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    Sep 25, 2014

    Ways to fix the missing cab problem

    DITCH all surcharges, impose all-day levies at far-flung places or introduce even more surcharges to solve the longstanding problem of disappearing taxis just before the peak period.

    These are some of the solutions that experts, industry players and taxi drivers have suggested, after the issue resurfaced recently.

    The Straits Times reported on Sept 8 that cabs at Changi Airport seemed to have gone missing just before peak-hour surcharges kicked in, leaving travellers waiting for more than 30 minutes for a cab.

    The Straits Times received more than 10 forum letters on the issue of how best to solve this problem.

    Surcharges were meant to better match supply and demand. But many, like cabby Colin Wong, have called for peak-hour and location levies to be axed.

    Their rationale? Cabbies already know where and when passengers need cabs most, so there is no need to incentivise them. "We know where and when passengers need cabs... We will still go to where there will be demand and business," said Mr Wong, 53.

    Removing all surcharges will placate commuters unhappy about the current fare structure, which they say is confusing.

    There are close to 10 different flag-down fares, three metered-fare structures, more than 10 kinds of surcharges and eight types of phone-booking fees.

    Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo said last November that the Government is looking at simplifying the current taxi-fare structure to make it less confusing.

    But earlier this year, she said this might lead to higher taxi rentals and fares - a possible result of covering the shortfall that drivers face when the surcharges are removed, experts explained.

    When contacted, the Transport Ministry said it is still "studying this carefully to ensure that taxi commuters and drivers are not worse off if any changes are made".

    SIM University urban transport management expert Park Byung Joon backed the idea of simplifying the fare structure but keeping the airport levy.

    "Unlike shopping centres in the middle of city, the airport is away from the city centre... There must be an incentive for taxi drivers to go to the airport."

    Dr Park said the airport surcharge could be tiered according to plane-arrival schedules to give cabbies more incentive to go when cabs are needed.

    Transport economist Michael Li from Nanyang Business School said the difficulty is deciding on a surcharge amount that does not result in a cab crunch elsewhere.

    "It's a basic service standard, but it should not make it a disincentive for those plying in the city," he said.

    Experts noted that removing surcharges would be a massive exercise. In the interim, companies could add more surcharges to fix the current problem.

    However, Ang Hin Kee (MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC), who is also an adviser to the National Taxi Association, said this was a multi-faceted problem.

    "Cab operators and taxi drivers are operating within the tight parameters of a competitive fare and revenue environment, and there is not much room for adjustment," he said.