SINGAPORE: While waiting in line for passengers late one night, cabbie Han Poh Guan witnessed a taxi in front slide and hit a wall as its driver had fallen asleep without pulling up the handbrake.
It is common for taxi drivers to doze off on the job because of prolonged driving without a good rest, said the 57-year-old.
Long hours and sedentary conditions are perennial complaints among taxi drivers here, many of whom work beyond the 12-hours-per-day guideline suggested by the Manpower Ministry.
A recent study among 231 cabbies here also found that one in three of them experience driver fatigue, with those who work longer hours – more than 10 hours a day – reporting a higher chance of dozing off inadvertently.
More than half (55 per cent) of taxi drivers surveyed said they do not take any day off.
The study – the first to look at risk factors of fatigue driving among taxi drivers here – was conducted by the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health and published in this month’s issue of the Singapore Medical Journal.
The researchers also observed that those who fall asleep at the wheel tend to report poor sleep quality, have another part-time job or consume more than three caffeinated drinks daily.
There was also a higher proportion of cabbies, relative to the adult population in Singapore, who reported chronic ailments such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and high cholesterol.
“Effort should be made to promote a healthier lifestyle in this high-risk group, so as to curb the development of medical conditions and to prevent further complications from existing (conditions),” said the researchers, who randomly surveyed cabbies from one of the largest local companies when they were queueing to pay rental fees or waiting for their cars to be serviced.
While there are currently no official guidelines on taxi drivers’ work hours and rest periods, the researchers said their findings give cause to review existing policies and implement measures to address sleep-deprived driving, such as educating drivers to recognise when weariness creeps in.
National Taxi Association (NTA) executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said cabbies drive for long hours to cover high overheads.
The Land Transport Authority’s regulations requiring a minimum percentage of taxis to undertake a daily mileage of at least 250km also contribute to cabbies’ daily grind, he added.
However, more has been done in recent years to care for the health of taxi drivers, Mr Ang said. For instance, the NTA has worked with the Health Promotion Board since late 2012 to bring free health screenings and workshops to cabbies, while also offering them stretch bands and pedometers.
The association also organises weekly jogging and bowling exercises during off-peak hours to “get cabbies on their feet”, although drivers have been slow to take it up, Mr Ang said.
He expects the introduction of third-party taxi applications and a widened pool of relief drivers to give cabbies some relief.
Taxi drivers whom TODAY spoke to said they have to work long hours to make ends meet.
“Rent and fuel costs can go up to S$190 a day and I have to take up to 30 trips to see net income growth,” said Mr Han, who drives from6pm to 6am every day.
While he tries to get at least eight hours of sleep daily, this is often affected by the time he reserves for his family. “I have no time and money to exercise or go for check-ups,” said the ComfortDelGro driver.
Some, including Mr Kelvin Lim, still set aside time to work out. The 53-year-old TransCab driver dedicates three hours in between two driving shifts to playing basketball with his colleagues and neighbours.
“I make a very conscious effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This is a very high-risk job, so it is important to take care of ourselves,” Mr Lim said.
The above report published by an independent think tank is a cause for concern. It should vindicate all the endless grievances by taxi drivers. Currently, we have nearly 29,000 taxis operating on our public roads. link The total Taxi Vocational License (TVL) holders is slightly more than 100,000. Only citizens could hold a TVL. More than half of the existing TVL holders are active taxi drivers if we assume that every taxi is operating on two shifts. The number of 50,000 over taxi drivers on our public roads reveals an alarming phenomenon if we assume that the recently published report in this month’s Medical Journal is accurate citing the “one in three taxi drivers facing driver fatigue”. The implications are serious and dangerous. They are running “time bombs” on our public roads only waiting to explode!
The fact is that everyone of us is a road user. Whether you drive or not, we are all road users. (also paying the ubiquitous ERP charges of course) Unless you do not leave your homes, we all use the roads as motorists, cyclists, passengers in a bus, car or taxi or simply as pedestrians. With a third of taxi drivers having “driver fatigue” plying on our public roads, one could imagine the potential safety issue and its repercussions. As a responsible government, the relevant authorities should study the implications further and make policy changes to address this problem. Sadly not much is done. At the best, it’s only negligible or token measures just to show that they do care. It’s merely lip service so to speak. Take this training scheme for instance. Only 4,000 cabbies stand to benefit for the next 2 years? Is it enough when we have more than 50,000 active taxi drivers?
Currently, all TVL holders need to go through a compulsory refresher course every 5 years. The TVL holder pays for the $50 one-day course. During the one-day course, new rules & regulations are briefed with updates on latest landmarks and buildings. Only a small part of the course is devoted to the safety aspect. Once in every 5 years to get briefed on a little bit of safety aspect is clearly not enough. It should be revamped to at least a 3-day course once in every 2 or 3 years with a greater part devoting to safety driving and healthy lifestyle appreciation. But then who is going to pay for the rental when active taxi drivers go through the course. As it is, the taxi driver will still have to pay for the daily rental whether he’s driving or not; attending courses notwithstanding. In other words, the taxi driver will need to pay for the $50 one-day refresher course, daily rental of the taxi and also incurs loss of income for that day!
Obviously, the government will need to work out with taxi operators to ensure that active taxi drivers do not suffer any loss of income whilst attending such courses. All these active taxi drivers are citizens and their welfare (esp driving fatigue) is of concern to all of us. As a responsible government, more should be done for this group of taxi citizens. I’m referring to active taxi drivers. The other half TVL holders who are not active taxi drivers should not take into account.
This group of taxi drivers is not subject to MOM rules and regulations. Most of them work for more than 10 hours, some clocking even more driving hours on the roads. They also do not have off days or public holidays. Even maids and foreign workers do get off days. Taxi drivers as citizens of this country are even worst than those foreign workers. Taxi drivers as citizens of this country, nevertheless it’s still a dog’s life for them. I did blog about it on my previous recent posts. link For a start, the government could decree that all taxis need to be run on 2 shifts so as to lessen the rental burden thus reducing their driving hours. Some of those taxis running on the roads do not have relief drivers and yet LTA insists that they clock at least 250km daily. It could be quite tough especially for the older drivers. LTA’s rationale for that 250km requirement is to ensure that taxis are kept running on the roads most of the time to meet increasing demand for taxis.
Government should also step in to ensure that taxi drivers get at least one day off fortnightly. The latter should work with taxi operators regarding co-rental payment. No taxi driver will want to voluntarily take a day off cuz he will still need to pay rental on daily basis whether he’s driving or not. That’s a sad reality. It’s a vicious cycle that need to be broken if the government is serious in addressing this “driver fatigue” safety issue amongst the tens of thousands of active taxi drivers.
Actually, the root cause lies in the high rental as a result of ridiculous COE prices. Taxis just like other private cars need to compete for existing COEs. The sky high COE contributes to high rental. If the taxi is run on OMO (with no relief driver), the rental of $132 as in my case, (Rentals vary with different types of taxis), about $30 to $50 diesel depending on mileage clocked and other miscellaneous costs such as monthly season parking, other parking charges when taking breaks, ERP charges etc (not to mention fines for unavoidable minor traffic offenses eg dropping pax at bus-stop) – the total operating costs could escalate to about $190. As such, the taxi driver is forced to drive everyday to meet the high operating costs whether he’s feeling well or not, rain or shine. That’s the main cause for the “driver fatigue” syndrome.
Trains do not compete for limited road space so they are exempted from COE. Buses are also exempted. Taxis even though is a public transport still need to pay for the high COE. If only the government could waive COE for taxis, then taxi rental will be reduced. With reduced rental, the pressure on taxi drivers will be much lesser. Question is will this government willing to forgo such a huge sum of revenue? They seem more keen on revenue than taxi drivers’ welfare.
Taxi drivers are a neglected group of public transport workers working long hours without off days or rest on public holidays. Their priority is never on the government master transport blue print even though tens of billions are pump into rail & road infrastructure not to mention the millions given out to purchase buses for bus operators.
I feel that it’s a pity that taxi is not their top priority. Taxis should complement trains and buses. Taxis do play an important role in public transport due to its affordability, convenience and nimbleness which need to be recognized. The government need to change its mindset regarding taxis since most tourists and foreigners take this mode of transport. As ambassadors of the country, due recognition need to be given to them. More courses need to be conducted for taxi drivers to upgrade and improve its professional image. Without addressing the fundamental issues especially high rentals highlighted above, standards in the profession will not improve. The vicious cycle will not be broken. It will remain at its current pathetic state now that the independent report has warned of “driver fatigue” and its serious safety repercussions. Hopefully, the government will take the sobering report seriously before it’s too late.