On 5th Aug 2014, I took out my i40 taxi from Komoco. It’s now one full year. My contract with the taxi operator is over. I could return the taxi anytime if I do not want to carry on driving taxi. My options are now open. I now have a choice whether to continue driving taxi to earn a decent living or move on to another job.
I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on my trials and tribulations during this one year period as a hirer. I drive 7 days a week on the day shift from 6am to 6pm. On average I clock about 250km per day with about 15 to 20 trips. That’s about 20 passengers a day if we include some of the trips with more than one passenger. I could lay claim that I ferry about 600 passengers in a month. For the whole of one year, it’s approximately more than 7,000 passengers! Yup, I meet all kinds of people from the lowest food chain to the highest – the good, bad and ugly of humanity so to speak. Some of the interesting encounters I’ve previously blogged about and published on this blog. Of course, there are so many other interesting real life stories to blog about if only I have the time. I’ll come to that later.
Let’s analyze this taxi trade. Is it suitable for everyone? Unless they change the rule, only citizens can apply for a vocational license to drive a taxi. From my experience and conversations with other fellow taxi drivers, this profession is only suitable for the middle age preferably above 40 yrs. The best age to enter this profession is between 45 yrs to 50 yrs. It is definitely no go for those younger ones. Reason is that there is no CPF, no annual leave, bonus or sick leave etc. You need CPF to buy a flat, build up your nest egg for retirement, medisave etc. As such, you will need to build up your CPF first by working in a company. Taxi drivers do not have all these. Their daily takings are in hard cash. Not easy to save for the raining days.
Some may say that after retirement from a normal job, maybe could consider taxi as a post-retirement career. Taxi driver – subject to medical requirements, is allowed to drive till 75 yrs. Lao Si from EM put it succinctly when we had a mini conference about taxi driving. He said that if he were to retire at 62 yrs, he would not consider taxi as a career option even though he has driving license. Driving taxi especially at such an advanced age is not easy. Taxi drivers face all kinds of traffic summons if you are not careful especially now with cameras all over the place. Whatever you earn may not be enough to pay all the summons. What about safety considerations?
When you are older, your eyesight and reflexes are slow. If you are not alert, it may cost your life. The moment you sit in the driving seat of a taxi, the beautiful super highways and smoothly paved roads in front of you are minefields. One wrong step, game over! No second chance lah! I would add that if you are older, your memory may not be as good cuz you will need to remember the tons of landmarks and routes in order to earn a decent living as a professional taxi driver.
But it seems that nowadays no need taxi vocational license or any formal training, one could still ferry passengers around in a private car. Are we back to those days where “pirate” taxis roam the streets? Remember those unlicensed taxis or “pak ong che?”
Lao Si says that he would rather go to the idyllic park to work as a sweeper. You are paid to exercise as a road sweeper in the public park at about $1,200 a month (with workfare) working only 5 days a week from 7am to 3pm. Any thing above that is considered OT. You will get extra if you work on weekends. He knows a friend who just did that. With basic pay, OT, and workfare from the govt, he’s getting more than $2,000 a month as a road sweeper after his retirement. Yes, you are paid to exercise by working as a sweeper in our beautiful parks. If it’s raining, no need to sweep but income still come in. Whereas, if you drive a taxi, most taxi drivers would rather sit in the coffeeshops to wait out the rain. The safety aspect supersedes all else. 2 or 3 knocks NOT on the ceiling BUT on the ass of another vehicle you are out of the trade! Why take unnecessary risk by driving under heavy rains? No driving meant no income for the taxi driver. That explains Lao Si’s penchant to work as road sweeper rather than a taxi driver if he were to retire from his current teaching job! Really langgar lah!
But if your flat is fully paid up, children grown up and no more financial obligations, I would say driving taxi is quite a viable option. You are your own boss without much stress or pressure. You get to meet all kinds of people. Most importantly, you could even eavesdrop all kinds of conversations between passengers in your taxi or when they are talking in the phone. Always keep your ears open and your mouth shut whenever you hear anything. Unless you are asked, never talk much with passengers. Not every passenger likes to talk. But if they do, just entertain them by giving fair comments and honest opinions. Recently, I have ferried many expatriates from the Overseas Family School opposite Elias Mall which just shifted from Paterson Road. They would like to know about the neighborhood. I’ll just brief them on the amenities and landmarks around the vicinity with a bit of history thrown in.
The newly opened OFS and some of the condominiums at Pasir Ris link are my new customers. What about all those new and upcoming condominiums along Pasir Ris Drive 1 where calls are plenty. Whenever I leave my carpark, I am spoilt for choice with many bookings coming from these places. Of course, the HDB flats also do have calls but not that much. With all these extra dwellings, it has become more crowded. As we speak now, there are at least 3 more condominium clusters under construction – next to OFS, next to NV residences and two more at Pasir Ris link. With all these latest condominiums, there is still only one Elias Mall and the same Pasir Ris Drive 1. Try coming here on weekends for your breakfast, every stall is super long queue! What a langgar situation!
We could see the dilemma here. Without all those extra dwellings, I’ll have less business. The side effect is over crowding with less space for original inhabitants like myself. The roads in the neighborhood are jam packed in the early morning peak hours especially that junction near to the new flats underneath the MRT viaduct leading to Pasir Ris MRT. Vehicles ignore the yellow box junction and jam up all the traffic. Every morning it’s the same chaotic no govt situation. When we need enforcement action here, there is none! But they are always seen “terrorizing” residents armed with digital camera for petty parking offenses when there is no obstruction at all! Really langgar!
The above scenario is repeated all over the island. Large swathes of kampungs in Eunos, Ubi and Tai Seng areas where I used to roam as a child are now heavily built-up industrial areas. It generates business for my trade (and jobs for others also). I live all my life in the East especially Bedok, Ubi, Eunos, Tai Seng, Paya Lebar etc. Over the last 50 yrs, I’ve seen the immense transformation second to none in the world where the entire population as in those kampung areas were shifted to HDB towns with the former turned into mega industrial estates and industrial buildings! Is this desirable? Could we still go back to those kampung days? There is no easy straight forward answer indeed. It depends on what angle you are looking from.
Most of my passengers are foreigners and tourists. Out of the thousands of passengers I ferried over the one year period, I’ll put my head on the chopping block to say that every one – not one single foreigner who is not envy of our spectacular economic success. They admire our transformation from zero ground level to high-rise concrete buildings, from the vast timeless sea to reclaimed land with huge mini cities springing up with a blink of an eye. I used to tell foreigners that they don’t name “Beach Road” for nothing. It used to be a Beach nearby. The Americans would say crazy! Yup, what you see beyond Beach Road was once upon a time sea. No foreigner is not amazed at the artificial garden created on top of the hotel! Not forgetting the billion dollar Avatar Gardens by the Bay on reclaimed land! Again, they say it’s crazy! From nothing to something over one generation is indeed crazy by any standard of measure!
I could go on and on to paint a huge canvass on our glorified transformation from nothing to something. It is the next phase that worry me and citizens of my generation. Will it sustain for the next 50 yrs? Or will we disintegrate and bite the dust? This time round there is no more kampung to fall back on but tons of collapsed concrete. As Singaporeans, we will have to decide for ourselves which way to go cuz all these do not happen by chance or the kind act of God.
I think Charles Dickens’ opening paragraph … best describes the time we Singaporeans are living now … (credit to Dr Chan for reminding me when he quoted on his blog)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ….”