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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Taxi fare surcharges

Nov 20, 2007
Taxi fare surcharges: Too much of a good thing?
Experts divided on usefulness; cabbies say they are confusing for passengers
By Maria Almenoar
CABBY Foo Say Hock remembers the trip like it happened yesterday.
He had taken an expatriate passenger from Yio Chu Kang to Tanjong Pagar and when it came time to pay, the passenger was shocked by the $6 he had to pay for various surcharges on top of the metered fare.

He was convinced Mr Foo was cheating him.

The cabby tried to explain, but the irate passenger got out, slammed the door and stormed off without paying.

Mr Foo left his cab and ran after the man who had entered a building. Thanks to a receptionist who helped to explain the surcharges, the man relented and paid up.

The 60-year-old cabby was among several taxi drivers who felt the long list of surcharges add up to a complicated way of charging for taxi rides.
And even though they keep a laminated list to show disbelieving passengers, there is no avoiding the occasional unpleasant incident.

'We are not the ones who are confused about surcharges,' said cabby Foo. 'It is the customers.'

And with Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), a pre-booking surcharge, a public holiday surcharge, a peak period surcharge, an airport surcharge - just to name a few - it can be too much for tourists and newcomers to Singapore to understand.

Added to that is the fact that different taxi companies also have their own variations on timings and amounts of surcharges.

Mr Foo, a driver of eight years, said: 'Maybe a simpler model of payment might be better for both sides.'

The host of surcharges was introduced at various times over the years to address particular situations and to ensure that there would be taxis where and when passengers needed them.

For example, the peak period surcharge encourages cabbies to be out in force during the morning and evening peak hours.

And the Changi Airport surcharge makes it attractive for them to go all the way to the eastern end of Singapore to pick up travellers.

But is it time to change?

Yes, said National University of Singapore (NUS) researcher Han Songguang, who thinks the surcharges may have outlived their usefulness.

'Some of these surcharges just don't work. They are not solving the problems,' said the geography department researcher who specialises in transportation.

He thinks it would be better to scrap the surcharges and raise the starting, or flag-down, rate.

'It may not be the most popular solution...If there are higher flag-down rates, cabbies would earn more from fewer trips and will go where the demand is,' he said.

NUS professor Lee Der- Horng, however, felt otherwise.

The civil engineering don pointed out that removing the surcharges and raising the flagdown rate would not work because, for example, there would be difficulty in getting drivers to 'work the graveyard shift'.

Business professor Terence Fan of the Singapore Management University also did not think that scrapping the surcharges was the answer.

'People will argue as to why they are paying more if they are not travelling during peak hours,' he said.

Lower fares during non-peak hours also help to stimulate business for taxi drivers during these hours, he added.

Member of Parliament Ong Kian Min, who is deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said he felt the surcharges were too complicated.

He preferred introducing a more 'straightforward' way of charging, instead of having one fare on the meter with surcharges added on only at the end of the trip.

'Having the true fare reflected on the meter would help avoid confusion between taxi drivers and commuters.'

His suggestion: fare bands for different times of day.

So if you take a taxi at peak periods, the flag-down rate and fare would be higher than at an off-peak time, but the meter would show what you are paying.

But Mr Seng Han Thong, MP and adviser to the Taxi Operators' Associations, feels that the surcharges should stay.

In fact, he suggested even more surcharges as the answer to the never-ending debate over demand and supply of cabs.

There could be 'location surcharges' imposed at popular pick-up points like hotels, night clubs, attractions and entertainment areas, he said.

mariaa@sph.com.sg

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