand and supply over peak demand for cabs.

Boycotting them is not practical as Comfort-Delgro owns virtually 60-70% of the entire taxi fleet. You can bet your last dollar that ALL operators will increase their fares in tandem or close to the market leader like they do for petrol prices.

The real problem is not the drivers, it is allocation of taxis. Read Yawning bread's article on this issue.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for featuring my post - and reading my blog.

I will take a look at the Singapore Daily, myself.

Best wishes.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Molly, for the clarification: the Today newspaper article stated what I have written above and did not make clear that the distance was different. However, it is still a fare rise and won't make enough of a difference to the calculations above to change the basic conclusion: it is an AWFULLY expensive price hike, for everyone in Singapore who uses taxis. (Or used to, for that matter).

Best wishes

2:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment, Panzer Grenadier.

Sadly, many Singaporean taxi drivers are dishonest. Perhaps, as a Caucasian, they think it safer to show their dishonesty to me - since they assume I won't know that their route is twice as long as it should be, or that the surcharges don't work the way they say they do. It may be that I see dishonesty in action more often, therefore - but since a large proportion of the taxi drivers I encounter show active dishonesty, that would indicate that a large proportion of Singaporean taxi drivers ARE dishonest - whether or not they dare to show that dishonesty to a native who probably knows the way. The dishonesty is there, in them, waiting to take advantage of the next customer they think they can get away with fleecing. You may be a local and therefore not so susceptible to such attempts to cheat you.

The impression left by Singaporean taxi drivers on tourists is doubtless not a good one. It is a pity because tourists have mouths and can tell many people what happened to them in Singapore. The impression of the country and its reputation are lowered if taxi drivers are not scrupulously honest - and they are most definitely not.

I have met honest drivers. Yes. But what is funny about that is that I NOTICE that they have been honest. Why do I notice? Because it is exceptional behaviour against a background of less than acceptable levels of honesty. It is an unusual taxi driver who provides good/notable service or who does something which stands out as honest. In contrast, recently, a cab driver tried to get away with taking a couple of bags filled with gifts: that was his clear intention with what he did (a long story).

A boycott is possible, if that is what Singaporean people want. It is easy. Just stop taking cabs from ComfortDelGro. It just takes resolution. The short term pain of not taking such cabs will, almost inevitably, be rewarded with a return to lower fares. However, I don't think that Singaporeans have the collective will to do such a thing. If no-one took cabs for a couple of months and travelled by other means, cabs would soon be affordable again. They would have no choice but to make them so.

It will be interesting to see if Singaporeans will actually do anything at all, to oppose this ever-increasing cost of everything, that seems to be afflicting Singapore recently. It is becoming an expensive place to live. I wonder why?

3:05 PM  
Blogger Lilian is ... said...

i can see that the rest will be following suit very soon...haiz

5:26 PM  

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