TRANSPORT & LOGISTICS | Contributed Content, Singapore
Chris Reed

Singapore has the world’s worst taxi drivers


That’s a statement not a question for a reason. It’s true. Singaporean taxi drivers are the world’s worst. I love living in Singapore but the one thing that winds me up no end is taxi drivers lack of ability to do their basic job, take me from point a to point b.

First question they always ask when you get in a cab, which way do you want to go. Now they don’t ask this as they do in other countries where they may be asking for the choice of directions that the customer wants to go.

No, in Singapore they ask because they have no idea how to get to the destination. If I hear one more time, “I’m new, I don’t know the way” when getting in a cab I will scream. My response is twofold 1) you’re not new to Singapore you have lived here all your life and 2) it’s your bloody job to know the way!

If someone came to me in my marketing job and said I would like some marketing advice please and I then turned around and said well what do you think because I haven’t got a clue, what would happen? The client would walk out and not pay me. In a Singapore taxi this happens 75% of every one of my journeys.

There is no excuse. Newness to the roll is pathetic. They are not new to Singapore, they must know the way. If they do not why are they taking up a job as a taxi driver?

Whose fault is this incompetence?

The driver, the cab company or the Government? All three in my view.

The driver really has no excuse. All taxi drivers in Singaporean have to be Singaporean. They tend to be in their 40’s and 50’s. Therefore they have lived here all their lives and presumably know the city inside out. It’s not that big! I have lived here three years and know most routes! So why don’t they?

Does this come back to always being told what to do by the Government? They want to be told the way even though it’s their job and they are, let’s not forget, being paid for this service! Why don’t they take responsibility and know the routes? Why do they have to be spoon fed when their livelihood rests on it?

Have the government conditioned them so much that they do not want to take a risk and go the way that they must know or do they simply genuinely not know in which case why are they so ignorant and going around with their eyes closed? It’s their job to know the way!

No training means greater ignorance. Cab companies clearly do not train their taxi drives. If they did they would know the way to anywhere in Singapore or be able to find the way without asking a passenger. Why don’t they train them? If they do then they seriously need to look at their program because it does not work.

What first impressions does this give a tourist arriving at Changi Airport? That someone completely new to the country could be asked which direction to go and do you know where it is, the two most common things a Singaporean taxi driver says!

Don’t believe me? Take the last couple of week’s mishaps as some recent examples:

  • Asked to go to Singpost at Paya Lebar the taxi driver took a detour to Marina Bay... west not east! She then had to ring up someone to ask the way to Paya Lebar as we sped towards Vivo City...
  • Going to Rochester Mall I had to get three taxis before someone knew the way
  • I was taken to Suntec when I had said Novena Square
  • Asked to go to Nicoll Highway from Bugis Junction was told that he didn’t know where Nicoll Highway was...(it’s next door)
  • I was taken to Little India when I asked to be taken to Marina Square (he thought Marina meant inland... Despite Marina Bay, Marina Square, Marina Bay Sands being the other way...).
  • Asked to take Stadium Road I was told by my driver that it is fully closed when it is not and if it was I wouldn’t directing him that way...
  • Asked to go to Changi Airport the driver, who was on the ECP (the correct way) turned off to go the scenic route...
  • Asked to go to Sentosa Cove went to Sentosa beach (right not left)
  • Asked to go to One Shenton, Shenton Way asked for directions and only knew were to go when I said next to Asia Square! Bizarre because Shenton Way is old and Asia Square is new!
  • Asked to go to Great Eastern Centre (great enormous building with Great Eastern on the top) on Pickering Street (CBD) the driver didn’t know whether either of them were
  • Having asked a taxi driver to go to Kallang Leisure Park he attempted to go the wrong way down Nicoll Highway on the basis that he could cut across the Stadium only to be surprised that it had been knocked down and the Sports Hub was being built and it had closed off all the roads!!! Work started 2 years ago...
  • I could go on and on and on and on...

What happens at 4pm? Why does “change shift” give taxi drivers the right to not pick people up? Why do they drop by taxi ranks and say that they are going to their home and that if anyone else happens to live next door to them they will take them but if not they won’t! By the time they have driven around for hours looking for this perfect passenger who lives next door they could have taken several people home and earnt some money!

I was given a great example of how some stands get focused on my taxi drivers. If you are standing waiting for a taxi at Ion, you have a long wait because it’s not in the CBD. If you move a few steps to Wisma Atria you will get picked up because it is in the CBD and that extra couple of dollars makes all the difference to a taxi driver which brings me on to rain…

When is the one time you can never get a taxi in Singapore despite their being 26,000 of them, more than any other country per capita? When it rains.

They disappear. You cannot for anything get a taxi when it rains. Where do they all go? You can’t even text them or app them and they usually love that as they get an extra couple of dollars.

Why do the big posh black SMRT limos that Singaporeans won’t get into (because it costs a couple of dollars more, they would rather wait in the queue, even though it is the same cost as texting for one…) not take card? Why do the red and black/yellow ones do the same? Which modern country these days only takes cash when all the marketing from people like Nets, MasterCard, Visa, EZ link is cashless? Why do some cabs have displayed that they will take card/they are cashless only to turn around and say only cash? This usually happens only on a Thursday or Friday…when they don’t get their money to after the weekend unless it’s a cash payment…

Why are there 25,000 of the 26,000 Singaporean taxis always at Changi Airport? This is why you can never get a cab when you really want one. They are all waiting at Changi for that amazing fair, even though the queue takes hours to go down and they could earn much more on shorter journeys in the city….

So all of this makes them really bad, but the world’s worst? Well in London you can’t become a black cab driver unless you know the “knowledge” which is the A-Z of London streets. You must know every street, every hotel, every landmark before you get a license. They should do that in Singapore.

In Australia and New York they allow non Australians and non Americans to take the roles and the service and knowledge of the city is better than Singaporeans of Singapore. In fact I would wager that if you took an Indian who had just got off a plane and never been to Singapore and gave him a cab he would do a better job than a Singaporean taxi driver in driving you to your destination…

Why don’t the Government allow non-Singaporean Asian’s to take taxi drivers jobs? That would make current drivers them more competitive and less ignorance and complacent. No more not taking jobs, no more not knowing the way if they felt like they could be booted out and replaced by a willing Indian cab driver who had put the work in and knew the streets inside out and worked all hours to generate money.

Getting cab drivers to take personal responsibility to know their own city streets, being properly trained by companies and creating a competitive market place with non-Singaporean rivals for their jobs is the only way forward for Singaporean cab drivers. If nothing changes they will continue to be the world’s worst taxi drivers and continue to be the black mark on the tourism and business marketing of our otherwise amazingly run city state.  


UPDATE (3 August 2012)

Thank you everyone for reading my blog on taxis in Singapore. I really appreciate everyone’s time and comments. It really shows how much Singaporean residents (both local and expat) care about the subject. I care passionately about Singapore and I not only love living and working here but I love what the Singaporean people have made of this island and the respect it is has gained throughout the world and totally respect them for doing it.

My blog is an opinion. It is not a journalistic piece with balancing views. It’s only my opinion. I state it because I care about the subject and because I think some taxis (and it is only a minority of taxi drivers) let down the Singaporean business and tourism brand. As this blog is on a Singapore business website it has to be viewed within that context. I wouldn’t go to the trouble of writing it and responding to people if I did not care passionately about this beautiful island that I call home.

Maybe I care more than other expats which is why I write the blogs promoting the place. I have written over 15 blogs praising different aspects of Singapore in the last year alone in various Asian, European and Global business and marketing websites and publications. I consistently praise Singapore and it’s amazing people, all of them within these blogs by showcasing their achievements.

Clearly in this blog about taxis I am talking about a minority of taxi drivers not all of them. I believe the minority let down the majority and give a bad impression. I listed over a dozen examples of where a taxi driver has done something that I wouldn’t see as being consistent with the modern and sophisticated Singapore brand in order that we can debate it and see if there are solutions to change it to avoid these things happening again or indeed agree that nothing needs to be changed because I am in a minority, which I think I am on this subject! I thank you again for reading and responding and hope you take the blog in the spirit that it is intended, well meaning, passionate and caring.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed has 25 years of senior marketing experience on both the client and agency side in the UK and now in Asia Pacific. He is the CEO and founder of Black Marketing.

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