Lesser than 5 years ago, Singapore’s public mode of transports were the trains, buses and taxis. Pretty much like any other developed city in the world.
Today, customers have the option to book a GrabCar or an Uber.
For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the concepts of GrabCar and Uber; it’s a booking platform that enables car drivers to get passengers like they would in taxi bookings. It’s basically commercialising their own private mode of transport for cash.
Which is actually a brilliant idea! And people loved the idea of being able to earn the extra buck, or some of them made it a full-time job for themselves.
However tension sparked when taxi drivers found that GrabCar and Uber drivers were threatening their rice bowls. And in full honesty, I worry for them as well. But I don’t advocate the whining and just expecting all this to stop – taxi drivers shouldn’t take for granted that they have the monopoly of commercialised car transport in Singapore.
And I’m sure many people will agree with me on this – taxi drivers have taken customers for granted in the past. Simply because if you want a comfortable air-conditioned car to yourself, or need to get somewhere in a hurry and you don’t have your own car; you need their taxi service.
Let me give you an example.
Last time I was waiting for a taxi at HarbourFront Centre, and thought it should be pretty fast. There were streams of taxis around, it was a sea of blue (ComfortDelGro) and yellow (CityCab). However to my horror, there was still a looong taxi queue! No taxis were coming forward!
The taxis didn’t want to be ‘flagged down’; they were waiting for people to book taxis so they can earn the extra booking fee.
It was quite blatant. I saw some people clearly in a huge hurry and just started calling for a taxi. Then the taxi right in front changed his sign to “On Call” and drove around to pick up the passenger. IT WAS RIDICULOUS!
And it wasn’t the only time. It became a norm that such things happen with taxis; and they were no longer a reliable mode of transport at touristy areas or during peak hours. Simply because they weren’t willing to be flagged down.
Sometimes even booking the taxi itself was an utter nightmare! Before the phone app was created, calling in was a tiring process on its own. 😫
Another experience I had was when I was in Holland Village and wanted to take a taxi ride to Commonwealth. The distance is super short and will cost me about S$5. I was lugging some heavy stuff then, and taking the bus would be a nightmare.
I was at the taxi stand in front of Cold Storage and it was my turn to board the taxi. After I got on the taxi with my shitload of barangs (baggage) and told the driver my destination, he actually told me to get out! “Too near lah! Don’t want! Don’t want!” And simply refused to drive me, so I had to alight.
The taxi drivers started choosing their customers based on if their destinations; if they found that journey to be adequately profitable.
Once again, IT WAS RIDICULOUS!!! The uncle clearly saw my bulky bags, and common sense will tell you that’s why I needed to take a taxi. Not because I’m some lazy rich brat who cannot stand a 20 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride.
However to be fair, the taxi behind took pity on me and helped my stuff onto his taxi instead. Which was really sweet! He did tell me that he would’ve preferred not to take me because he won’t earn much, but could see that I really needed a ride.
There was clearly a market gap, yes? Consumers needed a more reliable form of car transport, that would bring them where they want to go; without the judgement on if it was worth it for them.
Then Uber came! And I absolutely fell in love with the idea.
Then GrabTaxi came up with GrabCar! It was awesome.
But not everyone loved the idea – taxi drivers and some of the public hated how taxi drivers had to fight for their rice bowl like this. They already had to fight with each other for passengers; now they had additional people to fight with too.
Sure; I’ll admit it’s tough. But I’ll also say this, “You asked for it.”
When taxi drivers started being choosy about their customers, customers started looking for alternatives. And the whole idea of having another alternative gave birth to concepts like Uber and GrabCar being so readily accepted by the public.
I’m not saying that all taxi drivers are bad, I met some really nice ones before; even before GrabCar or Uber came into the picture. However there was no denying that it always lingered at the back of people’s heads, “What if the taxi doesn’t want to take me? How will I get there in time? Is there a better way?”
Taxi drivers should rightfully feel threatened that their rice bowl is taking a beating – but instead of being angry about it and trying to shut down the businesses in Singapore, how about learning what they’re doing right.
It’s all super simple.
Taxis have lost touch of their customers; they fail to see that they’re selling an experience. An experience of convenience, via a mode of transport. Much like the brick and mortar businesses; people are readily flocking to e-commerce sites because they don’t see an experience worth buying anymore at brick and mortar shops.
Plus the fact that Uber and GrabCar are price-competitive as well.
9 out of 10 times when I’m in a GrabCar or Uber, I feel absolutely comfortable. (1 out of 10 is usually just average, like a usual taxi ride)
They greet me happily when I board the car and thanks to the app, they also know my name. So it gives a lovely personalised experience. It’s somehow heartwarming to hear a smiling person go, “Good morning, Geraldine! Going to work now?” 😌 “Good evening, Geraldine! Going home after a long day?”
This happens to me probably only 1 out of 10 times when I board the traditional taxi.
And the GrabCar and Uber drivers actually express interest in making my ride as comfortable as possible. Which is an amazing experience for me! And because of this, my automatic first choice when I need a car is always to book a GrabCar or Uber – not a taxi.
And that’s not all – there was once I made a complaint to Uber about the driver taking 20 whole minutes to get to me, even though the app said 8 minutes. I got a reply within that night; telling me they understand how frustrated it must’ve been for me, they apologise and will look into the matter.
Again, I must reiterate – not all taxi drivers are bad. And I’m sorry that they’re taking a beating because of Uber and GrabCar; and I’m also sorry that I’m contributing to it. However please understand from a customer’s point-of-view: it’s not me, it’s you.
Taxi drivers just lost touch with their customers and they ought to see how GrabCar and Uber did what they couldn’t. Otherwise the taxis could be facing dark days ahead and will have no one to blame but their lack of ability to adapt.