Saturday, November 8, 2008

Driving service

I don't know if it has anything to do with the falling price of oil, and the resulting drop in the price of petrol. I don't know if it has anything to do with the impending removal of the 30 cents taxi surcharge. I don't know what the recession is doing to people. Or is it simply because I was irritated?

I bought a 5-level stocker yesterday - quite large by normal standards. A brave decision because I don't drive and I was at Giant, Tampines - which is as far away from civilisation that you could find in urban Singapore. How could I lug that home, I wondered? It wouldn't fit in a bus without my getting cold stares from the public and walking was definitely not a option. Taxis were the only means of transporting that stocker and myself home. I was hopeful that it would fit into the booth of a taxi. You'd have to try, right? And anyway, if it didn't, surely it would fit in the back seat?

A Comfort taxi came along after a very short wait. I asked the driver to open his booth, but lo and behold, there were a couple of pails in there. I asked the driver if he could somehow remove the pails (perhaps to the front passenger seat) so that I could try to fit my stocker into the booth. He threw a glance at my stocker and said it wouldn't fit. All this while he kept his bum on his seat. He just wasn't interested to help think of alternatives, nor to come off his seat and his taxi to assess my situation more closely. He just wasn't interested, period. It was just a 'take it or leave it, I'm not going to help attitude'. There wasn't anybody else in the queue. He was just 'happy' to burn petrol while waiting for some other would-be passenger to come by. Eventually, he drove off without a passenger.

Meanwhile, I waited for the next cab to come by, hoping I would get more help. Another did come by, a Premier Taxi. This time, the driver got off his taxi and helped me fit the stocker into his booth. It didn't fit, so he suggested the back seat. He helped me put it in and we were off. All this probably took less than 2 minutes - and he earned not only my cab fare, but my respect. I took down his name and cab number, silently. This was stuck on his windscreen. I mean to write to Premier to let them know that they have an excellent driver.

It is often said that we remember the bad things people do, and not the good. Well, I had forgotten to take down the number of the first taxi. I should have so that I could also write to Comfort Cab about the rotten apples in its basket of cab drivers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Leg up to Public Transport

There's a new public transport web site and service available. Unlike SBSTransit's Iris NextBus for mobile devices, which is only available to Singtel and Starhub subscribers, this new service is available to anyone with a cellphone. With this new service, the public transport commuter just sends an SMS message to the number 77722 with the bus stop number. Within seconds, a list of arrival times for all buses at the bus stop will be sent to the cellphone. I tried it twice, and its fairly accurate. Maybe not up to the second accurate. It may be 1-2 minutes off, but in terms of sequence of arrival of the buses, it is spot on.

The only limitation with this service is that it only covers the academic town of Clementi - so students in Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, NUS, NTU and UniSIM are the main beneficiaries of the free service. It won't be free forever. Come next year (April, I think), each query will be charged. What the exact charge is, over and above the cost of the SMS, which must still be borne by the public transport commuter, is not known yet. iris Nextbus charges 5 cents per SMS request for postpaid customers and 10 cents for prepaid customers (Singtel prepaid accounts only). Since this is a service provided by LTA, it should cost less, hopefully. If it doesn't cost too much, it is going to be a winner, at least for those who use public transport in Clementi.

Oftentimes, I debate whether I want to take the bus on the other side of the road, or this side as several buses on different routes can take me to the same destination. What if I moved away from the bus stop and minutes later, find the bus that I was waiting for 'sailing' in? It happened before several times, much to my dismay. So with this Publictransport@sg system, there'd be no more second guessing. I can make an informed decision.

Public transport has just got a leg up.

Image: Author: Martin Cannings

Friday, October 17, 2008

It takes two

The price of oil has plummeted, in concert with the banks and investment houses going broke in the US and Europe. Singapore is now in a recession, yet the price of services in Singapore is still going up, or at least, not going down any time soon.

Electricity has gone up a whopping 20%. Transport costs, particularly taxi services, refuse to go down. A surcharge of 30 cents was slapped on taxi fares some time ago when the price of oil was going north at US$130/barrel. The price of oil is now US$70-$80 a barrel, and we learn that in spite of this, fuel oil is sold at a premium in Singapore for daa daa daa dee dee dee reasons...

Which of us common folks can understand ther pricing mechanism, anyway? The pump price for diesel is $1.53/litre now and the taxi company, in collusion, refuses to take away the surcharge, saying that it will be removed once the price of diesel falls to $1.19 - the December 07 level. So much for competition. Even cars running on gas pretend that they are on diesel.

What if the price of diesel falls to $1.20 and no lower? Then the surcharge will be a permanent charge, and you have the new model of increasing taxi prices. No need to agonise over prices increases in future since all you have to tell the PTC is that the increase is temporary. Well, how temporary is temporary? While commuters quibble over 2 cent increases, or even 10 cents increases that bus companies impose, we have the taxi companies getting away with 30 cent increases (well, ok, the taxi companies also run the public bus services and vice versa).

Well, there are two ways to skin a cat (my apologies to cat-lovers). Either we wait for the pump price of diesel to fall to that magical number, or we force the removal of the surcharge by with-holding our business. Commuters should just vote with their feet, literally, and take less taxis.

And it seem to be happening. Last Sunday, there was a long queue of taxis in front of my place. Usually, you'd have to wait at least 10 minutes to board one, if you are fortunate. Otherwise it would be 20 minutes. On that occasion, I spied a woman with a clipboard writing away while glancing at the taxi queue. No, I don't mean the people queueing for the taxi, I mean the taxi queueing for customers. The last time this happened was during the bad times, economically, that SARs brought. It was a breeze when you'd want to take a taxi then, because they are all lining up for you. When the good times return soon after, commuters were at the selective mercy of taxi drivers again, though not entirely due to the fault of the taxi companies.

I don't know what that woman's purpose was. Usually it is either to report back that there is not enough taxi's at a particular spot or the frequency is good/bad so that something can be done about it. This time around, there probably wasn't any concern for the commuter. It appears that the taxi drivers are more concerned. Well, it was only last Sunday. I would like to see if this happens again. If it does, then it would confirm that people's pockets are truly in sync with the reported recession that Singapore has slippped into.

Image source: Author: Cheryl Rankin

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fair fares

It has arrived! The next round of public transport fare increases has been announced and they are set to take effect from 1 Oct 2008. The facts are all here. Nobody likes fare increases, except perhaps the public transport companies and their shareholders. So every time these announcements are made, Singaporeans wait with bated breadth - ready to pounce on why the regulators and transport operators have got it all wrong, that they are profiteering, especially in times where inflation seen to be running ahead of everyone.

Over the last couple of years, however, Singaporean's have been prepared for more smaller increases in transport fares so that objections would not be so vocal, and it isn't all that vocal now. Personally, I find the fare revision this time to be fair and, more importantly, fact-based. The PTC, under Mr Gerard Ee, has done a great job of dissecting the issues and looking up the books to come out with a justifiable fare revision. Not everyone needs to pay more. Those who take longer journeys with multiple transfers will see their transport fares reduced. On the other hand, those traveling shorter distances will pay more. Yet the net effect of these revisions will see the transport companies gain a couple of percentage points more in terms of revenue. I appreciate that benchmarks such as ROTA (Return on Total Assets) was used to prove to one and all (including the transport executives) where the transport companies stood in terms of profitability. It takes away the perception that the transport companies are always out to make a killing whenever it increased fares. And the paper does recognise that certain groups of people will still find the increases difficult.

This is what the PTC should be about. Looking into the transport issues in a holistic manner, neither seeking to advantage one over another. My erstwhile bad impression of the PTC was seared into my mind (and I believe most of the rest of Singaporean's mind) when, under its previous Chairman, commuters were always left high and dry. Then, whenever there was a fare increase, the then Chairman of the PTC will speak out FOR the transport companies without fail, to defend the need for a fare increase - viz - its been a long time since the last increase, operating costs have gone up, labour cost have risen, etc. etc. It was always the same refrain, so much so that what should be reasons for fare increases have become excuses for it.

When the PTC does not speak up for the long suffering commuters, who will? The MPs were largely ineffective in protecting the interests of its commuting public too. And the government? Well, there's the PTC where transport matters are concerned. But to be fair, the government did define a more predictable formula for transport fare increases and change the Chairman for the better.

So thank you, Mr Gerard Ee. Truly you have continued the good work of your father in looking out for the less fortunate among us.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why Blog This?

I don't drive. I take public transport in Singapore. So transport information is very important to commuters like me. There is a lot of information available on transport services in Singapore on the internet, but unfortunately, for the un-initiated (and even for the veterans), these information are scattered all over. This blog site attempts to bring as much of these information together in a single page. At the same time, it allows me to comvent (comment and vent) about my experience and thoughts about public transport in Singapore.