45 minutes. That was how long I've waited for a taxi at the Harbourfront taxi stand during a weekend. I went to Batam for a short trip and unfortunately unlike Batman, I was unable to remote control my car to pick me up at Harbourfront. And dragging my luggage up a crowded weekend evening bus or MRT did not really sound appealing to me.
There were taxis coming into the taxi stand alright, countless supply in fact. But the queue was not exactly moving as quickly. Because out of every 10 taxis driving into the taxi stand, almost 8 of them were on call. In fact, most of the time when the queue moved, it was because someone had given up and paid the additional $2.50 booking charge.
The Ang Mor behind me asked his Singaporean-sounding friend why weren't those On Call taxis picking up any passenger from the queue, and she replied with how the dial-a-cab system works. Then he asked a more difficult question. What about those taxis that are not on call? Where are they?
Of course the Ang Mor's friend replied with some touristically-correct answer like how it was weekend and some were in the city/IRs/airport/changing shift etc. And of course we the locals know the real answer. The rest of the taxis that were not on call were stopped somewhere near some kopitiams waiting to be on call.
Hey, an additional $2.50 to the $20-30 taxi fare is like a 10% increase in income, you know? If you were a taxi driver will you prefer to drive to a taxi stand to look for customer or sit in your taxi and read wanbao while waiting for your customer to call you and pay you 10% extra?
My kindhearted and understanding friend was saying how it is not the taxi drivers' fault, because when there is supply only when there is demand, and there are just too many impatient Singaporeans who prefer to call than wait for taxis.
Alright then. Since most people don't mind the additional $2.50, why don't we just make the taxi booking charge mandatory, make it part of long list of surcharges like ERP surcharge, city surcharge, public holiday surcharge, peak hours surcharge, IR surcharge, airport surcharge, and all others who-ask-you-to-take-a-cab surcharges! Then there will be no more vacant taxis roaming the roads and all taxis have to be called. Taxi drivers can spend more time at kopitiams and we can spend less time of our life waiting.
As for the taxi stands around the country that are then useless, LTA can convert them into Taxis Viewing Cafes, for people with time to spare to watch On Call taxis go by, just like how the French watch people walk pass while sipping their lattes in alfresco cafes. All LTA have to do is to enclose the taxi stands, put in some air-con, pipe in some jazz music, install a little counter with coffee machines and we are good to go.
But is there a market? Of course there will be! Why will someone want to watch On Call taxis roaming pass? Well, I've just done that for 45 minutes.