By: Alan Tang
Just like any other day, I started my day driving at about 6.30am. Took an hour meal break around 10.30am. Put up changing shift to AMK around 1pm, managed to pick up a pax along Race Course Rd to Bishan. From Bishan, I headed to Sin Ming to report to CDG to return my taxi. I had given 7 working days of my intention to return my taxi scheduled at 2pm today. I was given a letter and a checklist to report to the return taxi bay at CDG.
On the 3rd day of CNY, I sent my taxi to a workshop on the 2nd floor at Auto Point to touch up dents and scratches. Today is the 6th day of CNY which is also my last day as a taxi driver. Yesterday, my good fren Lohcifer insisted on buying me lunch. I reluctantly agreed. I fetched and sent him for our lunch in town. It was a wonderful lunch. He gave me his blessings for the new job I’m looking forward to. He’s always there for me when I was at every juncture of my life milestones.
Just like so many others, notably strangers who were my pax wished me well when I told them I’d be giving up taxi. One pax when she heard that I was about to give up straightaway asked for an empty red packet. There and then she put in $6 and gave it to me wishing me luck. It started off when we were discussing about the sudden onslaught of UG (Uber and Grab) cars and the disruption in the traditional taxi industry.
When I told that lady pax that she was my last pax whilst en route to CDG at Sin Ming, she thought that I was changing shift and calling it a day. Nop. I’m returning the taxi after sending you home I told her. When she found the reason why I was giving up taxi, she agreed that it’s no longer a viable occupation. She told me that only older people like herself still prefer traditional taxi. Most of the youngsters would rather take UG cars. She then related to me how her daughter took Grab Share after midnite from Ngee Ann Polytechnic to Bishan at only $1.40! She was so shocked at the dirt cheap taxi fare which in her own words nobody would believe. I replied to her that she should not be surprised that many like me are giving up. Soon, taxis will get fewer and fewer to the point of near extinction just like those dinosaurs once ruled the earth!
When my old fren Freddie Tan delivered some Rabbit fish for the 8th consecutive year to my flat in the morning on the 1st day of CNY, he told me he loved Grab! He hardly drives his BMW 5 series saloon car nowadays cuz he prefers to be chauffeured around especially when he’s drinking. Only $5 to $7 from Changi Golf club to Tampines in the late evening. His daughter also taking UG cars. When his medical doctor son booked (no booking fee) an executive Grab car in the morning rush hour from Tampines to SGH, one sleek BMW came to pick him up. Fare only $18 without any surcharge, CBD or ERP chargers! My taxi would have cost more cuz of the $3.30 booking fee, ERP and 25% surcharges. What a langgar situation for full time taxi drivers like us.
Yup. UG cars do not have surcharges. Their rentals very low – about half of traditional taxi. Most importantly there is no booking fee on top of the endless discounts up till $15 they keep throwing. Nearly everyday on every Grab taxi trip (Not Grab car which is more lucrative cuz Grab takes 20% cut of the fare. Grab taxi only 50 cents per trip yet they throw tons of money), there is some discount ranging from $3.50 to $15! After midnight, nobody takes taxi due to the midnight surcharge. UG cars rule after midnight. That’s why my night relief AT after more than 10 yrs as a cabby also gave up. He gave me exactly one month notice to quit. I then decided to look for another job and also give up together!
After I returned my taxi, I walked over to LTA to renew my taxi vocational license. Even though I’m no longer driving taxi, I thought might as well pay the $20 to renew it for another 3 years. It’s exactly 3 years since I got my taxi vocational license on 15 Jan 2014. I went on to take my Bus vocational license the following month after getting my taxi vocational license. After about 6 moths as a taxi relief driver, I went on to get a brand new i40 taxi on 5 Aug 2014. For about 2.5 years (5 Aug 14 to 2 Feb 2017), I was imprisoned in my own taxi. I was a slave to the taxi.
I was driving everyday without off days. Only on weekends, I would leave start much later after my morning exercise at Pasir Ris park. Except on those rare occasions when my taxi undergone major repairs or got hit by another vehicle, then only I could take a breather. Other than that, it’s always driving from 6.30 am to past 5pm with at least 8 hours plying the roads.
My partner commented that “你终于解放了” – I’m liberated at last. The Buddhists would have said “脱离苦海“ – Ending Sea of Suffering! CDG gave me a chance to make $120, 450 (2.5 X 365 X 132) for them. Of course, I have not factored in the quarterly incentives of about $300 and the 3 days of free rental per year! When I first started driving taxi as an inexperienced novice, I could easily make more than $150 nett profit. As I got more confident and experienced after having struggled and learnt the ropes of the trade, I should be making much more but sadly it’s not the case. Especially during the last few months when Grab was throwing tons of money like no tomorrow to entice passengers, our traditional taxi trade has taken to the worst! Just ask any taxi driver and the same woe and moan is echoed to any willing ear. You will even get an earful if you just mention UG cars! Will our traditional taxi – ambassadors of our beautiful sunny island go the way of the dinosaurs to extinction? Only time will tell.
Some say that traditional taxi could “sweep” the roads – pickup from road sides and taxi stands. Is it true? Now that everyone is holding a smartphone, this presumption no longer holds water. Only those computer illiterates stand at road kerb to hail taxi. Youngsters prefer to use apps to book UG cars where they would pick them at the foot of their blocks with no booking fee. Many taxi drivers in their 60s only resort to taxi stands and road sweeping to pick up fares. Some even off their MDT since they do not take calls at all. Reason is that many are too slow to bid for jobs on the MDT or could not read English being Chinese educated. Imagine the frustrations and anger of those elderly taxi drivers queuing at taxi stand only to witness UG cars one after another picking up pax at the same taxi stand?
Taxi drivers like me have a choice. But do the elderly taxi drivers eking out a decent living in this most expensive city in the world have a choice? Maybe, they could quit and collect cardboards at 10 cents a kilo for survival and do some exercise at the same time to keep fit? There is no helping hand to help this group of taxi drivers who have devoted their entire life to this dying profession. It is a sad and pitiful reality which not many are taking their plight seriously.
Unfortunately I’m a nobody. I could not do anything to help those elderly taxi drivers. I could only get out and look for other means to survive. Having said that, I still enjoyed every moment of my taxi experience. My taxi with 2 drivers had already clocked more than 400,000 km. I could say that I have easily achieved about 200,000 km for the 3 full years as taxi driver. My cabby fren Patrick used to say a taxi driver’s one year mileage is easily more than an average driver’s lifetime mileage. In the course of my 3 years as a professional qualified taxi driver (having gone thru the grueling course at Taxi Academy), I have met so many countless pax – the good, bad and ugly. If you just do a search on my blog under “conversation with my pax”, there are few captured on my blog.
When I thanked my good fren Lohcifer for yesterday’s wonderful lunch and other gifts, he had this to say. ” … As you turn a new page in your life, starting tomorrow, I pray that you will be blessed with great happiness, good fortune and bountiful joy and abundance!”
Republished from the blog Gintai_昇泰.