Thursday, 22 November 2012

More cabbies choose to go solo

Only about half of 28,364 taxis on double shift - others ply fewer hours
By Maria Almenoar and Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2012

THE number of taxis has risen but more of them are plying the streets for fewer hours - a decline that some say could be the reason commuters find it difficult to get a cab during peak hours or rain.

According to the Land Transport Authority, only about half of the 28,364 taxis on the roads this year are on double shift, which is when a relief driver takes over the wheel after the cabby who has hired the taxi finishes his shift.

In 2006, about 60 per cent of 23,334 taxis on the road were on double shift.

On average, a cabby with a relief driver clocks a monthly average of 13,653km compared to 9,120km for taxis on a single shift.

Typically, a cab on a single shift is on the road from eight to 12 hours a day, while those with a relief driver can be on the move for up to 24 hours.

While industry experts agree that getting taxis to ply the roads for longer hours will help ease the shortage, they are not convinced it will solve peak-hour shortages for commuters like Fauziah Abdul Razak.

The 48-year-old executive assistant often waits 25 minutes or longer for a cab during the morning peak hour - from 7.30am to 8.30am - or when it rains.

National Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee argued that having more double-shift cabs is not likely to fix the shortage problem, as the real problem is during the morning and evening peaks. This problem needs to be studied in detail, he said, before it can be concluded that making taxis do double shifts will solve the problem.

He also noted that complaints tend to come from commuters waiting at specific locations, like the Central Business District.

Mr Howie Sim, infrastructure and transportation service industry director at global management consulting firm Accenture, said: "Even if all taxis had two drivers, there is no certainty it would be enough to meet the surge in demand during peak hours or rainy periods. There are, after all, a finite number of taxis on the road."

The taxi population is at an all-time high, while average daily ridership is 967,774, lower than in 2005, at 979,636.

Cabbies pay about $110 to hire a taxi for 24 hours. The amount a relief driver pays a cabby to take over the wheel is a private arrangement between the two of them.

But as the hirer will likely choose the best hours to work - like the period when he can collect peak-hour surcharges - it has become a challenge to get relief drivers to work the less attractive hours, said Mr Sim.

"There may be many taxi vocational licence holders but many just have it as a safety net and become relief drivers when the economy is bad," he added.

There are about 94,763 taxi licence holders, but only 53,050 are active drivers. They hire cabs from seven companies.

ComfortDelGro, the biggest with about 16,000 cabs, said over 80 per cent - about 12,800 taxis - operate on double shifts. Its spokesman added that an increasing number of its hirers use its matching service to team up with relief drivers.

SMRT said it will facilitate such matching, but added: "It depends on factors like whether there is an applicant living near the hirer, as this will make it convenient to hand over the vehicle."

Most of the remaining companies contacted declined to say what proportion of their fleets were on double shifts.

Mr Sazali Abu, 50, is one cabby who ensures his taxi is on the road almost round the clock. He shares his cab with three relief drivers.

He drives from 6am to 4pm as his relief drivers prefer driving at night, to fit in with their work or personal schedules.

Said Mr Sazali: "Taxis are considered public transport, and for me, I'd rather see a taxi moving than sitting in a carpark at night."

Working alone 'gives me more freedom'
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2012

CABBY Abdul Aziz Kassim has plied the roads alone in his taxi for the past seven years.

The 55-year-old drives every day and prefers the flexibility of having the cab to himself, as he uses it as a personal vehicle at times to fulfil family commitments.

Mr Abdul often drives his nine-year-old granddaughter to and from school. He also takes his mother-in-law to the clinic. The downside, however, is that his income is lower as he does not have another driver with whom to split the cost of fuel and renting the taxi.

The cabby said working solo offers more freedom. "If you drive alone, the taxi will last longer as it has more time to rest."

The proportion of cabbies who drive a taxi alone without a relief driver has risen from about 40 per cent in 2006 to about 50 per cent this year. A cab with only one driver clocks 9,129km on average each month, compared to 13,653km for taxis with two drivers.

Mr Samuel Yan, 56, is one of those who prefer to keep a relief driver. He used to operate alone, but hired someone to help him just two weeks ago. He used to be on the road for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week. Now, he drives about two hours less each day. "I wanted to slow down, and having a relief makes it less stressful," he said. "I don't have to drive such long hours."

The proportion of single-shift taxis could have gone up because more drivers aged between 30 and 40 are joining the industry and this group tend to go it alone, said Mr Yan.

He said one reason for the high demand for taxis could be that some cabbies choose not to drive in the day as there is no peak-period surcharge between 9.30am and 6pm. He added that if the number of two-driver cabs rose, it would help to deal with this problem.

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