21 August 2006

Taxi problem is not a taxi problem

Are there too few taxis in Singapore? Overall, I don't think so. But we do have a problem springing firstly, from a reliance on central planning and secondly, from a failure of bus and train to serve commuters pressed for time or laden with stuff. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

The real problem is the attitude of the Government. For all its pronouncement about market principles being the hallmark of its planning prowess, the Government does not really believe in competition.

Firstly, it is more obsessed with protecting the interest of business (i.e. Profit), particularly, GLCs. Just look at the taxi fleet operators, where is the competition when it comes to competition over rental rates? Is there any competition between MRT and buses? Are they prepared to allow fleet operators to go to the wall?

Secondly, many of the planners comes from a text-book oriented class. By that I mean, these planners knows only how to crank up numbers based on set formulas found in textbooks. When they worked out the surcharge for taxi, it was simply a case of let me just pluck out a figure from the air and crank it through very simplist maths, and we have a solution.

Thirdly, planners need not really worry about political backlash, and if they did, they would only react by simply deflacting attention and responding to cosmetic changes. Given the lack of political competition, why should the authority care? Singaporean whilst maybe a complaining lot, don't really have the guts to challenge the authority. Have there been any class actions against LTA, even if not to win, but to shame? Where are the civic movement, discounting the "political" one, in the field of economics? Where are the think tanks (i.e. advocates of market policies) in the economic field?

wonky said...

With regards to your comment on the midnight surcharge, I would like to point out that this situation has changed. Some months ago, some (or all) of the taxi companies introduced a staggered surcharge.

Taken from the Comfort website:
11.30pm to 11.44pm: 10% of metered taxi fare
11.45pm to 11.59pm: 20% of metered taxi fare
12 midnight to 12.59am: 35% of metered taxi fare
1.00am to 6.00am: 50% of metered taxi fare

I don't have much occasion to take a taxi during those hours, but, whenever I've had to, I've never had a problem getting a cab. Maybe it's because of the location which I board my cab from, but maybe it's also because of the staggered surcharges. I can't be sure. At any rate, I thought I'd just point this out to you.

On the whole, I enjoy reading your essays and always look forward to new ones. :)

klimmer said...

I live in Tokyo - a city of 10 million in inner Tokyo and a total of 30 million in the whole of Greater Tokyo. Even so, it is only on a few lines (like the Ginza line between Shibuya and Shimbashi) and certain stops that one has to bear the indignity of being packed like a canned sardine, save delays caused by power shortages or suicides. Also, there has never been an instance when there is no taxi when I need one. I believe this has a lot to do with allowing the market to determine prices, frequency and the siting of stations and lines. The flip side being possibly higher fares - the minimal train ticket within inner Tokyo being Y160.

Anonymous said...

Just a note:
From my observation, the Cinderella hour problem is no longer a problem after staggered midnight charges were introduced.

Anonymous said...

I was at the airport last night around midnight, and saw a huge queue of taxis extending from Terminal One all the way to opposite Budget Terminal. I guess they congregate just before midnight hoping to enjoy the after midnight surcharge

similarly, instead of going to taxi stands in the city centre, they hang around waiting for the customers to give up queuing and phone for one, so that they can enjoy the extra call surcharge

each of these surcharge is meant to make taxis more available, but the operators then use the rules to produce a different result

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously uninformed or is this post really old? The 'cinderalla hour' phenomenon you mentioned is hardly an issue nowadays since the introduction of staggered surcharge many many moons ago...

Toronto resident said...

I am a resident of Toronto. I enjoyed reading your articles after a friend recently provided your url.
With respect, you would make a much better individual to the "planners" as a consultant, compared to the numerous scholars apparently working at the government and the GLC's, and probably paid a huge salary.
I submit it is your perspective and open mind which help you to analyze and seek alternatives to issues.
Keep up the good work, and continue to write. Cheers.

harchiongkai said...

What's up with worrying about taxi problems, Alex. What are your views on the PM's rally speech?

I'm still boiling inside.

Anonymous said...

Another problem is that bus operators tend to put feeder services at 20 minutes interval after 8pm. They have little wonder that passengers at that time have waited long enough for their bus ride home and still stranded at the interchange for the connecting feeder home.

locky2ky said...

You deserve the million dollar salary of the Transport Minister!

Do you know that the biggest taxi operator, Comfort DelGro, is actually responsible for encouraging cabbies to waiting for booking instead of plying the roads esp during peak hours? It raised the booking fee (sometime last year but can't remember by how much). And why? Cos it has a cut in the booking fee!

Anonymous said...

Just a small point, but the picture of the train to Boon Lay from Outram Park taking 12 mins to arrive is flawed.

The 12 mins refers to the second train that is coming, not the train that is going to come next. In fact, the time the very next train would take to come is not shown on the picture as it is cut off. It would be less than 12 mins, probably 5 or 6 mins.

Anonymous said...

nothing is going to change. nothing much seems to change. and there seems to be nothing that we can do about it except write about it in blogs.

even if it is very good writing :)

teck soon said...

I do not believe the Cinderella hour has gone away as some commenters have said. I still find it extremely difficult to get a late-night taxi from the city area. I wonder if the staggered surcharges have actually encouraged taxi drivers to avoid customers, because now there are even more times that have an increment: 11.30pm, 11.45pm, 12 midnight, and 1.00am. It is particularly annoying to watch a whole slew of available taxis pass by, even while I am trying to flag them down. They see me, yet deliberately don't stop because they want either the next-highest fare that is only 10 minutes away or they want a booking fee. I am incensed not so much at the drivers, but at policy makers. Is Singapore the only country in the world where an available taxi will deliberately drive past available customers? What a screwed up system.

Anonymous said...

Well written! However, it's not correct to equate LTA's attitude to Marie Antoinette.

"Let them eat cake" is not as bad as most people think it is. See this Straight Dope article.

Anonymous said...

Back in March, I wanted to inject some real-life experience to my newly minted certificate in statistics (i.e. Six Sigma) and I chose my annoyance with the taxi service as my case study. In particular, I thought I might try to use stats to prove the problem encountered during, as you put it, the Cinderella hour. Things didn’t quite turn out as scientific as I would like it but if the numbers are anything to go by, then it clearly vindicate your hypothesis that the Taxi problem is a “micro-economic” one.

Before I “unveil” the numbers here is a brief background to the case study.

a) The numbers were obtained over three Fridays, which I presumed was the peak hours in terms of demand.

b) I chose -- I happened to be there -- three locations: Raffles City opposite Raffles Hotel, Orchard Tower opp Muddy Murphy and Marine Terrace. Raffles and Orchard were Taxi stands and Marine Terrace was kerbside.

c) I define waiting time as the time a person becomes first in the queue to get a taxi and not the time he/she joins the back of a queue. Kerbside was a bit more problematic to determine but I took that waiting time as the time he/she walk up to the kerb, first hail to successfully boarded a taxi - a degree of estimated guess in this case.

d) I measured the wait time in the hour run-up to 12 and the hour after.

Now here are the results:

a) Orchard Towers (One Friday) 11-12 pm (5 punters wait time ranged from 10 to 15 mins) 12-1 (10 punters wait time 7 to 10 mins). There were more taxis than punters.

b) Raffles City (Two Fridays) 11-12 pm (2 punters wait time one 20 mins the other 25 mins) 12-1 (5 punters 15 to 20 mins). Taxis did not queue there and had to be hailed. The wait time does not take into account the time the punter takes to move up the queue. So, the individual experience is clearly longer.

c) Marine Terrace (One Friday) 11-12 pm (3 punters waiting concurrently, 15, 35 and 30 mins) 12-1 (1 punter 30 mins and one other walk away presumably to another location).

I wonder if LTA actually conducted such studies? And if they did and if their studies resembled the results shown here, then clearly, what they’ve got is a micro-economic problem. In which case, clearly surcharges have no effect.

On the other hand, I suppose it may be expedient, politically speaking to stick to macro-economic statistics -- i.e. taxis per persons, etc; harder for detractors to dispute such “objective” figures So for people who believe that politics and economics are separate issues, think again!

teck soon said...

If the LTA has done the studies that anonymous (15:42) suggested, then they should make the results public. There is too much secret information in Singapore. Why doesn't the government publish all facts and figures that it has available for public scrutiny? Why doesn't Singapore have a Freedom of Information Act? Is Singapore as really transparent as the government quacks about? Or is it just another despotic regime?

Sonny said...

Public transport planning is a issue facing all governments. You suggest that dealing with other modes (buses and trains) might ease the demand for taxis at peak hours, but it all sounds rather vague.

Do you have concrete examples of countries (with dense urban populations) where public transportation is NOT packed and overcrowded during peak hours?

Anonymous said...

I think Singaporeans are spoilt. it is a symptom of kiasuism. Life has been too good.It rears its ugly head
whenever there is a little bit of inconvenience. There are a lot of cry babies who would complain at the sligthest.
What needs to be fixed is this disease.

Anonymous said...

I read your thoroughly analysis of the complexity of the problems which our heartlanders face everyday.

What I can say,is that our transport operators are too greedy for monies instead of solving the real problems.

The bus operators(both of them)monopolised the routes that they even maximised their profits yearly as can seen from their yearly reports so to say the taxis'big brother.

Taxi problems cannot be just solved by giving carrots only..but it needs disciplines too,EG: Taxi drivers must make compulsory trips to the 'hub'and city areas daily for say 2 or 3 trips to help solve the shortages problems etc.(The operators should enforce this ruling effectively..)

I hope the author,'Yawning Bread Sampler' can stand up to help solve the current situation with the relevant authorities,
with respect from a humble 'ofice worker',thanks.

by 'office worker'