Carrying luggage a cabby's job?

Some taxi drivers say their job is to just provide a safe ride, but others are happy to help passengers load bulky items into the boot

Every time cab driver Ong Koh Chee encounters passengers with luggage or carrying bulky items, he makes it a point to help them load their items into his taxi.

The 56-year-old, who has been a cab driver for 20 years, treats it as part of his job and will not shy away from doing it, even if the items look heavy.

"I still have enough strength to handle it. Maybe if I were 60 or 70, I wouldn't be able to, but since I still can, why not?"

However, he is actually going the extra mile. Cab companies and private car companies here say that while drivers are encouraged to help passengers with bulky items, it is not a strict rule to be followed.

"It is situational, as there may be times when the driver has an injury and may hurt himself while carrying it. He may also end up damaging the bulky item," says a spokesman for Premier Taxi.

Taxi companies Premier Taxi and Trans-cab and private car companies Grab and Uber told The Sunday Times they do not enforce such rules.

Other taxi operators ComfortDelGro, SMRT and Prime did not respond by press time.

This issue of drivers helping passengers with bulky items arose recently when a Grab driver boasted on Facebook that she had left her passenger's luggage behind.

Sharing her encounter on a Facebook group for Uber and Grab drivers, she claimed she had done so because she was displeased at her passenger's assumption that she should load it into the car for him.

The post sparked debate online, with many showing their support for the driver. And while her reaction is not an oft-seen one, her reasoning - that drivers are not porters - is one shared by many other taxi and ride-share drivers on the roads here.

Like her, full-time Uber driver Vivian Ong, 23, feels that her job is to provide a safe and comfortable ride.

While she will willingly help passengers in need, such as the old and disabled, she is less willing when it comes to able-bodied passengers.

"Ultimately, I feel that driving is the service, our job is to get people from point A to B," she says.

"If you look as fit as me and are perfectly capable of doing it, I would be a lot more reluctant to do it," says Ms Ong, who started driving for Uber two months ago.

Recalling an incident where a passenger had stood by watching her lift his luggage, she says: "It left a bad taste in my mouth, but at the end of the day, I need the five-star rating, so I'll still do it."

She was referring to the driver- rating system used by Uber, where drivers with consistently low ratings may have their account deactivated.

Others, too, are reluctant to help, especially when the passenger's fares are lower. Grab driver Bronson Lee, 45, typically does not help passengers travelling short distances.

"It's also about morals. The fare is already so low and you still expect the driver to carry your things for you? We are not movers," says Mr Lee, who has been driving for 11/2 years.

Most other drivers The Sunday Times spoke to, however, have no issues with helping their passengers, although many view it as an additional service.

"I just treat it as a form of courtesy. It'll make the trip friendlier if you do it," says Grab driver Javis Ong, 21.

Cabby George Lim, 43, too, makes it a point to get out of the taxi to help.

"We drive long hours so it's a chance for me to exercise too," he says, noting that taking the initiative to help also prevents customers from complaining about his service.

The majority of passengers The Sunday Times spoke to say that drivers help them with their items more than 75 per cent of the time. That said, most also felt that drivers were under no obligation to help them.

"Honestly, we do not pay them for their extra services," says civil servant Cynthia Chen, 40, who typically loads her items herself.

For 42-year-old Eddie Vedder, even if the drivers come forward to help him, he will insist on hoisting his own luggage.

"If something happens to his back, who will be responsible for it?" asks the internal auditor.

"In no way should a taxi driver become a porter or a butler at the expense of his well-being."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 19, 2017, with the headline 'Carrying luggage a cabby's job?'. Subscribe