Kampung Pendas re-visited

image

On 17th Oct 2014 (Fri), after our small windfall on 11th Oct 2014 (Sat) when my taxi hit the 2nd prize, Alan Taxi and myself decided to give our brethren at Blk 444 Pasir Ris Dr 6 a treat. Soon after that memorable evening, AT hit yet another time. This time, he won the 1st prize 4244 on 19th Oct 2014 (Sun). After that mini celebration, AT decided to place bets on 2444 since the two of us gave them a treat at Blk 444. He bought the 4 combinations and he hit the jackpot! Obviously, the stars in the firmament have aligned themselves and conspire to render AT his unstoppable winning streak. Yup, you heard it right, the God of Fortune is smiling at him. I used to receive such sms from friends. It seems so surreal.

财神老爷对你笑;
笑得胡子往上翘。
问你发财要不要?
享受富贵真奇妙;
钞票多多真有效;
看见什么都能要!
若问这天何时到?
读完信息就生效!

Our wise 444 member Datuk Lim had this to say, “真的过海过娇行好运!”

image

4244 cuz 2 of us gave a treat at Blk 444

Thus, AT sponsored a return trip to Kg Pendas in Johore on 22nd Oct 2014 (Wed). It is exactly one month since our last whirlwind trip to that place. I blog about it here. But I still can’t resist to blog again.

As usual, we left Pasir Ris for Kg Pendas on that day at about 0715 hrs after picking up Wilson. The same four of us except Red Bull joined us this time round replacing Encik who was then in the Land of the Rising Sun admiring Mount Fuji. He was lucky to be back yesterday cuz there was an accident involving Singaporeans in a tour bus there. Link

We arrived at our destination before 0830 hrs. The journey was a breeze compared to the last time. This time, we got our bearing right. Right after the Msian checkpoint, we turned into the 1st exit heading towards Tanjong Pelapas. Approximately 5km later, when we reached the traffic lights junction, we turned right all the way for another 15km approximately where Kg Pendas beckoned.

In fact, AT already called in advance to book with Machik some seafood and get ready for our arrival. On that day, Machik’s fisherman hubby supplied us more than 2kg of clayfish and more than 1kg big sea prawns. We bought another 2kg of flower crabs from the local fisherman there. It was Deepavali – also a public holiday in Msia. Machik’s lovely daughters were there to serve us. We brought along lots of chilli – bottled ones, fresh ones and my mum’s special home made chilli, bottles of lime juice, soft drinks and even soya sauce. I had my powerful JBL speakers – The Charge to create the perfect ambience for our seafood lunch there. Read the JBL review here.

I bought a longish flat 2.5kg fish – ikan Talang (Queen fish aka “Sam Po Kong”) from the local fishmonger at only S$11. Link It was cut to pieces with all the scales removed. Washed thoroughly and packed with lots of ice. I brought it back for my mum to cook. Since it’s already all prepared, just need to throw into the wok to deep fry it.

image

image

image

After it’s deep fried. Brought it for EM folks to try

We only had three items for the seafood lunch – clayfish, big sea prawns and flower crabs. All were alive and jumping fresh from the sea. We decided to eat them all steam befitting of the true connoisseur – not fried, no chilli or any another additives, definitely no formaldehyde where we pay dearly to the local fishmonger at the neighborhood wet market.

No wonder so many locals go all the way there. We met a middle aged couple living in Bedok. They brought with them three styrofoam boxes to store the tons of seafood they buy from the local fishermen. They come here regularly once a month to stock up their seafood for their own consumption. They have stopped buying from the local wet market.

image

image

image

image

Our host prepared a table for us at the stilted wooden platform just above the sea alongside the dense mangrove swamp. It was an idyllic environment with the majestic breath taking sea view lined with endless sampans. The loud oldies pumped out by the powerful JBL speaker embellished the ambience atmosphere without adding embellishments to the authentic live seafood!

The delicious fresh seafood steamed to taste in its original flavor, the rustic kampung set-up with the dancing waves undulating with the waving sampans beneath the dense mangrove swamp conjured up nostalgic images of a past era in our homeland bolstered by the powerful speaker playing evergreen oldies in the background all crescendoed our mood to the 9th heaven away from the hurly burly of mad city life. What a life!

Total damage for the seafood lunch including the cooking costs only RM188 (S$73.10)

Related article.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image
Wilson with Machik’s fisherman hubby

image

The chef with one of her grandchildren. She has 10 children with 21 grandchildren and still counting. Her hubby is 57 yrs old.

Posted in Langgar | 2 Comments

Basic taxi set-up and operations…

image

When my Hyundai i40 taxi came out of Komoco on 5th Aug 2014, there were many well wishers from my friends especially those taxi drivers at Elias Mall. Even before the arrival of my taxi, I had many rounds of discussion with my EM friends. I booked Johnny Cash as my permanent night relief driver from Mon to Fri. Alan Taxi shall be my day relief. I’ll drive OMO on weekends. Pop Ong, another i40 Hyundai taxi hirer who got his more than a year ago also gave me important tips on my new taxi set-up.

Having considered all the suggestions from my taxi friends at EM, I decided to accessorize my brand new taxi even before it came out. I decided to cough out some hard cash on the following items…

a) Pioneer Radio and CD player $188
b) Rear Bumper rubberized protector at the booth opening $25
c) LED cab light $15
d) Reverse sensor $70
e) Tough PVC wrapped around on floor board to replace the carpet $105
f) Nano ceramic solar film for the whole taxi to filter off harmful sun rays $375

Total costs of the initial investment on my new taxi came to $778! The above items were decided after careful consideration. Trust me, after more than 2 months of driving this taxi, I’ll tell you it is worth every cent. AT volunteered to contribute $100 towards the costs. I only accepted $50 each from him and Johnny Cash as a token gesture. After all, I’m the hirer and I made the decision to invest that sum. Wise Lohcifer – an expert on EQ and a Maestro of Change had this to say, “It’s good that you accepted their token contribution. It gives them a sense of ownership!”

The fact that I drive the taxi for more than 8 hours a day necessitates those extras. The radio will keep me entertained throughout my driving hours. But then I need to be careful whenever there is a passenger. I prefer to listen to Chinese channels like FM 95.8 and FM 97.2 even though I’m English educated and comfortable using English. I find those Chinese DJs in the 2 channels very friendly and endearing especially towards taxi drivers. They call us “德士师傅”! What an honor. If a non-Chinese passenger comes in, I immediately switch it over to BBC “!” . When I’m on the way to top up my fuel or clean up my taxi after my shift, I’ll listen to Da Bei Zhou / 大悲咒. When the passenger is talking on the phone, I always lower down the volume. I’ll blog about Taxi etiquette other time. Link

Often, we fetch or send passengers to the airport with luggage. The rear top bumper of the booth is subject to the onslaught of the lugguage resulting in ugly scratches. My taxi friends advised me to cushion it with a a heavy duty rubberized sheet to protect the rear bumper.

The LED light is super bright. It’s useful at night when I need to collect fare from passenger at end of the journey. I also use it to clean the vehicle interior in the night.

Very often, we need to send passenger right to the door step of the house. I’m referring to private residential homes. There are certain places in private residential landed property with cars parking along narrow roads and it’s quite dark. The places I encountered such as Ikan Merah or Jln Tanjong areas are very congested at night. The reverse sensor helps me to maneuver around without kissing any of the cars parked along the sides of the narrow road!

Pop Ong regretted not installing the tough wrapped around PVC plastic cover on the vehicle floor board. I was strongly advised by many of my comrades to install it. It’s much easier to clean the dirt, sands or hairs deposited on the floor board. If it’s carpeted, even the vacuum cleaner won’t be able to suck them out completely. I’m more worried about drunkards vomiting in the vehicle. Imagine the carpet soaked and stained with vomit from drunk passengers throwing out like our Merlion? The smell and stench on the carpet will never go away even if you wash it thoroughly or spray with perfume! That’s the major worry whenever we fetch drunk passengers in the wee hours from those night spots.

Johnny Cash who drives the night shift and his penchant to scour all the night spots in town had a memorable experience with what I just described! He had to pack up early to wash the taxi and that ruined his shift not to mention loss of income!

Lastly, the costly solar film installed in the whole taxi is definitely worth every cent. The fact that I ever driven others’ taxis in the day shift made me understand the importance of solar film to filter off its harmful effects. It also reduces heat. If I’m going to drive at least 8 hours on the day shift, I better get it installed. When I drove Pop Ong’s taxi for a week on the day shift, I had to take cover under the shady trees when temperature hit the highest under the midday sun. Even with the air con on full blast, I was still sweating profusely inside the cab.

Now in my own taxi, I only need to switch the air con to level 3 to maintain its coolness and I can still go on driving. My day shift relief AT is enjoying the cool comfort of day driving. Most importantly, it prevents me from getting skin cancer or pigmentation if I’m going to carry on driving taxi permanently on the day shift.

The above briefly explains the initial investment on my taxi when it first came out. After more than 2 months I’m reaping its benefits. No regrets at all.

There may be other hirers or readers who do not share my views on this subject or any other topics I used to blog about. There are tens of thousands of taxi drivers out there on the roads. Surely, I do not expect all of them to agree with me on this topic. Just like some of the 100,000 over Singaporean TDVL holders who may take issue with the PM when he recently endorsed Uber publicly on national television. Now anybody – no need to be a Singapore citizen but as long as you own a private car could enter the taxi trade via the back door under Uber without any need to go through LTA approval (screening) or the tough 2-week course! We are quite confused now. I’ll talk about its dire repercussions other time. Link

But I’ve reached a stage where I write only for my own pleasure and for the reading pleasure of my family and friends. As much as there are few loyal fans out there following my blogs, there are also others taking pot shots on selective portions of my blog posts. Those are the losers and “morons” we always find in any society. It’s always easy to pass comments on lousy food but when you ask him to cook, he can’t! I guess we just have to face them and live with those retards!

Back to my topic. I always believe that taxi is a public transport. It is meant for the public. Anyone can hail your taxi and take your cab to his destination. It is not a private car as far as I’m concerned. All taxis are governed by LTA’s regulations and in my case also come under stringent company’s Code of Conduct. I make a living out of the cab from the public. From the lowest to the highest food chain, anyone could take my taxi as long as he pays. Likewise, I also expect to be treated with decency when I’m doing my job. It’s a 2-way process. I do not discriminate my passengers cuz they pay the standard meter fare. Whoever you are, you still pay me the meter fare. Maybe, some of them will round off the fare giving me the extra tips. Just keep the change if they are happy with the ride. They pay even more if they had a ride of their life!

As such, I’m very particular about cleanliness in my taxi. My 2 other relief drivers who own private cars are also very particular about taxi cleanliness. AT not only contributed $50 to the initial investment, but also sponsored many other items for the new taxi. He bought a dozen air refreshers for the taxi. He even bought 2 extra floor mats with “Welcome” imprinted on them for the rear passenger seats. The box of tissue paper at the back of the cab also replenished by him. Even seat cushions for front and driver seats also bought by him!

image

image

image

image

Internal view of my taxi.  Note the plastic bags on standby for Merlion pax.

Isn’t AT really has a sense of ownership of the taxi even though he only drives 2 weekdays on the day shift for me? Yes, Heavens got eyes to see. Just last Saturday, my taxi number came out. He did strike 2nd prize and won a big windfall! I also had a small windfall. Our EM brethren and myself are very happy for him cuz he gave us a fantastic treat on last Saturday night. Despite the fact he doesn’t drink, he opened more than a dozen beer plus so much food he ordered for all the EM folks! If you believe in Karma, it’s happening right before our eyes.

image

image

Huat Ah!  Lucky Taxi!

My knowledgable ex-colleague Busy Bee presented me a solar powered Tibetan revolving wheel for my new taxi. He checked back with me if I had placed it on my taxi dashboard? I told him I needed to consider the feelings of my 2 relief drivers who are against the idea saying that the taxi is a public transport and not our private car. We should not put toys, idols, unnecessary items etc inside the taxi. Unlike others, they like to decorate with all kinds of things in their taxis. My mother’s talisman from the temple also had to forgo! Red Bull on the other hand presented some pieces of special cleaning cloth for my taxi. According to him, the cloth is used to clean aircraft! Can’t get them in the shops. We gladly accepted them.

I ever said that operating a taxi is akin to operating a food stall except that ours is a “mobile” food stall where the whole island is our playground. We are free to roam about on the super efficient highways and the countless small roads and lanes without any hindrance. You will not want to patronize the food stall if the food seller is shabbily dressed, unkempt and untidy with a dirty food stall. Similarly, if the taxi driver is not neat, lackadaisical attitude with a filthy taxi, would you enjoy the ride?

I’ll blog about taxi cleanliness citing some real anecdotes and feedback from passengers. There are many things I wish to talk about regarding the taxi trade. I’ll do so whenever I have the time and the mood. Like I say, I’m leaving a legacy by blogging about my job and life. It’s always good to put on record and archive on my life’s milestones.

Posted in Langgar | 5 Comments

Fishermen Village trip @Kampung Pendas

image

The 5 of us enjoying our breakfast.

On 23rd Sep 2014(Tue), Wilson, Alan Taxi, Encik, Lao Si and myself set off to the much talked about fishermen village in a remote part of Gelang Patah in Johore. Kampung Pendas is a small idyllic fishermen village anchored at the mouth of a small river directly facing our Poyan and Tengah Reservoirs. This hidden jewel tucked in one isolated corner away from the bustling city life, amidst the mangrove swamps at the edge of the southern tip of the great land mass still remains undiscovered and unspoiled. Wilson brought us there and to say that we were overwhelmed by its’ natural uncorrupted alluring beauty is an understatement.

We set off in the morning at about 0700 hrs from Elias Mall. When we crossed over to Gelang Patah at the 2nd link via Tuas, we had some problem locating this remote hideaway! My Garmin GPS was hopeless. Luckily, we had Lao Si’s Nokia Lumia 1520’s GPS system to guide us to the exact location after going in circles within Gelang Patah.  By then, it’s already passed 10.30am which was quite late. The trick is to get there before 9am when those fishermen just returned with their fresh catch in their small motorized sampans after a night of fishing.

We wasted no time when we finally arrived there. The leader Wilson straightaway got busy looking at all the stalls and those fishermen with their fresh catch in their small fishing boats to zero in whatever seafood on offers. Since he could speak very good Malay, he was the one heckling over the prices getting the best deals and bargains for us. We merely tagged along and enjoyed the kampung spirit of the common fishing folks there. Not only the fresh unadulterated seafood right from the seas, everything there was refreshing and new to us city dwellers whom were so used to high rise concrete buildings and vehicle fumes!

Wilson ordered flower crabs, crayfish, prawns, sotong, red snapper fish etc in the kilos. All were thrown inside AT’s big cooler box with plenty of ice to maintain its freshness. It’s a war chest full of fresh loot from the night’s catch hauled in by those seasoned Malay fishermen right from the seas within the narrow channel separating us from them. Really, it’s world’s apart living between the narrow straits. It’s so near just across and yet so far where we had to make our way across the borders and enroute there through the dirt tracks just to enjoy it’s natural idyllic setting which we yearn for.

Wilson then proceeded to book our chef at a small eatery at the edge of the river. He gave instructions on the seafood preparation and left the cooler box there whilst we walked to a nearby stall to have a light breakfast of roti prata and tea tarik. 5 of them had a leisurely breakfast and that cost us less than RM20!

By the time we walked back to the little hut where our Macik was busy with the many kilos of fresh seafood, it’s almost ready. Half of those just plain steamed and the other half of the seafood cooked with chilli. A huge jug of lime juice with plenty of ice on standby. We settled comfortably to begin our mother of all seafood feast at the little hut by the sea with lots of fishing boats berthing there. It’s cool, shady amidst the huge mangrove swamp there even thought it’s hot and humid with high temperature blazing away under the midday sun.

AT, Wilson, Encik speak excellent Malay. I speak adequate Malay. Lao Si none. Whatever, we were able to engage in an animated Malay conversation with the Macik and her hubby. She was having a whale of time cooking the tons of seafood we bought earlier. We devoured those cooked seafood faster than she could cook. We were so overwhelmed with the tasty fresh seafood especially the crayfish and flower crabs which took our taste buds to the highest culinary pleasure where money can never buy back home! Priceless indeed! The hubby quickly brought a big pail for us to dispose off the shells and remnants of the seafood onslaught we shamelessly displayed. After all, we did not want to lose out in this once a blue moon fresh seafood feast! What an enjoyable meal underneath the huge mangrove swamp with insects in the background tweeting and sniggering at us – city dwellers.

Whist they were busy feasting on the fresh juicy hot seafood, I as usual was busy sending tons of pictures via WhatsApp to our EM chat group back home to keep them updated of our little off track adventure. After all, I could receive local signals. No auto roaming data charges incurred since its so near to home. As such, whilst we were having a jolly good time attacking our seafood, friends back home were also having a virtual visual feast. I was scolded by Lohcifer and others for not inviting them yet tempting them! What a langgar situation dah!

At the end of the mother of all seafood feast, Wilson asked for the bill in Malay of course. Macik says in Malay, “Up to you to give lah!” What? No price tag for the huge amount of cooking? The iced lime juice drinks, the plates, the washing and the huge mess created by all of us – and now it’s up to us to pay her? WTF? ( What The Fish ok?)

Five of us in the group. Wilson then decided to pay the Malay lady who did the cooking for us at RM50 (S$20) based on RM10 for each of us. Wilson asked her in Malay if it’s enough for her labour and cooking costs? Her reply in Malay, “Tuan, banyat sangat lah!” Again WTF! She was telling us that we paid her more than enough! The gods must be crazy lah!

Do you believe what I just related? Do you still believe in the incorruptibility, honesty, sincere kampung folks existing right across our materialistic soulless and cold calculative society where everything is reduced to dollar and cent? We may be the best in everything in terms of achievements in the materialistic sense but in fact we are so much poorer in terms of human intrinsic values. That was what the legendary Myanmar leader retorted when she visited us. We tried to boast and showcase to her about our great world class achievements hoping to get praises from her when she retorted that there is also so much we could learn from them as well. She was not impressed at all. I’m humbled by her different mindset perspective.

Total damage for that wanton feast including the cooking came to RM240 which is only S$93.22 (less than S$20 each person) for the five of us amidst that exclusive kampung setting by the mangrove swamp with a fantastic sea view! I parked my taxi at home idling. In terms of the rental and forgone income when it’s not driven, it’s quite a lot but trust me, it is worth every cent! Every mother’s son at EM is clamoring to go there! We are already looking forward to another trip.

Click here to read similar article here.

More pictures here.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Posted in Langgar | 6 Comments

Exactly one year after my termination from SMRT …

image
Alan Taxi with our taxi taken on the 5th Aug 2014.  The day the taxi first came out.

Exactly one year ago, I left my previous company in humiliation and with much anguish despite the fact that I served nearly 18 yrs of dedicated service with at least 4 commendations. In such a big company I was never considered for any re-deployment or other job options. I was treated like a filthy criminal and unceremoniously escorted out of HQ at North Bridge Rd and my work place. I had to throw lots of personal things from my locker cuz I could not carry them all in a plastic bag. There was no time for me to bid farewell to all my long time colleagues whom I had worked together for such a long time through thick and thin – in good times and bad times overcoming all odds trying always to get the trains running on time and efficiently despite the many challenges we faced. Unlike the government, they don’t believe in taking care of the pioneer generation. Do they?

But then I was paid handsomely for doing a job. There should not be any bitterness and I should not speak ill of our previous employer cuz people come and go in an establishment. In a way, it is quite true especially if the Chief decides to chop you off since you are a liability – a maverick loose cannon that did not contribute much to the bottom-line. As the saying goes, if the Chief wants you to go, you will have to go. After all he’s a great capable man and is worth much more than a cabinet minister. I say this cuz in the history of our cabinet, there is no equivalent. Currently only an MG waiting in the wings to take over. Running the rail services to perfection is “chicken feet” to him when we consider the fact that at one time he had the entire nation’s security resources at his command & control which literally meant that he could declare war on any belligerent hostile country. Thus, our collective destiny at one time was in his hands.

Indeed, we are blessed to have such a great talented local son running our railway system. I’m sure the Chief will solve those teething problems and make life better for all of us using the railway network. I’m not speaking ill of him but praising him especially when he assigned M Chua to handle my case. The latter ameliorated much of my bitterness and my perceived injustice. We’re friends now.

I’ve passed that uncertain phase. I’m into my next phase and maybe the final phase in my lifespan. The first few months I was searching aimlessly for survival in this most expensive city and where welfarism is a dirty word. I need to earn my own living at my age. If I were much younger, opportunities are aplenty but not when you are passed 50 yrs. After many interviews with the questions always falling back to my previous job, I finally gave up. I then decided to take up taxi driving job when a group of taxi drivers at my place in Elias Mall persuaded me to give a try.

In a way, I was blessed to have a group of taxi drivers in my neighborhood encouraging me to join their trade. Having made up my mind, I applied to LTA for approval. About a month later, the approval letter came and I registered for the 2-week taxi course at Taxi Academy. Finally in mid Jan 2014, I got my taxi vocation license.

On 28 Jan 2014, I started my virgin drive under the close supervision of my mentor Alan Taxi (AT). He gave me part of his 12-hour shift (6pm to 10pm at $5 per hour) to orientate myself on the job. From 10pm, AT took over until he handed over the taxi before 6am. Between 6pm to 10pm is the “golden window” where taxi demand is at its peak. After that,  it’s more taxis than passengers. No others except AT willing to make such a big sacrifice for my sake. This arrangement happened for quite some time until I got the feel of driving a taxi. Whenever I had problems or not sure what to do, I would call him for help. For the next 5 to 6 months after mid Jan 2014, I became a relief driver.

I’ve driven at least 5 taxis around the neighborhood. A.T. would recommend me to his friends and neighbors in the area whenever those drivers go overseas or take off. I remember having to ride my bike all over the neighborhood to drive others’ taxis.

There was one short period I had driven a taxi at Pasir Ris St 52 for about 2 weeks on a permanent basis for a hirer which is quite a distance away from Elias Mall. All was well until one day the hirer demanded back the key when I turned up for work. I asked him what’s the problem? He said that he did not like the timing of my driving shift from 4pm to 4am. He already got his friend to drive for him from 6pm to 6am. I told him he could have discussed it with me and I would have agreed. Anyway, I used to wait for him to come back. He was never on time. At one time I even waited for nearly an hour before he finally handed over his taxi to me. I had to endure his unprincipled ethics. He never apologized nor explained his lateness. As a relief driver I had to suffer in silence. I had to take whatever shit thrown on my face.

When I told A.T. that I was sacked by that hirer, he straightway asked me to “help him” drive for 2 weeks as he was about to go for a “stones” removal operation. Happily I accepted the offer. After that needless humiliation which I took in my strife, I told myself that I will be the hirer and I will decide who will drive for me. My parting shot to that taxi hirer who prefers to let his own kind drive for him is that it is never easy to pair with a good relief driver and vice versa. I believe that I had done all that is within my duty and responsibility as his relief driver. “Oh it’s only the timing that I don’t agree”. “Nothing else” was his reply. He prefers his own kind to drive lah! After 2 weeks he texted me if I wanted to go back driving for him?  I said no. A good horse doesn’t eat return grass! That’s the Chinese saying.

Fast forward to 5 Aug 2014, I took out a brand new Hyundai i40 from Komoco without paying a single cent. If I return the vehicle within a year, I will have to pay a penalty of $500. After a year, no need to pay anything if I return it back to the company. Fair deal. An offer I find hard to resist. 

With so many good well meaning taxi driver friends in the neighborhood, I was able to make a swift and smooth transition from a senior train driver to a novice taxi driver. It looks easy but trust me driving a taxi is not a bed of roses. By clocking an average of 250km daily, my one year of driving taxi is worth your life time of mileage. As such, my driving skills improve tremendously. I’ve just started and there is still lots to learn. After all I’ve got another 24 yrs to drive – subject to medical conditions of course, until I hit 75 yrs old. Hopefully, I shall reach the stage when the taxi becomes a part of me and we move in tandem zipping across all our beautiful super world class highways earning a decent living. My Sifu AT and some of them may have already attained that level. Whereas, I still have a long way to realize this stage. They are seasoned veterans at Division 1 and I’m only at Division 3 standard. I’ll blog about this other time. In fact, there are so many things to blog about my taxi experiences. Surely there is much to talk about when I get to meet an average of 20 passengers per shift.

Currently, including myself there are 3 drivers operating my taxi. I’m off on 2 week days. My 2nd relief is off on weekends. AT will stand in on our off days. The taxi is running 24/7 with at least 500km daily mileage. It is never left idle. LTA’s requirement is at least 250km per day. We double that to maximize taxi usage on the road. Only 1.5 months, my taxi now exceeds 26,000km mileage. Every month, I’ll have to send it to Sin Ming for preventive servicing. To put it in perspective, my bone shaker – an OPC which I just scrapped after 10 yrs only clocked about 40,000km! My 5-year bike which I used to commute daily only clocks past 44,500km.

Like I say earlier, it is never easy to partner with good relief driver and vice versa. I’m fortunate to have Johnny Cash and Alan Taxi as my relief drivers living in the same block on different floors. The taxi is always parked at our car park. Everyone holds a key. We just msg on our WhatsApp group to inform about the car park level when we finish our shift and amount of diesel consumption or any other related matters. Partly because all of us own private cars, we are able to take good care of our taxi. Amongst ourselves, we set the rules and we abide by the rules. There are many unwritten rules in the taxi trade which I shall blog about other time.

Suffice to say that I’m most satisfied with the current arrangement where that taxi I brought out is able to pay for all the bills in 3 households since there is a steady stream of income. Johnny Cash specializes on night shifts scouring all the nightspots and pubs till the wee hours. He’s hopeless in the day shift. In fact, he can’t drive in the day. AT is versatile and is able to drive both day and night shifts. He was a tour bus driver and a limousine driver before. I’ll fall asleep once I hit 2am if I were to drive the night shift!

Even though Johnny Cash is 61 yrs and having gone through a triple heart by-pass last year, he is still able to push himself to the limits with fantastic mileage of more than 300km of night driving! I’m more worried about AT who is only 2 yrs older than me. He’s a “medicine man” – meaning that he needs a stream of medicines – popping many pills to sustain his momentum. Often, his right leg would “jam” resulting in him not able to drive. He’s just gone for a complete MR scan pending its outcome. I’ll talk about “medicine men” on my next blog. There are many medicine men amongst us in EM. It’s quite a sad reality as one ages and grows older.

One year after I left my previous job, I’m now a full fledged taxi driver earning a decent living to pay for all my bills in this most expensive city in the world. I’m coping well and meeting new challenges everyday. I’m glad to say that now I sleep well and eat regularly unlike in my previous job with all the crazy bizarre rotating off days and ungodly shift hours resulting in my biological clock going haywire! I now take it easy at my own pace.

Having a satisfying job also boosts up my self ego and dignity. At times, I’m able to converse in an intelligent and fruitful manner with some of my high calibre passengers. Often, they are amazed at the facts and figures I could throw at them with simple logical and fair comments! I don’t usually talk to passengers unless they wish to. That’s another basic etiquette we need to observe as a professional taxi driver. I’ll blog about taxi driver etiquette other time – the dos and dont’s. Yup, as a taxi driver we meet all kinds of passengers from the lowest food chain to the highest! All kinds of people take taxis since it is quite convenient and affordable.

It’s been quite a while since my last entry on my blog. I’ve been enjoying my new work life balance. Now I’ve got more time to exercise to keep fit. It’s a luxury I treasure now. Never in my 18 yrs on my previous job did I have the time to walk for 5 over km in our beautiful Pasir Ris park with my walking partner “Lao Si” whenever I’m off duty. Before that, more than 18 yrs ago, I used to run 12km at least once in a week at MacRitchie Reservoir with my buddy Dave Singh.  I stopped after I became a train driver. If I had remained as a train driver I might end up like many of my ex-colleagues whom just simply perished on the job. Or I might even end up as a medicine man. It’s indeed a blessing in disguise that I was compelled to switch to my current job. Johnny Cash, AT and myself are grateful that this taxi has given us a stream of income to sustain our living expenses.

It’s always good to appreciate the small little things in life we always take for granted. There is always a sliver lining in everything. Thank you all for all the best wishes and concern especially those ex-colleagues and supervisors i.e. CMTs in TNM who were shocked and worried about my sudden departure. Some of my ex-colleagues like SM Wilson in PSR, Bernie, Bobby ( I hope he gets well soon and will walk with me at Pasir Ris park), Anthony, Simon, Lim, Clarence, Norman,  Basri,  Dark Knight, Busy Bee; Hassanee etc etc and I can’t name all, are still keeping in touch with me.

Amongst us, we just lost our good friend Raymond in a freak accident at Tampines St 11. We gathered at his wake with sadness and we grief over such a senseless loss of life. We sent him off with a heavy heart. May he rest in peace. It’s great to be alive and kicking and we should treasure those around us when we consider life’s fragility.

山有山的高度,
水有水的深度,没必要攀比,
每个人都有自己的长处;
风有风的自由,云有云的温柔,
没必要模仿,每个人都有自己的个性。

你认为快乐的,就去寻找;
你认为值得的,就去守候;
你认为幸福的,就去珍惜。

没有不被评说的事,没有不被猜测的人。
做最真实最漂亮的自己,依心而行,无憾今生。

人生1条路:走自己的路;
人生2件宝:身体好、心不老;
人生3种朋友:肯借钱给你、参加你的婚礼、参加你的葬礼;
人生有4苦:看不透、舍不得、输不起、放不下。
人生5句话:再难也要坚持,再好也要淡泊,再差也要自信,再多也要节省,再冷也要热情。
人生6财富:身体、知识、梦想、信念、自信、骨气。

Posted in Langgar | 8 Comments

Taxi availability woes and third party apps..

On 5th Aug 14, I got my brand new Hyundai i40 taxi. I’m now a hirer with Comfort Taxi company with 2 relief drivers. Compared to 6 months ago when I started driving taxi as a relief driver, I’m now more confident. There is still much to learn as  I am still new to the trade. Compared to other taxi operators, Comfort gave me an extremely good offer. I need not pay a single cent for the new taxi. I just need to hire it for at least a year. Failing which I need to pay a penalty of only $500. It is a fair deal.

I’m now driving the day shift from 6am to 6pm on Mon, Wed and Fri. Full shift on Sat and Sun meaning no relief driver. My permanent relief Johnny Cash drives the night shift from Mon to Fri (6pm to 6am). Another relief Alan Taxi (AT) who is my mentor drives the day shift on Tue and Thur only. He is also driving 2 other cabs over the weekend. Both relief drivers live on different floors in my block. As such, I’m off on Tue and Thur. This brand new taxi is driven by 3 of us 24/7 round the clock without idling. It’s not more than 9 days since the taxi came out of Komoco and the mileage is now more than 5,000km. With more than 500km clocked everyday, it far exceeds LTA’s requirement of at least 250km per day.

So far, there’s no complaint about the new taxi. However, there is one perennial problem I find disturbing. I’ll try to explain and highlight the problem confronting us ( the 3 drivers of this taxi) and most taxi drivers. It’s about the MDT – Main Display Terminal – the small monitor TV screen on all the cabs. MDT is the lifeline of all cabs. It shows the details of trips, jobs, driver’s ID, takings etc. If there is a current call booking, it will display the information. The driver then bids for it and proceed to complete the job if he is successful in taking the bid or current call. All calls within a radius of 5km are supposed to appear on the MDT. The customer pays $2.30 (off peak) or $3.30 (peak) for each current call booking. 30 cents go to the company and the driver keeps the rest.

The MDT is the lifeline of the taxis. If the taxi driver takes 20 call bookings on his 12-hour shift, he gets an extra of at least $40 based on non-peak hours period. If include the peak hours period (6am to 9.30am or 6pm to midnite), he could easily make more than $50 extra on top of the metered fare and whatever surcharges e.g. CBD, peak hour, midnite or location surcharges.

My taxi may be brand new but the MDT is re-cycled. MDTs are taken from condemned cabs and re-installed on all new cabs. On the first day, I sensed some problem with the MDT. It’s slow and lagging. When I stopped the meter, the MDT screen took ages to appear wasting everyone’s time. Customer kept asking how much the total fare. I had to wait for the total fare to appear slowly on the MDT screen before I could confirm the final charges. Sometimes, it simply hung. The problem persisted even after I had to do a soft re-set.

The next day when I started my shift at 6am, it totally blacked out. It gone dead on the second day. No choice, I just cruised around picking up customers on the streets. No current call bookings for me. I did not want to miss the morning peak golden hours from 6am to 9.30am cuz of the extra 25% surcharge on the metered fare. After I sent my taxi to the workshop at Sin Ming Drive to repair around 10am, I walked to the nearby coffeeshop to take my meal break. Whenever I sent in the taxi to repair the MDT, it is at my own time. I still pay for the rental when the taxi is not plying the road. I can’t claim “down-time”. Meter is not running but I still continue to pay rental without any rebate.

image

The "Red Cross" just won't go away!

On the next day, I sent my taxi again to the same workshop at Sin Ming Drive to repair. Again, they replaced it with another old re-cycled MDT. This current MDT is the 3rd set. When I was about to leave the workshop, I noticed the same big “Red Cross” on top of the MDT screen. The technician told me to move around cuz sometimes it’s due to blind spots with no signals. However, for the whole day when I was plying the roads, the same “Red Cross” still visible with no call bookings at all. Frustrated I took a long ride with an empty cab all the way from Meyer Road to Sin Ming Drive burning extra fuel and loss of income to complain about it. This time they changed the antenna. When I made so much noise to the counter staff at the workshop, they threw me a small piece of printed paper with a nameless and faceless feedback address to complain! The same feedback channel which took 3 days to reply when I complained that I could not log in to company Driver Portal after I migrated from a relief to a hirer status cuz I had to register my relief drivers before they could drive my taxi.

Just to side track. When I got enlisted for BMT training in 1983 at Pulau Tekong more than 30 years ago, we were told on the 1st day that there is a “Godfather” assigned to NS men in the whole camp acting in our interests. An experienced middle-aged about to retire veteran holding the Captain rank who would attend to all our complaints. He is available 24/7 even giving us his personal pager number (no mobile phones in those days) to page him if there is any issue eg ill-treatment, unfair discrimination etc. He’s only answerable to MINDEF – the direct link between those gods and us undergoing mandatory National Service training as soldiers to serve our country. The Captain assured us that if there’s a genuine complaint against any abuse of power or ill-treatment, he would take up our case. Any unhappiness or grievances shall be investigated with full confidentiality! With this sort of feedback channel that comes with a name and a face, wonder no more why there is no mutiny in all our 49 year history of NS. It is unheard of.

Yup, if only Comfort could emulate such a feedback channel all of us will be much happier working as business partners. Sadly, it is not the case here. It seems that they are only interested in collecting rentals. They only act fast if you owe them taxi rental. I notice so many cabs park there whenever I go to the workshop having the same problem. I was not alone facing faulty MDTs. Most of them just resign to the helpless situation. What to do when they keep re-cycling primitive dinosuars?

Replacing two faulty MDT sets within seven days in a brand new taxi is clearly unacceptable by any yardstick or standard of measurement!

Back to my MDT problem, it is still giving the same problem till today. Like yesterday morning, I had to endure the big “Red Cross” from 6am to 8.30am until it suddenly appeared out of nowhere. From then on calls started coming in. When I parked at the Eunos multi-storey carpark for my meal break, the same problem came back again. No signals. After nearly an hour, then the signals came back with the Red Cross disappearing. This morning, AT also experienced the same problem.

Let’s examine the repercussions of the MDT problem. Common sense will tell you that once the MDT is down, no call bookings will come in. Meaning, those who urgently need a taxi can’t reach me. The morning period where everyone is rushing to work is crucial – that’s why there is a surcharge of $3.30, an extra $1 and another 25% for the morning peak period from 6am to 9.30pm. Imagine, if it is multiplied by 100 or 1,000 faulty MDTs, what would it be like? No wonder my fren Lohcifer could not get a taxi! This morning, he msg me to pick him up but I told him I was not driving. He complaint bitterly that he could not get a taxi after tried calling for half an hour until he had to give up.

image

Lohcifer's msg to me.

Recently, there are calls to improve taxi service standards and it’s availability. The chief editor of Today wrote a piece on taxi service putting the blame on taxi drivers when he compares us with London cab drivers. CNA also did a TV program comparing us with Hong Kong cabs highlighting the fact that the number of taxis is almost half of us but it takes only less than 10 mins to get a taxi. MOT recently made a statement in Parliament giving statistics of how much increase in number of cabs on the roads and the increase in number of operating hours citing the LTA minimum 250km per day for each taxi. Everybody is talking about taxi problems with the blame game mostly on errant taxi drivers, sub-service standards etc. In other words, the focus is mainly on taxi drivers. But do they understand the real issue of the problem? Did they experience the frustration and exasperation I just highlighted(MDT) above?

This morning I was talking to cabby Crazy Kang about my MDT problem. He also had his share of MDT frustration. According to him, he claimed that last night around 10pm, he was somewhere near to Loyang Industrial Estate near to the Tua Pek Kong temple. He stopped at the traffic lights waiting for the lights to turn green. Next to him, another Comfort taxi happened to show a call booking but the driver did not take the call. Crazy Kang was just beside him and he wondered why his MDT – in full signals as reflected in the number of bars – did not receive the call booking. He wonders why the next Comfort taxi could get the call (which the driver did not take) and he was not able to take the same call booking. He was desperately looking forward to call bookings and customers! He felt that maybe, his MDT is an old version compared to the next driver’s taxi which uses a more powerful machine! That is the only explanation he could think of.

image

Fortunately, there's a choice now for Cabby Kang.

From his experience, he told me that as far as his MDT is concerned, he must go to certain spots to receive call bookings. He would drive his taxi to higher ground or even right up to Lor Halus in order to receive call bookings. Taxi drivers like Crazy Kang even had to go to the full extent of looking for favorite spots like those fishermen fishing in the open seas looking out for the best fishing spots! Crazy Kang is still alive and kicking. He doesn’t mind being quoted. In fact, he is willing to stand by what he said. He’s calling on all the gods as his witnesses to vouch that he’s not lying about the incident.

If the MDT is perfect, would taxi drivers like Crazy Kang be so frustrated? Which taxi driver doesn’t want to make extra money and get more business? Why are they using re-cycled faulty MDT sets wasting everybody’s time without proper QC checks? Is it due to bottomline and cost cutting measures to maximise profits? Actually, we do not mind re-cycled MDT sets if they are working properly. Perhaps, the MDT – which is the life line of all taxis is not on the KPI of LTA. That is why no priority is accorded to the MDTs. Should LTA make it a point to evaluate taxi operators based on this issue? I know what I’m talking about cuz I have driven not less than 10 taxi as a super relief driver. My MDT is the worst of the lot.

The other day, I was having a discussion with a customer from Bishan Junction8 enroute to Ocean Financial Centre. He’s a Msian working here. He was also complaining of having a hard time getting a taxi. When I reached his place, he was so delighted saying that getting a taxi in the morning peak is just like striking lottery. Lohcifer had no luck this morning cuz he didn’t get a cab.

On the question of not able to get a taxi between 4pm to 6pm, I told him that actually it’s the changing shift timing of taxi. I told him that the taxi rental is so high and that LTA imposes a daily 250km resulting in most taxi having 2 drivers. Usually, the changing shift timing is between 4pm to 6pm. It’s either 4pm to 4am, 5pm to 5am or 6pm to 6am per shift. Of course there are other arrangements of timing between the hirer and the relief. In order to be assured of getting a taxi during this period, it is best that you state your destination. If the taxi driver is changing shift near to your destination, I’m sure he will take your call. Let’s say that it’s about 5pm and I need to hand over the taxi by 6pm at Pasir Ris to my relief driver and I’m somewhere in town. If I see your call booking stating destination at Pasir Ris, Bedok, Tampines or even Changi Airport, I will definitely take your call since I’m proceeding back to Pasir Ris to hand over the taxi. If there is no destination stated, I would not dare take your call. What if you want to go to Jurong or Tuas, then I would not be able to make it back by 6pm at Pasir Ris when it’s time to hand over the taxi. Why take the risk? I can’t refuse to send you to your destination at Jurong if I happen to take your call. I’ll get a complaint. It’s quite obvious right? Do you see the logic?

Suddenly, the said customer is able to understand the whole issue. I told him that that is part of the problem. There are many issues or problems relating to lack of taxi availability. Just last week, my Indian FT fren Manish msg me to complt that he had to wait for nearly 40 mins somewhere at Shenton Way to East Coast for dinner. He was late for the dinner. That badly reflects our transport efficiency. I told him that LTA is only interested in catching us for traffic offences committed such as illegal stopping for pax to alight or picking up pax not at designated places in town area etc. If we clock more than 250km, no incentive but below that, we will be penalized. If we take lots of calls also no rewards for us etc. Taxi is never part of their overall master transportation plan. We are just insignificant players lurking in the periphery of main stream transportation. Taxi companies on the hand are only interested in taxi rental collection to boost up their profitability.

I’ve ferried many customers from NCS in AMK. In fact, those staff working in NCS are our largest taxi users. If you want an international community, go to NCS where you could find all kinds of ppl there. It’s United Nations there. Those talented IT professionals have created first class phone apps for Govt and Statutory Boards. I really like most of those apps such as CPF, My SingTel, NParks or even HDB etc are so user friendly and convenient. Why is LTA not having an integrated taxi app like those? Perhaps, taxi is never their top priority?

Recently, the vacuum over lack of first class taxi apps is taken over by GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi and even Uber. Those apps are created internationally not locally I suppose. They are fast gaining popularity. I have seen young sexy girls promoting those apps at popular hawker centers where taxi drivers patronize such as at Beo Crescent HC or even at Changi Airport with cabs queuing up for pax and those young girls flirting from one taxi to another explaining and giving out flyers. Many feel that the relevant authorities are merely paying lip service without actually looking at the crux of taxi problem. Soon, in a matter of time, those third party apps with customer and driver friendly features will replace the traditional call bookings rendering MDTs obsolete.

image

Taxi, taxi everywhere but not a single available!

image

Latest new threat to existing taxi drivers.

Since the MDT problem is quite common facing taxi drivers, I suggest that the entire MDT dept shut down. It’s not cost efficient and has become irrelevant. Fortunately, there is a choice and an option to MDT woes. As mentioned earlier, there are 3rd party apps to get more business and calls. So far, most of my taxi frens resist using those apps cuz they are not sanctioned by Comfort. But his may change cuz there is one taxi driver in EM from another taxi operator making tons of money thru one of those apps. If you look at their FB, they even regularly reward and incentivize taxi drivers with lucky draws and “golden calls” offering electronic gadgets such as popular mobile phones as prizes. Indeed, they are so aggressive that taxi drivers like me are tempted to switch over to using their apps. I need not have to waste my time and fuel to make trips to MDT workshop at Sin Ming Drive at my own expense. I could forget about all the frustrations indeed. Others are reaping benefits out of those apps. Why shld I deprive myself from those benefits?

On a side note, taxi drivers are not worried about Grab taxi or Easy taxi apps. We are more concerned about Über app. Now, anyone could make use of Uber to ferry customers without the need to go thru LTA approval, grueling structured taxi course and medical check-up to get the taxi vocational license. As legitimate taxi drivers, we are governed by LTA rules and regulations. It’s a way to control and monitor taxi drivers who are 100% citizens to safeguard and protect our country’s image. Any nonsense will have your taxi vocational license revoked thus breaking your own rice bowl. But with Uber and LTA not doing anything about, it seems that soon any body whether citizens or not could enter the taxi trade easily. Is it fair for ppl like us having to go thru the entire process of obtaining a taxi vocational license? They even advertised boldly on their FB and web site from point A to point B taxi meter fare costs $12. But with Uber it’s only $10! Are we going back to our early dark days where uncontrolled & unregulated pirate taxi is rampant? That reflects on LTA’s policy towards taxi operation. We are always at the bottom of the food chain in its transportation blue print.

Comfort or LTA should follow all other govt agencies in tapping into existing technology developing a first rate taxi app where all taxi drivers (in the case of Comfort for its own cabby) could easily use to match customers’ demand – similar to apps like Grab Taxi or Easy Taxi. It allows real time tracking showing details of customer’s pickup point and intended destination. If those third party apps could do it so well, why can’t LTA or Comfort do that? Is it their lackadaisical attitude that is hindering progress or improvements to the taxi problem? That brings us back to the fact that why Hong Kong with much fewer cabs than us do not have taxi availability issue? One reason could be taxi there is individually owned and operated.
image

image

What about LTA? Like I say, taxi are not part of their transportation master plan. They are not in the mood to really solve the dearth of taxi despite so many complts from customers and taxi drivers. Hopefully, the taxi issue will not mar their excellent record in building up our world class road and rail infrastructure. I say this cuz every foreign visitor I picked up so far – either tourists or expatriates working here are full of praises for LTA’s remarkable achievements in managing our motor ways and traffic congestion. However, when it comes to taxi availability especially those expatriates (eg my Indian FT fren Manish cited earlier) working here it’s always thumbs down!

image

Complts against taxi availability is getting louder and louder.

“Seoul plans to ban Uber and introduce its own GPS-based app for taxis

Uber may win some and lose some, but the battles rage on in cities where it operates. Seoul, Korea has now indicated that it would outright ban Uber, calling it illegal and harmful to taxi drivers. Uber operates its UberBLACK service there to connect professional chauffeurs to passengers via its app. That differs from UberX, UberPOP or Lyft — the services that have faced the most bans and protests — since those mostly use non-professional drivers. Seoul’s city council called Uber an illegal threat to traditional cabs, since its drivers didn’t have the usual insurance and safety controls. However, Uber told the WSJ that the city council’s comments “show Seoul is in danger of remaining trapped in the past and getting left behind by the global ‘sharing economy’ movement.” Despite that, the city must feel Uber is doing something right — it said that it would soon launch its own, Uber-like geo-location app to connect regular taxis to passengers.”

Click here to read related article.

Click here to read Cabby James’ suggestions.

Easy Taxi is gaining ground with public support.

image

Well written suggestion from fellow cabby.

Why GrabTaxi is giving Singapore’s largest taxi operator a run for its money

April 21, 2014 by Hawyee Auyong

Hawyee is a research associate at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Opinions expressed here are his own.

Friday was the first time I used the taxi booking appGrabTaxi to book a cab. I had a lunch appointment to go to and it had just started raining. None of the official apps from the taxi companies – Comfort, Trans-Cab, and SMRT – were successful in getting me a cab. The third try with GrabTaxi was successful. The cab arrived in a minute. On the way to lunch, I asked the driver about his experience with GrabTaxi and here’s what I found out.

GrabTaxi has a rapidly growing number of cab drivers using its app

Comfort, Singapore’s largest taxi company, has around 16,600 cabs plying the road. GrabTaxi has 10,000 registered drivers now in the country, making it the second largest ‘taxi operator’; and it’s rapidly signing up more drivers.

The way GrabTaxi broke into the Singapore market was by solving a demand and supply problem. When it launched, it absorbed the booking fee for commuters — the best it could do since it didn’t have a mechanism to pay commuters. On top of the normal booking charges, the company paid drivers a bonus of about $6 for each booking accepted. This in effect quadrupled the drivers’ cut from a normal booking. These two strategies allowed it to build up a large supply of both commuters and drivers from early on.

The driver I spoke to now takes more than 10 jobs a day from GrabTaxi, but only two from Comfort. The number of bookings now available through GrabTaxi is now so good that some taxi drivers are buying new phones just to be able to take GrabTaxi bookings (since the driver app is only available for Android phones currently).

GrabTaxi in Singapore easily completes more than 200,000 bookings a week now with its present fleet of drivers. It is arranging regular meetings with LTA to show the authorities that it has a higher rate of success in matching drivers to commuters than the current fleet operators.

GrabTaxi is more commuter- and driver-friendly

GrabTaxi’s app is fast. Because it is constantly updated on the locations of its drivers, it knows exactly which drivers to tender a booking to. All drivers within a certain radius of a booking is given a chance to bid. A notification pops up on each driver’s phone, and if many drivers bid for a job, the conflict is immediately resolved by Grab Taxi’s servers and the successful driver is notified immediately, and so is the commuter.

When a booking is made by a commuter, the phone shows in real-time a list of cabs being offered the job. Once a match is made, the commuter’s and the driver’s phone numbers are immediately made available to each other so that they can communicate about any unexpected issues. Dialing can be done from within the app.

Because drivers and commuters are likely to be using 3G devices, the response times are much faster than those from the operator’s terminals, which are on the much slower GPRS. This eliminates annoyances such as many drivers turning up for the same job or commuters getting on another cab because they think their booking was not successful.

For the commuter, using GrabTaxi eliminates the hassle of trying to book cabs using three or four different apps when he’s in a hurry for a taxi. Moreover, the real time feedback that a booking is unsuccessful means that the commuter can immediately try the booking again. Unlike Comfort’s app, Grab Taxi does not ask the commuter to “try again in ten minutes” (probably because Comfort’s servers are overloaded, or they do not want unsuccessful bookings to mar a KPI which LTA monitors).

By forcing the commuter to key in his destination, GrabTaxi also allows drivers to take bookings that are along their way if they are headed for a shift change. This is one of the major reasons why it is usually difficult to book a cab from all fleet operators during the popular shift change times.

GrabTaxi has changed the power dynamics between drivers and the cab companies

Comfort has leveraged its size to consolidate its market position. Having the largest fleet of taxis in Singapore means that commuters are more likely to book its taxis, and having more bookings makes it more attractive to drivers, who are charged a higher monthly rental rate of about S$10 (US$8) more than smaller operators.

Apps like GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi are eroding this market power. According to my driver, the number of taxi drivers waiting to get a Comfort cab has dropped drastically, to the extent that Comfort is now offering its existing drivers a referral fee to introduce new drivers.

By monitoring the number of bookings a driver takes through the operator’s terminal, Comfort can identify but not prove which of its drivers are now relying on GrabTaxi for bookings. My driver was called up by Comfort, which wanted to know why he was taking GrabTaxi bookings. He replied that it was because GrabTaxi was where the customers were.

(See more: Reinventing four wheels: 14 apps that are changing the way we get around)

Some drivers have already switched from Comfort to the smaller operators in order to take advantage of lower rentals. My driver is attached to his cab, but he says that Comfort has started to nitpick with drivers who refuse to stop using GrabTaxi. However, now that these drivers don’t need to rely on Comfort’s market power, they are more than happy to switch to an operator with cheaper rentals, so it’s Comfort’s loss either way.

Only recently has Comfort started to listen to its drivers in improving its app by requiring the commuter to enter a destination. Previously, it had ignored calls by drivers to do so.

GrabTaxi operates a high-margin business

GrabTaxi’s monetization scheme works as follows: drivers have to pre-pay GrabTaxi to be part of its ‘fleet’. When a new driver signs up, he is given a $10 credit from which commissions are deducted. The driver has to top up his account when it’s exhausted in order to receive more bookings. Receiving pre-payments allows Grab Taxi to invest the funds before it is spent.

Compare GrabTaxi’s business model with Comfort’s. GrabTaxi has almost no fixed costs beyond a nominal office and some IT infrastructure, whereas Comfort has to buy, service, and support a huge fleet of taxis and cohort of drivers.

Let’s say GrabTaxi eventually levels off at 15,000 drivers taking five bookings a day, from which it takes a S$0.30 cut each. This works out to a revenue of S$8 million (US$6.4 million) a year, just for being a middleman (and not counting advanced bookings). Moreover, GrabTaxi’s IT operating costs will fall every year because of Moore’s Law.

Comfort has to compete or die

I think at this point, it is a foregone conclusion that taxi bookings will eventually be dominated by operator-independent services, whether it is GrabTaxi or another company.

For too long, Comfort has relied on its market dominance and has stagnated in improving its services. The usefulness of its electronic terminals (developed in the early 2000s by ST Electronics and running Windows CE) for bookings is probably at an end.

The arrival of GrabTaxi has quickly shown how outdated parts of Comfort’s business model are. Seldom have I seen a market so quickly disrupted. To survive and thrive, Comfort needs to refocus on its core business, that of leasing cabs to drivers.

It needs to compete on offering better rental rates to drivers, and on providing cabs that are more reliable than other operators’. This means, among other things, a reversal of its policy of hollowing out its maintenance crew, which has seen an inexorable replacement of experienced local mechanics with cheaper foreign labour, and which many drivers have complained about.

This will be fun.

Editor’s note:

GrabTaxi is unable to confirm whether they indeed have 10,000 registered drivers in Singapore completing 200,000 bookings a week. Nonetheless, a GrabTaxi spokesperson has said that they have the second largest network of taxi drivers in Singapore, and are receiving one booking every two seconds regionally. Extrapolated, that’s about 302,400 bookings a week, which could make the estimated figure a bit of an exaggeration since GrabTaxi operates in six cities.

Comfort has yet to respond to Tech in Asia.

Posted in Langgar | 4 Comments