This is the second installment of how taking taxis in Singapore differs from, well, anywhere else.
The Dutch government once upon a time tried to organize road use in such a way that those causing most of the damage and the pollution, would also pay most. Sounds logical, doesn't it? Well, there was a very strong and effective movement which made sure it never happened.
In Singapore however it does exist and it's called "electronic road pricing" or ERP. It's the taxi drivers bane of existence (and probably the bane of existence of all motorized vehicle drivers, but I don't know that many people with a car), about which they love to talk endlessly, while recounting fond memories of times before ERP when taxis - so I understand - rode all over Singapore for the price of a plate of chicken rice.
(Interlude: today I met a taxidriver who had taken a taxi from Amsterdam to Schiphol, back in the Nineties. He assured me that the meter ticked faster than he could blink and while he was watching his heart rate went up accordingly, until he had to pay about 80 guilders - not adjusted for inflation. "It was less than twenty minutes, lah", he said, marvelling at the memory. "Singapore still not so expensive!" This seems a healthier perspective than the morose taxi driver a few days ago who told me on the subject of Ikea: "You pay small price, yes, but still not free, lah.")
Singaporean taxi fares are like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. This is not because the taxi drivers make up their own minds, on the contrary, it's because they stick to the rules very closely. It's just that for mere mortals, following the rules and calculating the fare has become the stuff of PhD-theses. Maths PhD-theses.
Us mere mortals have to relie on the cabbie, who in turn relies on the little black box which spits out a seemingly random number at the end of the drive, which definitely does not bear any resemblance to the three numbers ticking happily along on the way. I have tried combining and dividing these numbers, or multiplying them in various ways and shapes, but I have not ever managed to come up with the right fare before the little black gave me the correct answer. (Admittedly, "head counting", as we Dutchies like to call it, has never been my strong suit.) For those who would like to have a go anyway, you can find all the proper prizes and surcharges here.
My interest lies elsewhere. All the different surcharges have had an effect on the availability of taxis as well - causing them to be a scarce commodity, just when I need them most, such as when it rains. And E. has bronchitis.
See, a lot of these surcharges have to be paid, whether there's a client in the cab or not. If the taxi driver's on his own, he has to pay himself. And since the actual fares are not that high at all (which you notice if you take taxis to get to mummy coffee breaks at 11 am or mummy tea appointments at 3 pm) and taxi drivers rent their cars, it stands to reason they don't make heaps of money. (If you'd like to know where the endless stream of bank notes that leaves my wallet, ends up, ask the taxi drivers. It's usually a good starting point for a nice monologue.)
So, the taxi drivers don't like to get slapped with all these surcharges any more than their customers do - and when without client they avoid them by simply not coming into town. Instead they circle around the heartlands until somebody wants to go into town badly enough to pay all the extra charges. Or they wait until they get a call or text requesting a taxi - in which case there's yet another surcharge of 3 dollars, of which the taxi driver gets to keep a fair part.
This explains why there are no taxis during rush hour or when it rains or, really, anytime really when I am desperate to get myself into a taxi. Because chances are all of them have already left the city with passengers quicker than I was, and are now circling around, waiting for me to give in and book them.
Thing is, I really don't know how yet. This whole texting a taxi - it's just way to technologically advanced for me.
So I take the bus instead.
I love Singaporean public transport, I honestly do. But that's a subject for another day - must not leave myself without subject matter! (Also, must start dinner in order to slow down E.'s mutation into a screaming little tornado. She's the opposite of a gremlin: must have food, must be dunked in water. Otherwise, mutation.)