Monday, August 9, 2010

A cab driver's job

Ever since voiced out my discontent through Twitter, I have strangely started noticing alot of people complaining about the same topic. The last came in yesterday from Adrianna Tan of Popaghandi fame.
Have had nothing but awful taxi drivers all day who don't know the way, and who play Donnie Osmond and Gloria Estefan.
@skinnylatte, 8 Aug 2010 2030h
Ok so I don't actually mind hearing Gold90FM all the time (I'm uncle that way), but I do personally have an issue with cabbies who are all but clueless about the roads of Singapore.

It's quite a widely known fact that as far as the Singapore society and economy is concerned, people often turn to taxi-driving when a bad economy leaves them without a job and unable to find another. It should be even more widely known that we've seen a major economic crisis even before the turn of the millennium, so it's not like this is the first influx of taxi drivers we have seen. We've had corporate-turned-cabbies since 1998 (when 256kbps broadband was blazing fast), but this problem only started about last year and got really bad in the last 3 months.

So what is in a cab driver's job?

Do you think a cabbie's job is only to step on the accelerator and depress the brake at appropriate times in a life-preserving fashion? Because excuse me but that is a zero-dignity job anyone could learn to do, save for the bloody expensive vehicle they are operating. And I have always had some amount of respect for cab drivers as a profession, because they, until 2010, know the roads of Singapore best, or have at least taken it upon themselves to do so. All they ever ask nowadays are "Where's that?" or "How to go?"

I don't know, you're supposed to be the expert, you tell me.

Am I being too demanding this way? Because to me I'm only expecting the driver to know his or her job. The same way I'd be appalled if a finance executive asked, "This one is plus or minus?" or if an IT guy tried to stick a LAN cable into a telephone port.

If a cabbie were to ask me for my suggestion, I being the techie guy would obviously suggest getting a damn GPS. Garmins can cost up to $400+, but it's the most sensible investment for your job, even more so than just that person with a car who doesn't want to get lost. Assuming you know the route, or traffic conditions, you know when to disregard the GPS's directions. If you totally don't know the way, then 4 out of 5 times (being conservative here) the GPS would deliver what is indeed the most straightforward way to the destination.

Not only can I vaguely recall seeing less than 5 GPS units this year, I've had more than one taxi driver who can't even be arsed to pull out a street directory (or probably even have one in his cab).

Flag, cab stops, hop in.
Me: Hort Park, please.
Cabbie: Where's that?
Me: Hort Park... Or do you know Henderson Waves?
Cabbie: Where's that?
Me: You don't know Henderson Waves.
Cabbie: No.
Me: Just drive.

But wait. There's more.

Flag, cab stops, hop in.
Me: Pulau Ubin Ferry Terminal.
Cabbie: Where's that?

At this point my blood almost froze. Or maybe it almost popped out of my veins boiling. 

Me: You don't know how to get to Pulau Ubin Ferry Terminal?
Cabbie: Ubin is the one over at the... the Naval base isn't it? Or the one at Tanah Merah?
Me: I don't know, you tell me man. I want to go to Ubin.
Cabbie: There's only one jetty to Ubin.
Me: Yeah great, take me there.
Cabbie: Yeah that's the one at the Naval base then. 

He was referring to Changi Point Ferry Terminal being near the Changi Naval Base, but I don't even go there often, how the hell would I know?

Cabbie: Or you want to go Tekong is it?

I nearly had a heart attack early on a rainy Sunday morning.

Me: Just drive.

Yes, you notice I ended both scenes with "just drive". It's not for dramatic effect (well, not just for dramatic effect), but it's what I always end up saying. And I can afford to say that because I always have Google Maps on my phone, and even when I didn't have a GPS chip in my phone, I could at least depend on cell triangulation. Now think about those folks who can't even wrap their head around the idea of paying for access to the Internet via mobile phone. They have a higher chance than us kids of knowing the route to their destination, but what if they don't? They're either stuck like that, or have to find another cab, or bug someone for directions on the phone.

So what is it for cab drivers? Are you pissed off with mean customers? Because you do know that is a vicious cycle. If some customers are mean to you, and you decide to be mean back at them, they'll start being mean to other innocent cabbies, and it all spreads like a zombie virus.

You're doing this because you lost your job, you're bitter and can be bothered? Then perhaps you better start bothering now, because if the zombie virus spreads so far that the public is so disillusioned with cabs, and profits fall, your dear company will be shooting pink slips out the same way those priests fling paper offerings all over during funeral processions.

Can me an uppity customer, but as much as it may suck to be you, you are essentially still in the service industry, and have the most direct interaction with customers out of the three public transport services in Singapore. Think of the tourists who hold Singapore in such high regard. You say "Who gives a fuck about tourists?" But just like your dissatisfied local customers, they contribute to your pay at the end of the day, and the only way you are getting out of the slump of cab driving in Singapore is if enough of you can realize the gravity of the worst-case situation you all are headed for, and do your small part to raise the impression of taxi driving in Singapore. It's not the end of the world to be a cabbie, but it soon will be if you don't buck up.