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 +

Thursday, October 16, 2008

An unkept Singaporean promise.

I read in the Straits Times a while back, when oil prices were high and Comfort Delgro had just introduced a fuel surcharge on taxis, that "We will drop the surcharge if the price of fuel falls below $109."

Well, well, well: isn't it marvellous the way such promises are conveniently forgotten when it comes time for them to be kept? Today, the price of oil has fallen to $73 a barrel - but the fuel surcharge on Singaporean taxis remains. So, too, do the absurdly high taxi fares, remain untouched.

Does anyone remember the justification for the taxi fare rises? It was that fuel was so expensive that drivers were losing out - so there had to be a rise in charges to allow drivers to make a better living against the backdrop of such high fuel prices. Well, fuel is now as cheap as it was fourteen months ago - and seems to be dropping. So, why haven't taxi fares begun to drop, too?

I have been in Singapore since 1999 and the general impression left on me, by large corporate concerns, is one of greed. Their basic nature, here, appears to be greed, greed, greed. Prices are very quick to rise - but very slow to fall (if EVER) despite the original stated cause of the rise having gone away. The true cause is the greed of those who run the concerns.

Now, a promise was publicly made that the surcharge would vanish if fuel charges fell. They have fallen. It is time to keep the promise. It is also time to drop taxi rates back to something like what they were before the price rises. Singaporean taxi users have, I feel, suffered enough, since the price rises. The world is in recession: is it really necessary to punish the commuter in this way?

Many people who use taxis do so because they have no other choice: they are disabled, frail or encumbered with many children. In other words, taxi users are often the most vulnerable or burdened members of society. By making - and keeping - taxi fares high, those segments of the population that we should most be seeking to protect, are put in greatest difficulty.

Remove the surcharge. Lower the taxi fares - and start doing business HONESTLY, is my appeal to the taxi firms in Singapore. Your excuse for the fare rises has gone away, lower them again. No more unkept promises.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:38 PM 


Anonymous ks said...

I feel that the taxi prices are very reasonable in Singapore (that is, if you don't travel in extra charges times). I pay $6 to travel to the supermarket, but paid the equivalent of over $20 to travel the same distance EIGHT YEARS AGO in Japan.

The same distance in the UK would cost over $21.

So, while I might complain about smelly taxis or seatbelts that don't buckle, I don't think I can complain about the costs.

We made an arrangement with a taxi driver friend to take our kids (and his) to and from school over 2km away five days a week. The cost is cheaper than school van transport or SBS bus/MRT since we are foreigners and our kids must hold adult cards.

5:39 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi KS,

Your comparisons of costs across countries are meaningless because they fail to take into account the differing salaries earned by people in those countries. People in the UK and Japan are, on average paid much more than in Singapore.

I worked in a school in which all the admin staff were being paid less than 2,000 singapore dollars per month - many of them 1000 and something...for workers such as that Singaporean taxis are truly EXTORTIONATE.

Wages for many in Singapore are low. That is the reality. There are a small minority who earn lots and this distorts the averages. What I see on the ground in Singapore is a lot of relatively POOR people by international standards in the West...but heh they sure can quote good numbers to impress foreigners. The truth is different. People here find taxis expensive. That you don't proves that you earn more than is typical in Singapore. So, of course, from your perspective it is not expensive.

I have to travel sometimes by cab in peak times - and it is overpriced by far.

Re. your bus. There must be something wrong with your kid's bus company for taxis to be cheaper. Some bus companies exploit expats: perhaps yours does.

Best wishes.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, Valentine, thank you for pointing out the misconceptions that ks, an expat have. I'm an ex-Singaporean now living in the US but still have plenty of siblings (I'm a product of the post war generation) left in Singapore. Some of my siblings are doing well but most are not because of the policies instituted by the pap the last 20 years. The siblings that are hit hard by the crazy policies used to be the middle working class, now they are literally the working poor. Thank you for standing up for the common Singaporean, especially those from the HDB heartland, the aunties & uncles. They literally have no voice in Singapore.


9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Public Transport Council, Consumer Association of Singapore, Ministry of Trades and Industries and THE GOVERNMENT have all forgotten that Promise?

They all offered reasons to justified those fare hikes and surcharges, did they not? They were(are) proposers and witnesses to the Promise Stated. No?

We need honourable men with integrities and proprieties to manage the Country. Are we having such calibres?


10:12 AM  
Blogger Indiana said...

They are not going to lower prices or give us money back. The drivers will pocket the extra money, the companies will charge them more to rent the cab and the govt will build more ERP to get something from all of us.

I want to see the 35% peak hour charge done away with and then see all cabs made ERP exempt.

10:16 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Exsingie,

I don't see most Singaporeans as "rich" despite how the state likes to portray itself. There is very unequal income distribution here. Some people are very rich...and this raises the average earnings. The true earnings of many Singaporeans are really very low compared to other developed nations. The fact is, many Singaporeans are, in truth, POOR people. That is the story that is not being told. Singapore is a country is a country with a few rich, and many quite poor, people. On balance, the average looks OK...but the truth on the ground and in reality is very different. I haven't seen this kind of thing, on this scale, in any other developed country. The wages many employers pay here are a crime.

Best wishes on your new life.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

As an observer, it somewhat surprises me that, in difficult economic times, that the taxi firms (which are government linked are they not?) persist in ridiculously high fares, supposedly to offset fuel prices, which have since dropped out of sight. It is understandable if some people get the impression that the idea is to maximize the difficulties and sufferings of the people - at least it would seem so, to any observer.

I find it all rather greedy.

I agree that the 35% needs to go....and that taxis should be ERP free. It doesn't make sense that they have ERP - for they are a PUBLIC transport mode.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Heng-Cheong Leong said...

Are you sure that's what ComfortDelgro said, with respect to the fuel surcharge?

The press release on ComfortDelgro's web site at said this: "[The surcharge] will be removed when diesel prices fall back to $1.19 per litre which was the market price on 17 December 2007."

According to Channel NewsAsia at the price of diesel is now S$1.603.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Miao said...

I agree with exsingie. Mr Cawley, I applaud you for being so astute. I hope someone from the PAP reads your blog.

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valentine is right. In most western
democracies, there is the minimum
wage rule, but in Sin, there isn't. People can even earn as low as S$300-500 a month and yet most basic neccessities, some provided by govt linked companies keep increasing.
Govts should have the duty to regulate businesses and not in the
business of making profits like the Singapore GLCs

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cofwezwHey, guys did u notice that the pump prices at petrol stations did'nt change much even thou the oil prices dropped drastically. I think there something wrong with the oil companies.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Heng Cheong Leong,

Yes, I am sure that is what I have read - though it is some while back. I rather wish I had kept the article. You have made, I see, an accusation on Applemenu that I "allege" this...and rather rudely counter it.

Perhaps you should consider a few background facts. In December 2007 the price of crude oil - from which diesel is made, spiked at 97 dollars a barrel - very similar to the 109 I recall reading. At this time, diesel was 1.19 dollars a litre. Therefore the fact that oil fell to 72 dollars plus this morning indicates that the underlying TRUE pricing for diesel should be WAY, WAY, WAY below 1.19 per litre as you require. It should perhaps be, on simple calculatation about 7 tenths of that...or 0.84 dollars a litre or so.

The reason that diesel prices are still high is more greed on the part of those who sell diesel. The underlying fundamental price of crude indicates that diesel should already be way, way, way, below the threshold promised to drop the surcharge.

It is you, Heong Cheong Leong, who haven't understood the situation - not I.

Your pricing information is, in fact, very similar to the one I recall. Crude Oil is made into diesel and there will be a correspondence between the two prices.

Your posting an Apple menu is ill-mannered...and I have noted its contents. I am not impressed. Nor will your readers be when they read the fuller facts - and economic arguments.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous ks said...

But, aren't taxis in most countries, including Singapore, considered luxuries? Door to door service is something for which everyone has to pay more.

It would be interesting to compare taxi rates versus mean income in other countries. I think you would find that people with lesser incomes don't use taxis at all.

What do you propose as the solution to taxi fare increases, though? The taxi driver must have an income and be able to pay for wear and tear on his car.

Was it more than a year ago that a statement was made in the news here that it is cheaper to take a taxi twice a day to work than to own a car?

Your initial complaint was about the high cost of taxis (applied to you, I presume). Yet, you have commented that you might become a car owner. Surely, if you can afford to pay for driving lessons for you and possibly another driver, purchase a car and maintain it, then you can afford to take a taxi.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can never believe the government anyway. They will blatantly promise something loud and clear without stating the important conditions coincide with current situation. When time comes to make the promise, they will cite special condition out of nowhereh.
Reduce the electricity hike ? Cannot since it is bound by forward contract of oil.
Reduce transport fare ? Cannot... blah and blah reason like operation cost increase but yet profit is so unbelieveably high.

If they want to increase fare, they can find a lot of ridiculous reasons to do so. This is the type of the government we know.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Boycott! Lobby! Protest! Perhaps you should submit an article on the fuel surcharge to regional newspapers. An cab company might drop the fuel charge to steer more business its way.

5:41 AM  
Blogger nhyone said...

IMO, it makes more sense for ComfortDelgro to link the fuel surcharge to the diesel price.

The link to crude oil may be done by the reporter or editor to make it easier to relate to. People are more aware of the price of crude oil than diesel.

Thus, this question should be directed at the local oil cartels: why is diesel still at $1.60 instead of $1.00?

8:55 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...


There are a lot of assumptions and presumptions in your reply.

Firstly, when I speak of the expensiveness of taxis I speak not for myself, but for many people living in Singapore, for whom they are necessary (owing to being not car owners, with children, or being disabled or frail etc), but too expensive, owing to not being expats on a good deal, senior executives etc...but ordinary locals who earn not a lot really. For these people, taxis are very expensive, here.

I don't know why you try to bring the argument down to me alone and whether we can or cannot afford taxis because we are considering a seems strange. The argument is a general one, and not particular to one family.

The reason we are considering a car is because taxis are no longer really cheaper than car ownership. We would not spend more on a car than we do on taxis. Therefore, it now makes sense to have a car. It is an economic reason for having a car. In fact, given how we would use a car, we would probably save money (no parking in the cbd, for instance).

Some people, KS, think of others when they write and don't tie the argument to their individual situation.

Kind regards

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oI agree with what the author has rightfully pointed out: That this nation is driven by greed with very little compassion. many of these government linked companies (comfort delgro, SMRT, SingPower, Singtel) are all quasi monopolies by the virtue of the fact that they are government linked. Because of their monopoly status, they are able to get away with raising prices with any repurcussions at all.
Look at Comfort Delgro, their subsidiary company Moove Media (who again has a monopoly on the advertising space on buses & taxis) earns in excess of S$40m every year. This revenue could have been easily used to help offset some of the rising cost. But obviously it doesn't.
It is obvious that many of these company's sole motivation is to exploit as much profit as possible given their monopoly status. Despite being a public transport company, very little regard is given to the foundation of all public transport company: That is to serve the public.

11:15 AM  
Blogger pojaya said...

I consider taxi's to be somewhat of a luxury item too. Public transport in Singapore generally is not too bad, so if money is a problem, there is really no need to take a taxi ( yes, save for the very frail, etc, who perhaps should have some sort of taxi voucher/ rebate scheme?).

Taxi drivers do not earn that much for what they do. I don't imagine it is an easy job, driving all day by yourself, not knowing when your next fare is going to come, hoping to earn enough to cover your costs.

I am sure the cost of running the taxi is no less in Singapore than in other parts of the world, yet the price of taking taxis in Singapore is considerably less.

8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agreed that many services are quick to raise prices but slow to reduce prices. As for the taxi fare, may be someone can gather like-minded people to speak in Hong Lim Park.

It will fairer to use median wage (will not be distorted by extreme values) instead of mean wage to compare cost of living, for eg, on taxi fare.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Pojaya, I don't have the data to make a price comparison of the costs of running a taxi, from country to country. One would need to know the local fuel pricing and subsidies, for instance. It would be interesting to find out - to give a better understanding of the situation.

I don't imagine that being a taxi driver is an enviable job - but being a passenger is not so enviable either, in recent months, given the comparative expense (compared to typical/median wages here in Singapore).

Yes, some can avoid taxis, but there are people who can't...and it is they who have a hard time of the new pricing.

Best wishes

11:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, anonymous at 9.27 pm...this is a country where prices are very quick to rise and very slow to lower. It would be great if it were not so. We can see from my analysis above just how low diesel prices should be (if they were lowered without a rather lengthy lag time). No doubt this observation applies to many areas of life, here.

Yes, you are right. I have had this thought re. median wages myself. Removing extremely high wages from consideration should give a much truer picture of the situation in Singapore. I wonder how different a picture that would paint of Singapore's situation...

Best wishes.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Onlooker said...

Just a reminder: There are a lot of unkept promises but you see we have allowed people who are suppose to take care of the people welfare(in this case PTC and Halimah) to become complacent.That's why we have high inflation and the ever inflating CEO's Salaries :)

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Amused said...

KS, from this statement:
"The taxi driver must have an income and be able to pay for wear and tear on his car."

It is obvious that you don't have a clue about Taxis in SG.

In SG, hardly any taxi driver own their own vehicle anymore (except for some elder drivers that hold special licenses, which are non-transferable, and will expire upon the holder's retirement/death).

They all must rent their vehicles, at a total monthly cost that is higher than what a loan would cost to buy their own vehicles, from a taxi company. The largest one of which the main share holder is a gahmen(mispelling intentional) controlled entity.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Tabby_Minx_Phoenix said...

Sad but true, I suppose. Living in Singapore is expensive for me, especially after I consider that even with my student pass, I spend 10 bucks a week traveling. And considering that my parents aren't that rich and that they still have to take taxis; especially when we visit our relatives, this not-to-be-dropping-soon surcharge is hitting us hard. Maybe the government could consider having more bus services that do arrive within it's scheduled timings around the island. And consider cutting back on the amount of gantries. It is irritating enough squeezing into the back of a taxi with two people and huge amounts of shopping when we visit a shopping mall; but to pay for the ERP and get stuck in a half an hour long traffic jam is another matter all together.

9:25 PM  

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