Saturday, 21 July 2012

Life of a Singaporean Cabby - Part 1.



Recently, Singapore Daily (http://singaporedaily.net/) suggested that I should write a concisely informative blog post of a typical Singaporean cabby's life, profile, job description etc..etc but leaving the "emotional" part out. To me, 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 netizens and provides inspiration for our younger generation. I find the resonance and inspirational part a bit difficult to achieve in this instance..

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 specific post nor strain relationship between them and my company. I admit that these are wise advices and 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'm using SG Daily's questionnaires as the materials for this post. The views and experiences posted here are from my perspective and knowledge only 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?

My night shift schedule is 6pm to 6am (Monday - Friday). Each taxi driver has their own schedule, mutually agreed between a hirer and relief driver. Taxi companies are not involved in this matter. Another relief driver might starts from 5pm to 5am or any other 12 hours time frame. I normally don't start work punctually at 6pm but tend to laze around to 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 latter at 4am.

Sometimes when my last customer's destination is near my home after midnight, 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 gets 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 benefits, whatsoever.

1b) what are the various peak hour surcharges and it's effect.

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.

But now, there's incentive to stay on the road all the time because the 25% is applicable from 6pm till mid-night. I think it's easier to get a taxi in the evening period between 8pm to 12midnight now because of the tweaked period of peak hour surcharge. A 50% midnight surcharges kicks in after 12 midnight till 5am. 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 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 8 years back, I was the main hirer for 3 years. It was very stressful and tiring because as a single driver, I had to drive for long hours of at least 12 to 14 hours daily to earn a decent income. That was because I couldn't find a suitable relief driver to take half the burden off my shoulder. 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 could enjoy a less stressful work and shorter working hours because I'm an old man of 65 with no major financial commitments or debts to service. My needs are also few and 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 taxi drivers who are less fortunate than me, had 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 block to mine. We've been together for almost 5 years but met face to face in less than 5 times a year. We communicate mainly through sms. Most partnerships are difficult to forge or last a long period, especially when a 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 upkeep 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 taxis 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 rate, 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. 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 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.

(6) what happens if cabby does not pay rental?

Simple. A hirer gets sacked if rental is not paid after a 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.

I don't mind customers paying me via NETs or credit cards but I get irritated when they insist on paying small amount 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, I've no choice but to accede their demands to pay by cards or 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 stronger. None look overworked but I'm sure there are many cabbies who had 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, had 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 pays the full $105. Basically, all taxi drivers are self-employed who has to contribute to MediSafe 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.

(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 offense. In fact, the reverse is more prevalence and they are more stringent with taxi drivers. They say that as a "public transport operator", I had 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 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, speeding and beating traffic lights. No matter what valid reasons I gave when my offenses were committed, they were unacceptable to the authorities. Appeals via my MP were always fruitless. 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. Accumulatively, I collected more than 24 demerits points in 20 months and 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.......



55 comments:

Anonymous said...

thank u for sharing. may i ask y do taxi drivers always drive so fast? for what?

the cabbies i've encountered are all road hazards!

Anonymous said...

How do you handle cases of passengers who insist of dropping off at areas with double zig zag lines?

If you were caught by LTA / TP, able to evade the fine?

James Lim said...

On Singapore roads, you'll see more taxis than other vehicles at any moment. Therefore, the minority speeding taxis become the majority speeding vehicles on the road. It's a matter of perception. But it's true that some taxi drivers do speed recklessly and becomes a road hazard to other road users.

When my passengers insist on dropping off at double zig-zag lines, I'll explain to them that it's a traffic offense to do so. Most passengers would except my explanation. But if they still insist, I'll just ignore them and drop them only at taxi stands and be prepared for an argument. In the end, let them win the argument and I save my fine. No way you can evade a traffic offense fine in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Why do cabbies drive mercedes cab? Do they get more bookings compared to sonatas?

Anonymous said...

I have also heard from relatives who are cabbies that they avoid certain kind of passengers. Not sure whether that is a good sign for integration.

how can cabbies judge from one glance that this passenger is worthy to be picked up?

James Lim said...

1. Most taxi companies has contract with MNC, hotels, travel agencies, etc.. to pick their people on a regular basis and Mercedes cabs are normally used. So, some cabbies who prefer to have assured regular clients, drive mercedes cab. In COMFORT, call bookings are dispatched to taxis that are nearest to the caller, irrespective of the type of taxis. So, mercedes cabbies do not have any advantage over
Sonatas.

2. In our line of job, it pays to be careful when picking passengers of "dubious" appearance, behavior or nationality, especially at night. It's better to err on the side of caution than be sorry later. Who would want to pick a group of "foreigners" who behave like drunkards outside a bar or a man in dowdy at a dark outskirt place after midnight. Nothing to do with "integration". Wisdom comes from experience and age.

Gintai_昇泰 said...

Datuk Taxi,
It seems that your pay is better than a train driver. But then taxi driver doesn't have much benefits like 21 days of A/L, Medical Leave, Hospital Leave, free uniform, shoes etc Oh yes, CPF too. If you fall sick, you still need to pay for taxi rental. No CPF or leave for you. But you got flexible working hours and freedom. You are on your own unlike us subject to so many rules and regulations.
Thks for your excellent article. I really enjoy reading it. Looking forward to part 2! Cheers.

James Lim said...

Hi Gintai,

Appreciate your nice compliments, always. Some of my buddies were ex police officers too like detective, sergeant, TP and even inspector. I was a Manager with an American Oil & Gas company in the logistic department for many years. So, I know the many "differences" between a salaried and self-employed person. Anyway, your intention to stop blogging in 3 months down the road REALLY made me sad.

unbrandedbreadnbutter said...

nice read...when u start sharing makan places? Taxi sit whole day not sian? you guys got exercise club?

James Lim said...

Oh, Yes, makan places!. I almost forgot. Coming soon, I'll share my favorite "nasi lamak" stall, which many of you probably already know.

Sit whole day, damn "sian", ok. Tired legs, stiff neck and back ache, all from sitting "whole" day. sucks!!. But what to do, need to earn a living. bow pian! Better spent my time sleeping than go to exercise club. Brisk walking regularly on weekends, good enough for me.

Jiaqi said...

I always cannot get any cab after 10am and have to resort to bookings! All drink coffee already??

Anonymous said...

In New York, Paris. London, Frankfurt, Tokyo,Taipei. and even Hong Kong, its is very easy to get a taxi, regardless of time.

In singapore, its a hit or miss.

On top of that, taxi drivers seem to be impatient and give impression that passengers owe them a living.

Some behaviours that is annoying:

A) Radio or music that I don't
want

B) Fragrance that I dislike

C) Audible Deep sighing

D) Texting, reading or having conversation with mobile device

E) Asking my destination. If you are returning the vehicle, just return it and dont stop for "along the way" fare

F) Playing with brakes at traffic lights.. stop, go motions.

G) No attempt to disembark and offer assistance with luggage.

The above is just a sampling.
Such behaviours indicate an unprofessional vocation.

James Lim said...

Hi, Jiaqi,

As a passenger myself on occasions when I had to take a taxi, I too felt the same frustration when I could'nt get a taxi when I need one.

I dealt on this subject quite extensively in one of my earlier post on Sunday, 11 March 2012. Maybe you would like to take a peek at it.

James Lim said...

I've never been to places like NY, Paris, Tokyo, Taipei or HK, thus I've no idea whatsoever on the ease of getting a taxi there. I guess it got a lot to do with supply & demand. When supply is in abundance, availability is newer an issue.

A typical taxi driver picks up about 30 passengers in a single shift and each of these passenger is unique with difference character, temperament, needs, moods,etc..thus it's impossible to set a radio channel or a perfume fragrance to suit everyone. When a person has such a complaint, I think he/she is quite childish. Both the driver and passenger are together inside the taxi for only a few minutes in a trip and I think it's best for both parties to tolerate each other "shortcomings" to avoid any disputes.

I agree with you that when a driver is returning the taxi at the end of a shift, he should just hit home with a "Busy" rooftop sign and not stop along the way to continue asking for more passengers who might suit his trip home.

Although it not mandatory to assist passengers with luggage here, I think it's good service to give a helping hand. Like counter staffs, taxi drivers are service provider. But when there are nearly 20,000 taxi drivers on the road, each on their very own, with nobody breathing down his shoulder, it near impossible get everyone to be "professional".

Anonymous said...

Have you consider becoming a Bus Captain? Less stress, with CPF, company benefits, etc.

Do you take home 2.5k minimum monthly nett?

James Lim said...

On a yearly average in the last 8 years, I do take home about 2.5k/mth. A Bus Captain is similar to other salaried job, no freedom and fixed working hours. For an old man like me, begin a taxi driver is better though my income is lower. Maybe I'll get my own van and freelance on delivery service for light items. Income will surely be lower but then, I don't have to deal with difficult passengers and have a vehicle for personal use. Well, this is only "day dreaming"

Another anon said...

Dear Mr.Lim
Nothing wrong with a cabby at the end of his trip picking up fares that suits his trip home. Infact its much appreciated. Anon 23 July 16:22 why so petty ahhh?

James Lim said...

When a taxi driver stops to ask passengers for their destination and do not pick them eventually, the passenger gets angry. Rightly so because it's not fair to snub them.

Rahul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lim James said...

I'm surprised that a comment had been removed by a blog administrator.
I didn't do that. They must a very good for doing that. Thanks.

Joe said...

Nice blog there uncle.... I am joining your rank soon and really enjoyed reading your blog as it prepares me for what I am going to step into :) I like the way you see and experience life as a cabby... and your wisdom of life and such is much to learn from.

ps: That "prove that you're not a robot" thing when posting a comment is giving me a headache. Can't really make out the words!!! My 6th time trying

Ahmad Sahal said...

I am 55 years old, I started to drive taxi 2 years ago. First month, I am so excited of getting passengers, driving 16 hours a day. I have no relief driver. After 6 days continue driving for 16 hours, my body become aching and weak. I dont understand how can this guy claim to drive 8 hours and make $7,000 a month, may be gross income possible, but for 8 hours driving huh? I want to call him for a cup of coffee...

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Lim
May I ask who keeps the 10% surcharge when a customer pays by credit card? Is it you or the taxi company? Also, what percentage of customers pay you by credit card vs. cash?
Thank you! :)

Lim James said...

Hi, anon...

My company keeps the 10% when credit card is used, not me.

Only a small percentage uses credit card for payment..maybe less than 0.5%.

Just a simple calculation of how much a taxi operator earns when NETS is used for payment.

Assuming, each taxi collects about 8 NETS payment per day (24hrs). Multify 8 x 30cents ($2.40)/taxi.
Multify $2.40 x 15,000 taxis. Wow..
$36,000 per day. In one month, $1.08 millions. All this money goes to taxi operators & NETS. Taxi drivers don't get a cent.

So, taxi operators make lots of money ($13 millions/year) just from NET payment.

Anonymous said...

I'll be driving a taxi next week for 5 days per week as a relief. What's the rental practice if I don't drive on public holidays? Don't pay rental?

Also, what starting advice will you give to a taxi newbie.

Thanks.

Fa said...

Hello Mr.Lim
I came across your blog reading stuff about Singapore. I really enjoy it and admire that you don't give in and be a bitter elderly man.

I'm a foreigner here and enjoy trying to understand what goes around in the local world :) though I'm still not brave enough to strike a conversation with a stranger like a cab driver, I do enjoy reading your stories very much.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Thanks for sharing, it's really an eye opener to read about how a taxi driver views life .. no dis-respect intended ..

My only questions would be why you would continue to choose to live like that and if one day, your children had to do the same, would you allow it?

Regards,
Someone

Lim James said...

Hi, anon,

What job choice do you have when you're old and jobless in Singapore. Cab driving provides an instant job with a reasonable income in this 6th most expensive country in the world. It would be worst if one become a dish washer, cleaner or security guard as the income form these jobs are almost half of a cab diver.

I know of many father and son driving the same cab. But may children are ok. They hold good job as graduates.

Regards
James Lim

Anonymous said...

hi James thanks for sharing did you get back your licence? how the process like? my brother kena suspend 1mth and i totally got no idea how now~ can you care to share more info? like after his licence go back TP how they caculate the 1mth? do he need to retake taxi VL?

Ann

Lim James said...

Hi, Anon,
Please go to:

http://driving-in-singapore.spf.gov.sg/

for all infor. you need to know about driving licence suspension.

Regards

hammockin said...

Dear Mr Lim, I enjoy your blog tremendously but is it possible to change the poo brown backdrop colour?
thank you and keep posting.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Lim,

Really appreciate your sharings in this blog. I just got my TVL and thinking of being a relief. My biggest problem is my weak knowledge of Singapore roads. Can a GPS help? Will passengers mind? Any suggestions? Thanks.

Lim James said...

Hi, anon,

It's good to start off as a relief driver as the "rental" pressure is not so great compared to being a hirer.

Yes, GPS helps but I think it's better to learn the rope the hard way by trying to remember the roads as you drive along. In 3 months you should be comfortable behind the wheel.

Passenger will never mind if you honestly tell them you're a rookie and ask them to help by guiding you to their destination. don't be shy. 99% of passengers are nice people.

Good Luck. Always drive safely!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi James, my name is Sharon and I'm a reporter with Bloomberg News in Singapore. I'm working on a story about taxi drivers in Singapore and would love to speak to you about your experience. Please contact me at schen462@bloomberg.net if that's something you're open to. Hope to hear from you soon! Best, Sharon

Bus from singapore to kl said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Anonymous said...

Aspiring to get taxi license n start driving taxi!
Wat taxi company to rent from best?

jobless 32 yr old mother

Lim James said...

Hi, Young Mother,

Start off as a relief driver on weekends and get a feel of the job first.

Best to get a hirer near where u live.

Best company is Comfort followed by CitiCab, Transcab and Premier. Never drive for Prime.

Good Luck & Safe Driving.

Oun said...

Just a question sir.

why Never drive for Prime?

just curious.

Lim James said...

Hi, Oun,

I've nothing personally against Prime.

Their policies are totally not supportive of taxi drivers.

For example:

1. They demand a upfront deposit 5k and say they will pay u 16k after 5 yrs with the company. Actually, the "profit" of 11k is derived from yr own money. If brake contract, they confiscate yr deposit.

2. They restrict you from having a relief driver i.e. only one driver is allowed to drive the taxi. In this way, they think maintenance cost will be lower.

3. They don't have all the technological facilities like Comfort eg. no GPS, few booking.

4. Few Prime cabs on the road and repair is bad.

I don't know what's the present situation. Maybe they've changed some of their policies for the better.

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emma austen said...

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Sunny Tan said...

I do not take taxis in Singapore as I take the trains, buses or just walk. However, I know a little about taxi driving as I know one. He has a very bad backache and had to stop driving and so his family suffered.

Prqe said...

A good cab services company should offer you not just punctuality and reliability, but also ease of booking. Cab services also endow you the added benefit of calling them up from virtually anywhere throughout the area. We provide cab rental service in Chandigarh at very affordable price

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just came across this blog entry and I just must ask. Why is there ALWAYS a permanent and enormously long queue of taxis at Changi airport when other parts of Singapore have not a single cab in sight for like at least an hour? (esp peak hours when ppl need to go to work urgently)I understand that because picking passengers up at the airport there is an extra charge and there will always be people there to pick up. But can cabbies spend a thought for other passengers around the island who urgently needs a cab?

I get really frustrated when I cannot hail a cab because there is none in sight when you need one. I usually only take cabs when I'm pressed for time but apparently, waiting for one takes longer.

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Anonymous said...

Well a cabby's life is always hard but rewarding. :)

Helping Tasks

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yan ali said...

Hi...Mr Lim

I enjoyed reading yr blog...Im a relief taxi driver for now and intend to drive solo (hirer) soon and my wife would be my back up (relief driver)...one question to ask ..."What if the hirer going for a holiday and had tried to look for a super relief but couldnt find one...if the hirer dont mind paying the full rental for 5days then how about the 250km mileage that they must comply by LTA"...do the taxi company/LTA have some leniency for such cases ...???

Lim James said...

Hi yan ali,

You don't have to worry too much about the 250km/day rule. This rule basically applied to taxi operator's fleet only and it's based on the operator total fleet of taxis in a year. Hence, if you clock an AVERAGE of 250km/day per YEAR, you're ok.

Good Luck, Buddy!!

Alexander Tassinari said...

Hi James,
I came across your post and got a huge information about your life. Thanks for sharing your own life story with us.

I heard, a company in Lake Forest provides best taxi service.

Boh Tong said...

Hi James, I like reading your blog and can understand your frustration with some of the paxs. Like you, I was also in the service industry (SIA) and had my ups and downs with our paxs.
I salute you for being of service to the public even at your age.