Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Coordinating nothing

Where was the Coordinating Minister when you needed him? He was not to be found anywhere near the NE Line train stations. To be fair, he did blog about it, albeit from afar. But the real question is: as the Transport Minister, why did he allow SBS Transit (SBST) to put into place a new train on a Monday morning? Clearly, there was no risk assessment conducted, or if it was done, it was slipshod work. Any astute engineer or manager, or transport minister worth his salt will know that, as the saying goes, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. And it went horribly wrong on the first day of school and work after the weekend. 41,000 commuters were reportedly affected, yours truly being one of them. The risk would have been considerably reduced if the introduction of the new train was done on a Saturday morning or better still, a Sunday morning.

It would have turned out to be a big mistake if students, who have studied so hard for the last ten years, missed their national exam papers. As it was, students were left scrambling to get to their exam venues. According to reports, many managed to do so, though some only in the nick of time while others went to other exam centres, Any right thinking person with a sense of the risk involved in commuting would have delayed any change to the MRT line in this period. And the risks have proven to be quite significant over the last couple of years. Mr Khaw is the Coordinating Minister. He is the Transport Minister, and he has Mr Ng Chee Meng, Second Minister of Education in charge of Secondary Schools, working for him. Clearly, he has failed to join the dots. Mr Fixit nearly dropped his pants for all to see.

We expect more, Mr Coordinating Minister. Not just making appearances here and there and everywhere like a movie star or some celebrity. This just won't do. I hesitate to think of the ire of parents should their children have missed their exam papers yesterday morning because somebody did not do his job by coordinating well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Ask the crowd

Beeline - now that's a brilliant idea that I wished I had thought of. I don't really know who originated it, but Singapore's iDA and LTA appear to be leading the effort (and the business) of providing chartered transport (mostly mini-buses for now). This is yet another challenge to the entrenched taxi service companies such as Comfort and SMRT Taxi for the rush hour crowd. As the fare is much more than the conventional bus, SBSTransit, and the train services run by SMRT, should welcome it as it takes some of the load off the morning and evening rush hour crowd. Some commuters have reportedly given up their taxi commute, which reportedly could go as high as S$20 a trip for a fraction of what Beeline charges. What's more, routes can be created and withdrawn based on commuter demand based on cell-phone bookings. It's something like Uber and Grabtaxi, only this is for a bigger group of travellers who don't mind mingling in a bus. As it is a booking-only service, seats are guaranteed with limited pickup and dropoff points, which is one of its attractions.

The writing is already on the wall. Minister Khaw talked about leveling the playing field between conventional taxi drivers and services like Grabtaxi and Uber, but there is no need to level anything here for the bus companies. Once again, the services that will be affected most are the taxi companies, although not by as much compared to Grabtaxi and Uber-like services. Conventional taxi companies much embrace technology that is becoming prevalent, and they must improve their apps, not just pay lip-service (as in whispering into the ears of one Khaw BW) to it as it appears to be doing now.

Monday, October 5, 2015

May the best taxi service win

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan would like to evaluate upstarts GrabTaxi and Uber to ensure that there is a level playing field. I suppose that means that GrabTaxi and Uber (G&U) should not have an unfair advantage over the incumbent taxi companies. In my opinion, what it really means is that the government, through regulations, wants to up the costs of G&U. That, or it wants to banish, or at least suppress, this innovative transport solution. Once this is done, the taxi companies will deem the competition to be fair.

This is ridiculous. For as long as there has been taxi companies such as ComfortDelgro, SMRT, etc. operating their fleets of taxis, there has really been no real competition. The taxi prices are really collusive, dressed up as free-market competition, never mind that the hop-on fare differs from one taxi company to another. You really don't get to choose which company's taxi you hop onto in a taxi queue. You are expected to take the next one that comes. It is expected of you. Of course you can refuse the next taxi which, in your view, charges more, but that means that you are left to rue whether you should have passed it up because it seems to take forever for the next taxi to appear, and you are beginning to run late. It is an absolutely unsatisfactory state of affairs, to say the least. Of course you can call for a cab, but you have to pay for the service. The problem is, part of the booking fee go to the taxi company (I suppose for providing the calling service). The net effect is the increase in the cost of taking a taxi. Now what if you can get a taxi to come to you by using your phone? That's the value proposition of G&U. Hop-on fee starts at S$8 and the total cost you incur may come out to lower or higher than if you had taken a conventional cab. It doesn't matter. The important thing is, G&U will estimate the price of the trip and you can either go ahead with the booking or not. That's real competition for you, not the wayang competition that the authorities are so fond of dressing up as competition. You get to choose. Sounds familiar?

I say, let things be. If G&U get a bad reputation because of reports of mis-conduct, people will hear about it and it will spell the doom of their business. I don't think you really need the government to come in to play the referee. It will be a total waste of tax-payers' money. What existing taxi companies should do is engage G&U in real competition. Offer the value proposition that has made U&G so popular, or better them with something more innovative. Not hide behind Minister Khaw's apron in the name of fairness.

You say there is a mobile apps from ComfortDelgro taxis? When I last check, it wasn't available on my Windows Phone. Uber is and has thus acquired me as a customer.

Here's how to become a Uber driver in Singapore.