taxi, transport, car, cab, satellite navigation, traffic, queue, drivers, money,
speed, wheel, journey, asleep, seat, pay, ride, safe
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The Singapore Taxi
by: Ieuan Dolby
Fast, easy and efficient could describe life in Singapore. You don’t stroll
along the streets in a world of your own with time to spare and you definitely
do not walk when a taxi is waiting nearby. Life in Singapore is geared towards
the making of money and any spare moment given is put to that task. So if one
should need to get to work or get to the office, go shopping or attend the
cinema (because the children insist on it) then transport is essential.
Private cars are good and super efficient. The MRT or underground system is also
a perfect feat of Engineering: fast, clean and cheap for the average punter, but
life also seems to include an inordinate number of taxis. They seem to be
required and used whether one owns a car not and even when one is standing right
next to the entrance to an MRT station. In an average week one can use a taxi
about seven times and that in anybody’s books is a lot.
Three companies tend to run the Cab business and all are large and modern,
consisting of the latest cars with satellite navigation and instant booking
services by a frightening voice box and pushbutton accept system that flashes
possible messages at the driver: as if he is not confused enough with the fast
flowing and interchanging traffic that is going on around him. Singapore is not
a place where once you get into lane you are okay for half an hour so. This is a
place where once you have settled into your lane – it is time to change to
another, time to enter the tunnel or cross a bridge, go round a roundabout or
exit up the ramp. A plate of Spaghetti has nothing on the road system here but
it does flow smoothly, it is extremely well designed and it is safe – if drivers
do not talk too much and check their flashing job screen every other minute!
To catch a cab one can do a variety of things. The usual one of going outside
and flagging one down, another of calling one up on the booking service or
joining a long queue at a taxi rank. The first one is the most amazing and also
one of the most frustrating methods of trying to catch one: not that there are
none available but the drivers have a strange way of picking up punters. There
you are outside your apartment and this blue cab with its light on comes
floating towards you. Stopping beside the pavement the driver will lower his
window and ask you where you are going.
And the strangest thing is that if you are not going in his direction or to
where he wants to go, then he will not pick you up. Amazing but true! Taxi
drivers are very obstinate and although Singaporeans like to make money above
all else the taxis do not follow that rule. For them food and sleep is more
important and so if they are coming towards the end of their shift or feel like
dinner then they will not pick you up unless you want to go where they are
going. It is quite possible to stop five or more cabs in a run only for the
drivers to shake their heads and zoom off leaving you stranded and confused. A
very frustrating time indeed!
The other method of calling a taxi is probably the most efficient and stable
one. Simply by calling up the company a taxi can be on its way to you in a
matter of minutes and mostly all works well. The third method can also be
extremely annoying and frustrating as one usually has to stand for about twenty
minutes in a long queue whilst suffering from the heat of the day. But by using
a taxi rank you are assured of being picked up – by law the driver cannot refuse
to take you wherever you want to go if the pick-up point is at a taxi rank.
Life though is more interesting than trying to catch a taxi. Life gets more
active when one is inside and on the way to their destination. The average
driver in Singapore is good. The average taxi driver in Singapore is definitely
in need of help. Psychological help in some cases and others just need some
basic lessons in driving. The roads in Singapore can be awkward as the forward
momentum of the vehicle is constantly disrupted as another stop sign looms up,
as another intersection needs to be navigated or another accident causes the
whole system to falter. But the taxi drivers even with a smooth road ahead of
them constantly apply the break and then the gas causing the passengers heads to
hit the seat in front of them and then to be thrown backwards against the rear
This action on the part of seventy percent of the drivers may not be totally due
to bad driving. An unusually high proportion of drivers suffer from sleep
deprivation! They will tell you that this is because of the extra long hours
that they have to work (to get a tip from you) but many do certainly nod off
whilst you are sitting behind them. In one taxi I was sort of trying to read my
newspaper with my head waggling backwards and forwards when all of a sudden I
noticed that I could read my newspaper. I mean that all of a sudden I was not
being thrown around as the driver applied the gas and break in rapid succession.
This was weird and unusual but I accepted it as another quirk of the industry.
It was when we where zooming along at way past the speed limit, that I looked
closer at my driver. He was asleep and soundly so and we where heading straight
for the oncoming lane. I acted instinctively and jumped across my prospective
killer and adjusted the wheel and thus the cars’ direction to suit an accident
free journey. Whilst doing that I jabbed my elbow into his shoulder (well, it
turned out to be his face) to wake him up. A lucky save and if I had not been
aware or had fallen asleep …… pancake time. I never fall asleep in a taxi after
Signs of the driver falling asleep are quite noticeable should one look for
them. The constant opening and shutting of the window and the drivers’ constant
changing of the air conditioning settings is a good one. Another is the drivers’
desperate scramble for the plastic bottles that he has stashed under his seat. I
would question the manufacturers of these drugs as however many a driver takes
they never seem to aid him in keeping awake. Oh and the most important thing to
watch out for is when your head no longer jerks back and forth – this means that
the driver has fallen asleep and his foot is still.
I normally hate making small talk. I would rather read a newspaper or stare out
of the window. But in Singapore Taxis I prefer to keep the driver in
conversation as this undoubtedly and without fail will keep him wide-awake. To
start off the conversation just say something stupid like, “hot day today” as if
Singapore is any different from one day to the next. He will invariably turn the
conversation around to asking where you are from and then talking about football
and Liverpool or he will turn to the state of the economy. “No profit in taxi
driving anymore, no customers and cars cost more to buy than ever before”. This
should keep him going for a half an hour or so, more than enough for the trip.
I think these drugs may have alternative side effects. I have noticed on some
occasions that drivers are a bit high spirited. Now whether this an effect of
the drugs that kicks in a couple of hours later or due to something that is
completely removed I know not. I am just trying to make a connection as when the
drivers take their “keep awake pills” nothing happens. Anyway, I have often
climbed into a taxi and been surprised at the activity of my driver. One
memorable trip started off okay until he found out that I was from Scotland. I
spent the next twenty minutes of the journey listening to bagpipes and a donkey
heehawing whilst being thrown violently against the drivers seat and the rear
window in turn. No, it was not music or anything like that but the driver whilst
jumping up and down in his seat, imitated the bagpipes and in between breaths
became a horse. He used to say “Scotland” at frequent intervals as if to
reassure me that he knew where I came from.
Weird! I had another bad occurrence in a taxi when he started to get aggressive
against a football team and he spent more time trying to clamber over the rear
of his seat, to reinforce his opinion than looking where he was going. I got
extremely worried about him and decided that I should leave his taxi as quickly
as possible. I jumped out at an intersection and decided that I would not pay
for such a ride. I could hear him shouting as I ran away down the hard shoulder
– but I don’t want to pay to be harassed!
Apart from all of the above the typical taxi journey passes without note. Some
of the drivers will seriously annoy you or make you feel sick when they open
their door and spit a big gob of mucus onto the road side. But this is the way
that they do it. I have asked one driver not to do that again – and he didn’t.
But generally just try and ignore that. They also tend to get a bit vocal inside
of the car if involved in a near miss with another car or have to sit for any
length of time due to an accident up ahead. This is due to the fact that if a
driver gets out of his car and shouts at another driver then he can quickly and
without question be hauled off to jail. The government does not tolerate drivers
making a scene in public and so drivers just do not do it, ever. This is
all-and-well, unless you happen to be the poor passenger that has to take the
brunt of his “road rage” whilst pretending that you are not sitting in the back
seat of that particular cab.
Sorry, I seem to be putting them down. The taxi system and the drivers are quite
excellent and safe in Singapore and no less than any other town or city the
world over. When hiring a taxi in Singapore you are ensured of a rapid and free
journey to your destination and the cost is not prohibitive, you are safe and
looked after at all times. One thing does puzzle me though, that of why the
drivers constantly ask the passengers which way they would like to go. Having
just arrived in Singapore I pick up a taxi at the rank just outside the airport.
I give him the name of the hotel and off he sets. After five-minutes this driver
will invariably turn around and ask me whether I would like to go by the PIE or
by the East Coast Road. Stupid question really as the average person arriving at
Singapore Airport and especially one who is going to a hotel would not have a
clue about the transport system in Singapore.
I used to think that the drivers where testing their passengers as to their
knowledge of Singapore and that if they showed ignorance then they would be
carted off on a tour of the city without knowing any difference. But this has
not been the case as I have often put it to the test. The driver has asked me
and I have given him no inkling as to my knowledge of the city – and he has
taken me the quickest route! Such is life!
Listen everybody: the Taxi Drivers in Singapore are of excellent quality and any
prospective passenger is assured of an easy, safe and smooth-drive to their
destination – don’t listen to me.
Just keep your eyes open and the drivers as well if you can!
About The Author
Ieuan Dolby, from Scotland is an Engineering Officer in the Merchant Navy. He
has been travelling the world for 15yrs on an endless tour of cultural
diversification. Currently based in Singapore he writes various articles for
magazines and newspapers and is working on a marine glossary.