Don't pass costs on to cabbies
I REFER to the article "Wheels in motion for simpler taxi fares" (My Paper, Nov 5) on the suggested changes to the taxi fare system.
As a taxi driver, I have mixed reactions to the changes as I find the revisions have not holistically addressed the core issues of commuters and taxi drivers.
For commuters, the issue is the availability of taxis and complexity of multiple surcharges; for taxi drivers, it is the balance of financial returns, health and safety.
I welcome the implementation of a uniform flag-down rate and distance fare. However, this uniform flag-down rate will not be sustainable for long if we have ever-increasing certificate of entitlement (COE) prices for taxis.
We can implement uniform flag-down rates and distance fares only when taxi rentals are fixed.
With more expensive COEs, taxi operators will pass on the increased procurement costs to taxi drivers by way of increasing rentals. However, it is unfair for taxi drivers to bear the costs with no compensation mechanism in place.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) can help stabilise taxi procurement costs by having fixed taxi COE prices for an extended period until the next taxi fare revision.
A flat flag-down fare of $3.80 will only benefit taxi drivers who rent older taxis, which have cheaper rental charges. For me, it will mean a reduction of the present flag-down rate, which I can accept if it helps to simplify the fare system.
But to a regular taxi driver, the revision in distance fares will not yield much of an increase to his daily income.
Will the change be applicable to limousine taxis? If it is, I foresee a collapse in the rental of limousine taxis. Otherwise, we have to create a distinct colour code for limousine taxis to save commuters confusion. There are too many colour variations for taxis, with some having less conspicuous colours which are hard for commuters to spot from afar.
On the suggestion to drop taxi peak-hour surcharges, it will only aggravate the current dilemma of not having enough taxis during peak hours.
Taxi driver are required to take regular rest breaks every three hours or so. With the peak-hour surcharges, many taxi drivers will ply their taxis during the peak hours and take their breaks during "off-peak" hours.
If the peak-hour surcharges are removed, taxi drivers will inevitably rest during the peak hours, when traffic is heavy. A smart taxi driver will know that he will definitely get caught in traffic jams during the peak hours, and taxi charges when a cab is at a standstill will not compensate for time lost. So, he might rest during the peak hours.
LTA should seriously deliberate on this possible revision as the outcome could be detrimental to the availability of taxis and create more commuter woes rather than solving them.
Rather than removing peak-hour surcharges completely, we could tweak the peak hour timings: retain morning peak hours and have shorter evening peak hours. The evening peak hours could be revised to start from 5pm to 9pm, instead of 6pm to 12am. Taxis plying in housing estates usually do not have many passengers to pick up after 9pm.
The city surcharge could also be removed for commuters.
On imposing a flat monthly Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charge of $150, it is not a fair deal for taxi drivers as it is tantamount to increasing the driver's cost of running a taxi, which is already high and physically taxing for more senior drivers.
It will also cause friction between drivers who share a taxi on a shift system. We should not assume drivers can amicably settle the sharing of any costs.
If the flat charge also means passengers don't have to pay ERP charges on taxis, it is unfair to other vehicle owners who have to pay ERP charges for contributing to traffic congestion, which taxis are also responsible for.
With commuters not having to bear the ERP charges, I am afraid taxis will create more congestion on already packed highways such as the Central Expressway and the Ayer Rajah Expressway.
With the present ERP gantry charges in place, many passengers want taxi drivers to avoid ERP gantries while travelling to their destinations. This behaviour will change dramatically if they will not be charged for passing through ERP gantries.
A passenger would then want to use the shortest and fastest route to his intended location during peak hours, if it means using the routes with ERP gantries. Congestion is not advantageous to the population at large and taxi drivers' income will be affected, too.
My suggestion is that passengers continue paying for ERP charges, but waive charges for vacant taxis to improve the distribution of taxis in CBD and taxis plying between HDB estates. A taxi's terminal equipment can be upgraded to send a signal to the ERP gantry it passes under when the taxi is vacant.
The suggested fare revisions appear to bring financial benefit to taxi drivers but that may not be the case.
The writer is a retiree and has been driving a taxi for about three months.