Increasing taxi surcharges to get cabbies to drive longer and pick up more passengers will have a limited impact, according to a new study.
It may not even work at all for cabbies who, instead of trying to earn as much as they can, only want to earn what they need. Once they hit their earnings goal, these cabbies, who are usually aged 50 and above, would rather end their shift, according to the 40 taxi drivers who were polled.
"Many of them do not need the job and are just driving to pass time... so long as they know they have reached the target income, they will call it a day," said National University of Singapore transport economist Anthony Chin, the study's author, who presented his findings yesterday at the Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition.
"No amount of incentives will get them to drive longer."
Besides polling 40 cabbies, researchers also tracked their daily takings from a total of around 4,150 trips for the week-long study in February.
There are different types of surcharges to encourage cabbies to drive into the city and stay on the road during rush hour.
The Government has also taken steps to make it easier for commuters to get a cab, from stricter call-booking standards to requiring a proportion of an operator's fleet to be on the road during peak hours, as well as clock a minimum distance of 250km.
Yet, complaints about choosy cabbies, poor service and the lack of cabs on rainy days persist.
"Extra money does not necessarily change anything... It has not worked so far," said Associate Professor Chin.
Instead, he suggests giving cabbies a fixed salary with bonuses for good performance.
"This will get drivers on the roads more, instead of taking a break whenever they feel like it," he said.
But National Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee rejected the idea when contacted by The Straits Times.
"We have already put in enough standards to prevent the taxi driver from slacking. He has to drive about 12 hours to meet the high rental, ERP and fuel costs. How much harder do you want to make the taxi driver work?"
The better alternative is to get fresh cabbies to become relief drivers first, instead of letting them rent their own cabs, said Mr Ang.
"It is about getting more drivers to work a single vehicle harder, not make the driver work harder."
There are currently 29,000 taxis on the roads here with more than 90,000 licensed cabbies.
Marketing executive Samuel Teo, 35, who takes a cab every other day to work in Beach Road, said the move to a fixed salary could work. "Then, they cannot afford to be too choosy," he said.
But 42-year-old taxi driver Tony Lee does not like being tied to a fixed income. Instead, he believes that increasing incentives for cabbies will work. He said: "If there is more money to be made, why would I not want to pick up more passengers?"