Friday, August 15, 2008

ERP Rate Hikes Inadvertently Remind Taxi Drivers That They Perform a Public Service

I stand at the taxi stand at different times of the day, every day, and feel an odd sense of deja vu. There are no taxis available (unless you call). There appear to be no taxis for miles (unless you call, then they appear immediately). In fact, didn't we have this very problem last year, just before they increased the cab fares by 35% during peak hours?

As a reluctant but frequent taxi passenger, I try to empathise with the troubles of the average taxi driver. After all, it cannot be easy sitting in that tiny little space up to 12 hours a day with a myriad of strangers getting in and out the back of the cab, some of whom could possibly be criminals. A number of taxi drivers I've come across (and I'm not really all that chatty in a taxi) are retrenched workers who cannot find another job and have been forced to drive a taxi to support their families. I guess you could say that if anyone would like to see the poor and disenfranchised of Singapore, well, just hop into a cab and take a good long look at the driver.

But increasingly I'm starting to wonder if they are really as poor and disenfranchised as they make themselves out to be. After all, their constant moaning and grumbling did get them a nationwide fee increase of 35% during peak hours. At the back of my mind, I wonder if we have passed any anti-competition laws at all, and if so, whether they have taken effect, and if so, whether any members of the Competition Committee take taxis.

Then in response to their moaning and grumbling about the diesel prices, they just received a right to charge an extra 30 cents for diesel, per trip, per passenger.

Prior to this, in response to their moaning and grumbling about having to pay for ERP, they received an increase in booking fees during peak hours.

Not that each increase is a lot, but when everything gets added up, it's about 50% more on the fees. What other industry gets the right to increase their fees by 50% during hours when they are most needed, when people who themselves need to work for money have to choose between taking 1.5 hours to go home by other modes of public transport or paying 10 - 15 times more to take a taxi home and cut 1 hour off their travel time so they can spend that with their families?

All the surcharges and fare increases may seem like a lot, but I can tell you that it's clearly not good enough. Don't take my word for it, just try to get a cab in the Central Business District and you will see that we have created some kind of a cab-free zone in the centre of Singapore. Clearly, cab drivers are so incredibly pissed off about having to pay the additional ERP charges at the various new gantries, that they will not enter the Central Business District but will skulk around outside waiting for someone to call for a taxi so that they can utilise the booking charge to set-off the additional ERP charges. Cab drivers already inside the Central Business District see no point as well in picking anyone up without getting a booking charge out of it, so they will cruise around or hide somewhere to wait for a call.

I asked a cab driver once (mainly because I needed background noise in the cab - he didn't have the radio on) why there are no taxis in the CBD now. He went on for 20 minutes. In fact, he went on for an additional 2 minutes after I had reached my destination, and I had to sit in the taxi to wait for him to finish the explanation. Basically, taxi drivers do not wish to pay for ERP charges. They perform a public service by providing an alternative mode of transport. In fact, they are a recognised form of public transport. While they do not seek any public service award, they would very much like to be given some incentive to continue to provide the public service. Therefore they should not need to pay ERP.

I like this idea of the public service that they perform. In fact, if you really think about it, taxi drivers are also unofficial tax collection agents for the Singapore government - they collect tax through ERP charges from passengers and pay it to the Singapore government through pre-determined collection points. So they do in fact provide more than 1 type of public service.

What I would like to know is why the effect of the public service reminder, albeit inadvertent, is so damn fleeting. Obviously the same people who are now even more aware that they are performing a public service have decided not to perform it, by deserting the Central Business District during peak and pretty much all office hours.

I'm not an economist, but if the money is so bad, why do taxi drivers get to pick and choose their customers with impunity? Shouldn't they try to get as many passengers as possible, and by going to the places where there would be many passengers? Contrast the SARS period, when no one would take a taxi and you couldn't flip your hair with your hand while walking on the street, otherwise a taxi could stop. That - was desperation. That - was when they really needed the money to survive. You could say - then - that they were truly the poor and disenfranchised. Now, they're just behaving like a bunch of assholes who own the road and couldn't be bothered to do their jobs properly.

Oh by the way I notice their jobs are also protected - am I right in saying that you can only get a taxi licence if you are a Singaporean?

Saturday, August 09, 2008


So the Husband and I went out this evening for a nice dinner and a movie. We et and then went for a short walk, just to see the sights.

Hookers, hookers everywhere and not a drop to drink.

There were girls leaning on every lamppost, corner, road sign ("NO PARKING") and even the little phallic-symbol marble pavement blocks that make it difficult for cyclists to ride on the pavement. I passed a row of 5 of these, of which 2 had their own female accompaniments. Everywhere I turned, there was boobs, legs, heavy makeup, hooker clothes, long hair and high heels, and not just on the women.

Where were we? Were we in Joo Chiat? Geylang? Desker Road? Changi? ... Pattaya?

No, we were in Orchard Road, on that nice little stretch between Isetan Scotts and Adelphi. Otherwise known as Hookerville. It's really easy to get a hooker there - just pick up a rock (you can call it "The Date Rock" if you like) and toss it in any direction. Chances are extremely favourable that some hooker with a bleeding forehead will return that rock to you, one way or the other, in the next few minutes. I can't say however whether that hooker will be male or female, but well looking at them in the shadows, I would guess that you wouldn't be able to tell either.

I used to say that it was extremely difficult to walk down Geylang Road if you were a woman because people would automatically think you were a hooker. I can now say the same for Orchard Road. Any woman who isn't dressed like she's going to the wet market is an immediate suspect. In fact, any woman in casual clothes and makeup standing by a lamp-post, dustbin, pavement block or just, well, standing could be suspect.

At one point, I was walking past the Thai embassy when some guy bumped into me and copped a feel of what my son refers to as the butty butt. Now, is it just me, OR IS THERE SOMETHING TERRIBLY IRONIC ABOUT GETTING MOLESTED IN A STREET FULL OF HOOKERS. It's like ... going to a buffet and someone runs in and steals a tiny little piece of food. Or something. I'm still processing this.

I guess one thing that really sticks in my mind about the whole Orchard Road experience is what I saw when I wandered into Isetan Scotts. Now this is after passing something like 30 hookers in the street. Then I walk into the cosmetic department at Isetan Scotts, which The Husband sarcastically refers to as "The Mother Ship", and what do I see but 2 transvestite hookers using the makeup samples at MAC to touch up their makeup. Sometimes in a moment of absolute desperation, one might sneak a little bit of lipstick at the makeup counter, but these two were going through the works - foundation, powder, lipstick, blusher, lipliner, eye makeup, mascara and glitter. I glanced around to see how the sales staff were taking this, and was a wee bit horrified to note that it was actually the salesman who was giving them the makeover. I mean, they were sitting in the makeup chair and everything, and getting their faces professionally done by one of the sales staff. When MAC used RuPaul as the Face of MAC, it must have really reached their target audience, huh. I tried checking out the cosmetics myself (oh the luxury of not doing this while carrying a 3-year old) but at one point I looked at the lipsticks, all shiny and gleaming, a thought flashed through my mind, and then. I. just. walked. away.

Oh RuPaul. If you only knew what you started. You were an inspiration for GenX transvestite hookers. Now you are a continuing inspiration for GenY transvestite hookers. Long live RuPaul!

Monday, August 04, 2008


So the Gremlin and I decided, quite on the spur of the moment and in our best disco outfits, to venture down to the St James Power Station last Friday for some quality time at Movido and the Bellini Room.

It was kind of like 2 cats who have been declawed, being let out to hunt. The cats cling to each other, yowling and looking around with big glazed eyes, but not really sure what to do next. We get there, wander in, get lost in the gallery bar and finally after 2 dead ends find ourselves in The Bellini Room where, incidentally (and you couldn't really tell by the way I guided us there) I had just been exactly 1 week ago with Fore!

People standing around with drinks in the dark - check
Some guy singing jazz on stage - check
Bartender trying to explain to me why there is no drinks menu - check

Nothing ever changes. Now what.

We moved on to Movido, where along with about 500 other sweaty people, we kind of bopped to the beat of Timbaland's The Way I Are, together with a bunch of other songs from vastly, confusingly different music genres. At one point, I was horrified to hear the opening notes of Abba's Dancing Queen. Even more horrifying though was the reaction of the (mostly Gen Y) crowd who seemed to think it was a brand new hit song. I'm almost completely certain that some of them will be attending at Gramophone or That CD Shop with requests for CDs with "that seventeen dancing queen song by that new girl group". "Dancing Queen" was played just after Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" (coincidentally my son's favourite song) and then followed closely by some unspeakable Salsa dance number which morphed into trance music, thereby lending support to my view that the DJ was both visually- and audially-challenged.

As I heaved around and jiggled to the beat of a dozen different beats, I felt a sense of deja-vu. Nothing much has changed since I started sneaking into what my mother calls "that Rocks Hard Cafe" and "the nite-crup". I couldn't really tell, looking at the people on the dance floor, which decade we were in. It all looks the same. I could've been in Studebaker's/ Zouk/ Buzz/ Xanadu/ Brannigan's/ Brix or even at a tea dance at Warehouse. Jesus. I just dated myself big time there, didn't I. The guys all dress the same, and there's lots and lots of older and younger guys. The older guys just stand or walk around staring blatantly at the women like they're at a meat market, while the younger guys arrive in big groups and keep together, only venturing out on the dance floor sparodically (but still in groups) to lurch around vaguely to the beat while surreptitously checking out the girls.

The women on the other hand dance with each other in groups of 2 and 3, all looking around surreptitiously at the guys while checking that their handbags are still where they left them, and that their half-drunk drinks haven't been taken away. And the dancing is all very cute but rather modest and a little bit repetitive. I should mention that I've seen groups of women dance way wilder on the dance floor at Top 10, but I believe that type of dancing should more appropriately be described as a form of advertisement, like watching a bunch of live TV commercials. Except that TV commercials don't usually involve dry humping, but anyway.

End of my 15-min blogging break.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Chinese Mothers

Due to the nature of my work, I usually deal with companies and people who work in them, thus managing to avoid the insanity that comes with dealing with individuals and their family members.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, but after today, maybe I will make some exceptions to my exceptions. Am handing a matter now for a doctor regarding his late father's property, and I wrote him yesterday to ask for a number of documents. He called today, we chatted about them, then he asked me as a favour to call his mother to ask for 3 documents. I understand this sort of request because, look, he's busy, I'm supposed to help him with his personal matters, so I'll spend 3 minutes on the phone doing it.

I call his mother, and she sounds (a) surprisingly alert and very healthy; and (b) surprisingly pissed off. Like "Satan on a bad day" pissed off. She says "okay I'll get the documents" through what sounds remarkably like clenched teeth, and then (just like my mother) hangs up without saying goodbye. I even wondered for a moment if I had called my mother by mistake.

10 minutes later, she calls me back, and now she sounds completely enraged. YOU TELL MY SON THAT IF HE WANTS ANY DOCUMENTS HE CAN CALL ME HIMSELF OTHERWISE I AM NOT GIVING YOU ANYTHING *CLICK*

Good grief.

I called him and as I told him what happened, I had this sneaking suspicion that I really didn't need to explain very much. He just sighed, said he'll call her, and then hung up. Five minutes later, he called again to ask me to write to her as she was not taking his calls.


She's just like my mother.