The mystery of the Singaporean numbers game
Numbers are strange things. Especially in Singapore. You look away for a second and they change. Yes: here, numbers have a life of their own.
What numbers am I referring to? Well, these particular changing numbers are the costs of taxis, as declared in newspapers. Now, you would have thought that it would be a simple matter to be straightforward as to the true state of affairs when it comes to the real cost of taxis. However, apparently not.
My thoughts have turned to this on seeing a mysterious change in headlines in Singapore's leading national daily. Today The Straits Times has an article in which the headlines refer to the "5% to 35%" increase in taxi fares. Now, that is strange, I thought to myself on seeing that, for I remembered some very different headlines of only a few weeks ago. Those were also in The Straits Times and spoke of a "10% to 49%" price increase. Have the taxi fares been changed again? No, they have not. What has changed is what the headlines are saying about the fares, the fares themselves remain the same, overpriced charges.
Now, what is the truth, here? Is it "5% to 35%" or "10% to 49%". Well, I would suggest that the truth is that both sets of figures are not true. Both are misleading.
Why do I say this? Well, let us look at one simple fact in isolation. Let us forget the forest of new and wonderful whizzbang surcharges that delight the world with their awful magnitude and mystifying complexity. Let us just look at one small change among the many changes. The flag down rate has gone up from $250 - oops, I mean, $2.50 - to $2.80. Is that a change of 5%? Nope. Is that a change of 10%? Nope. It is a change of 12%. So, if you take a cab at a time and place that has no extra surcharges and you get out of the cab immediately (after all it is too expensive to actually travel anywhere in one of them), you would pay an increase of 12% over the former fares. So, that makes it a real mystery how the 5% (or the 10%) was calculated because the smallest possible change - one that ignored all other charges and surcharges is, in itself, 12% for a journey of no distance.
What happens when one actually, foolishly (or naively) actually takes a cab these days? Well, horrible things, usually, things like extra mortgages and lifelong debts to loan sharks.
What happens is that you end up virtually paying for the taxi, itself. A recent case in point. Someone I know of, recently returned from a well-timed holiday in Indonesia (where taxis are very cheap indeed), which meant that he left when taxis were affordable and returned when they had become insanely overpriced. Rather innocently, therefore, he took a cab from the airport to his home. Can you guess how much this journey cost, in an island a little bigger than the average American shopping mall (well, approximately)? It cost him well over 60 (yes, over SIXTY) dollars to get home. Consider that figure for a moment. Is that a reasonable amount for a single journey in what is a really, really small island? Now, how much was he used to paying for this journey? Have a guess. Well, he expected a figure in the 20s. Yes. That is right, he expected to pay somewhere over 20 and under 30 dollars. He didn't. He paid over 60 dollars. Now, I ask you is more than a doubling in fare, equal to "35%" or "49%". No it isn't. The true figure for these changes can be over a 100% increase in fare.
I have my own experience. My wife and I took a cab to town one evening. Just once, mind. We learnt our lesson pretty quickly. The journey would normally have cost around $9.50 to $10. The metered fare came out to $20.50. That, again, is more than a 100% increase.
Apparently, the journalists who wrote those articles have never actually taken a cab, for any distance, in the new fare regime. Perhaps they just write what the PR for the taxi firms tells them to write. Because one thing is for sure: the headline price rises in the newspapers do NOT reflect the reality of the price changes on the ground, in the cabs of Singapore today.
So, it is a mystery to me why the numbers change in these articles. It is also a mystery to me why those numbers do not accurately reflect the actual experience of people who take the cabs. Perhaps they are using best case only estimates, based on taxi rides that would avoid most of the surcharges. These are not real world estimates therefore. They are a PR person's statements.
All across Singapore, there are now empty cabs waiting for passengers, at all times of day. The only circumstance under which the fares would ever fall, is if those cabs stay empty. It is said, by Comfort PRs, that taxi drivers now earn 10% more. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they don't. Perhaps it is just PR. It doesn't matter. For even if it is true, it tells us one thing: a lot fewer people are taking cabs. You see, they should be earning a lot more than 10% more, since the true rise in prices is actually rather high. But they are not. Therefore, people are avoiding taxis. Fewer people take them. Most people are having to go to the inconvenience of finding less, well, convenient ways to travel.
It seems to me that if even fewer people took cabs, that eventually prices would fall back down again. We will see what people do.
(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.)