Premium cabbies protest at airport over split queues

Drivers of premium cabs blared their horns continuously in the early hours of yesterday to show their unhappiness with the new segregated queue system on trial at Changi Airport's Terminal 1. Some said as many as 400 cabs had participated in the prot
Drivers of premium cabs blared their horns continuously in the early hours of yesterday to show their unhappiness with the new segregated queue system on trial at Changi Airport's Terminal 1. Some said as many as 400 cabs had participated in the protest, while others said just over 50 taxis were involved.PHOTO: STOMP

Scores of premium taxi drivers gathered outside Changi Airport's Terminal 1 in the early hours of yesterday to protest against a new segregated queueing system being trialled there.

According to one source, as many as 400 cabs gathered between 1am and 2am, blaring their horns continuously in what one airport executive described as "close to an industrial action".

"They were very unruly," he said. "They were egging each other (on) to protest."

Others said there were just over 50 taxis involved.

The unhappiness was apparently over a new queue system that separates commuters who want a normal cab from those who wish to take a premium cab (such as a Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, MaxiCab or London Cab, for example). Premium cabs are more expensive.

Changi Airport Group (CAG) spokesman Robin Goh said the system was "to provide commuters with clearer taxi choices".

When the trial started at 3pm on Monday, things were fine as there were passengers willing to pay more for a premium ride. But later in the night, demand dwindled - sparking the unrest.

Chrysler cab driver G.G. Yip, 56, said he was not at the protest, but understood the concern about the queueing system.

"It is not completely fair," he said. "It seems to warn passengers of much higher charges, when, in fact, the difference in total fare may be as little as $3 to $4 for the journey."

Mr Yip said premium cab drivers who protested must have felt they were being unduly penalised. "Every passenger wants a fair deal, but we have to realise the difference between a limo cab and a normal cab."

Asked if he would have joined in last night's incident if he had known about it earlier, Mr Yip said: "I would go through the proper channels. No point causing this type of tension."

Another Chrysler cab driver who gave his name only as Roy said he was at Terminal 1 at 1am, but denied there was a protest.

He said the new queues slowed down the flow of cabs at the airport. "If we were to join the normal cabs, the flow would have been faster," he said. "After waiting in the queue for one hour, they were naturally unhappy."

The incident apparently caused a service bottleneck, as normal taxis could not get past the blockade to reach customers.

The Straits Times understands that the police are aware of the incident and are monitoring the situation.

CAG's Mr Goh said: "We acknowledge the unhappiness expressed by some premium taxi drivers." He added that CAG would "monitor the situation, make ground adjustments and work with the relevant stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of the system".

Insiders believe the segregated queues will be scrapped soon, and the airport will revert to one common queue for all cabs.

christan@sph.com.sg