Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Welfare for taxi drivers, no welfare for needy Singaporeans

ComfortDelGRo- a government linked company has announced that it will revise taxi fares effective 12 December 2011. The changes involve:

Basic fares: Flagdown fares will go up by 20 cents for most taxis. Meter fares will go up by two cents per fare band, over a slightly longer distance.

Peak hour surcharge: The peak period will be lengthened in the morning from 6am to 9.30am from the earlier one – 7am to 9.30am. Evening peak hour surcharges will now also apply on Sundays and all public holidays. It will run from 6pm to midnight, compared to 5pm to 8pm from Monday to Saturday at present.

The peak hour charges will be reduced from 35% to 25%.

 City surcharge: The current $3 city surcharge from 5pm to midnight will      apply on Sundays and public holidays as well.

Call cab booking fees: Those booking a taxi in advance will be required to pay much more - $8 compared to the current one of $5.20.

These taxi fare adjustment, according to the National Taxi Association (NTA) President Wee Boon Kim is aimed at improving the take-home income for taxi drivers and their families.

Really, Mr Wee Boon Kim?

But has the NTA ever considered what these increased taxi fares will mean for needy Singaporeans such as those with mobility problems, the disabled, the elderly sick, those with special needs and others who for one reason or the other cannot take the MRT or the buses? 

Has the NTA taken into account that many of those who are sick are asked to see specialists at public hospitals and polyclinics during these peak hour periods because they are “not allowed” to choose their time slots to see the doctors.

Has the NTA considered that by imposing these excessive charges, they are depriving families from meeting up with one another during the weekends or public holidays because given the hectic pace of the Singapore lifestyle, many Singaporeans can only meet up during weekends/public holidays?

Has the NTA considered that with these taxi fares increases, companies & agencies that allow for taxi claims, will incur higher operating costs?

City Cab and Comfordelgro taxi drivers have told me that for the first 7 hours that they drive the taxi, all their earnings go straight to the taxi companies. Many lament to me that if the taxi rental charges are reduced, taxi drivers can earn more, have sufficient rest and be motivated to drive. Why is it that the taxi companies do not want to consider this route?  All they are concerned about in reaping in BIG profits, and they have been doing that.  If the NTA is so concerned about the welfare of taxi drivers, why aren’t they considering reducing the taxi rental charges for their staff?

I, like many Singaporeans, would like to know who owns the taxi companies. Name the key shareholders.

Last Sunday, 27th November 2011, at my church, the priest mentioned that with the coming of Advent, we need to reach out to those who are isolated and lonely.  He mentioned that in a housing estate, an elderly lady wanted so badly to go to hospital because she was sick, but none of the neighbours wanted to help. Finally a catholic who saw what took place decided to call an ambulance and she was sent to hospital for treatment. 

The priest also mentioned that he has seen many of our elderly folks sitting in coffee shops all alone.  He said that they are lonely and have no one to care for them.  He called on the congregation to reach out to them- even if it was to simply chat with them. Social interaction that includes outings for the elderly is vital for their well being? But with these exorbitant taxi charges, NTA would be indirectly depriving the elderly of the much-needed social and recreational needs.

Is Comfortdelgro doing its part as a corporate citizen?

Singapore is becoming unbearable to live in. Escalating costs in Singapore is causing many to fall into depression and divorce cases are on the rise- often over money issues.   Despite assurances by the government that it will listen to feedback, the voices of those in need go unheard.

The proposed hikes by Comfort Delgro allows for taxi drivers to earn more.  But it places a heavy financial burden on the immobile, the disabled and our elderly poor citizens who are heavily dependent on taxis for their medical appointments and other social needs that is so important to their well-being. Many in this group are retired, have little savings and are struggling to cope with health and money issues. 

Earlier this year, despite so many appeals from the public not to increase fares on the MRT and buses, the public transport council went ahead and raised the fares. 

Now we see yet another fare hike. And it is always the same old excuse - rapidly rising operating costs, especially diesel prices. 

My wife who has mobility issues because of her advanced arthritis conditions and other health issues has an average of 8-9 medical appointments in a month. Based on the current taxi fare charges, I would have to spend about $160 to 180 per month, and mind you, I don’t have a full-time job.  There is little or no consideration for the sick and those with special needs. These revised taxi charges are going to dip a deeper hole in my pocket.

Often, to avoid paying the peak hour charges, which current kicks off at 7am in the morning, my wife and I have to leave the house at 6am for her medical appointments at public hospitals. She is on heavy tranquilizers to mange her schizophrenia and depression.

This total lack of consideration for the sick, especially those who are marginalized clearly demonstrates how money has become the “do all and end all.” On top of that, you leave those who are neglected in society to feel that Singapore is not the best home to live in.

In closing, I leave you with this letter which I wrote to the press in August this year. This letter and more than a hundred letters that I wrote to the press over 6 years, pleading for support for the mentally ill and the needy, has gone unanswered. Tells a story, doesn’t it?

Letter to The New Paper: Better subsidy for the disabled, please

My letter on the above matter is published in The New Paper today, Friday 5 August 2011.

Going by what has been aired in the media – online, the airwaves and in print, there is clearly much unhappiness about the impending fare hike in public transport fares.

People with disabilities face huge roadblocks in their lives and the lack of support makes it difficult for these marginalised citizens to move on in life.

Family members who are the backbone for such needy citizens could certainly do with financial support, improved access to support and services in their communities.

I am disappointed that the National Council of Social Services' taxi subsidies for disabled people apply only to the trips made in work or school.

Why are subsidies not extended for trips to hospitals and clinics? Perhaps, even to recreational trips which are crucial in helping the disabled reintegrate into society?

For people who have to make many trips to various clinics and hospitals, like my wife, cab fare can be about $160 per month, not counting peak-hour surcharges.

I hope the Government can look into this area. If Singapore is moving towards becoming an inclusive society, it is only logical to show compassion, understanding and support for these needy citizens.


Raymond Anthony Fernando, a part-time writer and motivational speaker, writes on social issues and mental health matters. He runs a website at: www.rayofhope.per.sg/
Check out my latest radio interview on 938 LIVE- Here on podcast:

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