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 +

Saturday, January 05, 2008

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: 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 @ 5:41 PM 


Anonymous salaryman said...

Firstly, the Straits Times can be very nationalistic in their news presentation.

When policy makers which earn a lot of money create policies, they would like to think that their policies WILL (or must) work.

When the signs do not indicate any success in their policy making, we have our national newspapers doing a little creative number presentation to reflect a prettier picture than what is really happening on the ground. This is not day one situation. You can said that it happened on a daily basis.

As you have said, it is just a game.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I found it rather surprising. You see, I have a good memory for numbers, and I have visited around 20 countries in my life. I have spent enough time in four of them, to come to understand how they work. Never, before, however, have I ever noticed this tendency for numbers to change, in this way, in the national media. Such things are usually static and authoritative.

I gather that you are used to this kind of thing. It came as rather a surprise to me.

You are right in thinking that this particular policy is not working. I have never seen so many empty cabs in Singapore before. I wonder what the true financial state of affairs is for the taxi industry?

Best wishes

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The companies collect rent regardless of earnings (approx. $92+/day per cab. That's like $2700 per month.)

They are not really affected till enough of their overpriced rental taxis remain in their garage with no drivers.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think there is another mechanism by which they can be hurt. A taxi driver tends to pay themselves first. By this I mean they satisfy their needs, then they pay the company for rental. This is why some drivers end up 100 days behind on their rent. They can't pay it.

So, it could be that many drivers will not be able to pay their rent if business slumps. Then the company will begin to hurt. They can repossess the cabs...sure...but can they find anyone new to drive them?

Probably not.

So, it can affect the taxi companies if the slump in business continues.

1:56 PM  

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