Hard finding a cab? Try driving one…

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Jack Choo, 45, said he does not believe those reports about taxi drivers earning $7,500–$8,000 a month. And he should  know. He is a taxi driver.

Said the Comfort DelGro driver: “If I could take home S$3,500, I would be happy. Taxi-driving is a tough job – you don’t get CPF, medical, insurance and other benefits.”

Having been at the wheel for more than a decade, the former refinery worker whose favourite pastime is socialising, said he started driving a taxi when he was 32. Jack said he left his previous job because it was dangerous. He witnessed one of his colleagues fall to his death and that incident served as a wake-up call for him to change jobs. But with no formal qualifications to back him up in this degree-obsessed society, job opportunities for him are scarce. He had no choice than to take up taxi-driving.

Taxi-driving, said Jack, is much safer and can at least get him $2,000 a month. “As a refinery worker, I was paid S$1,750 a month.” Jack is married with two school-going children.

A typical day for Jack starts at 2 pm, right after lunch, and he drives until 10 or 11 pm. Sometimes he drives past midnight just to make a little more money. He said those eight, nine and more than 10-hour shifts are the best time for him to earn as much money he can. Although he does not enjoy driving, he said that it is still better than working as a cleaner or security guard.

“If there’s something else better out there for me to do, I wouldn’t be driving a taxi,” said Jack.

When asked whether he would recommend Singaporeans who are in their 30s to become taxi drivers, he instantly said “No”. Young Singaporeans, he advised, should work in companies instead of sitting behind the wheel:  “Without CPF, how are you supposed to get married and get an HDB flat?”

Relief driver Tan Gie Hie, who is in his 60s, shared Jack’s view. Young Singaporeans, said Gie Hie, must work in big corporations so they can settle down. “Taxi drivers don’t get CPF. When you feel it’s time to get married, how are you going to get a house?”

He said that eight out of 10 taxi drivers are sickly people who live from hand to mouth. Most drivers, said Gie Hie, suffer from leg problems and hypertension, ailments attributed by long hours of driving.

Gie Hie said he took up taxi-driving nine years ago because he needed to earn a decent living. The former delivery man gave up his job because it did not pay well. Like Jack, Gie Hie has no formal qualifications and so signed up to become a taxi driver. He is currently single and lives with his aged parents in a rental flat in Queenstown.

He started off as a full-time driver, but later switched to relief driving after he fell ill in 2011. Still, he drives 10 hours every day so he can earn some money to cover his flat rental cost and monthly utility bills which amount to $600 a month.

When asked what he liked most about being a taxi driver, Gie Hie jokingly said that he always wanted to own a car – a prized possession he could not afford. “You’re free to work as and when you like, but you have to hit your target. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to pay for your daily car rental,” he said.

Of course there are those who drive to keep themselves busy. These drivers just want a job. Former businessmen Ah Huat and Edmund said they picked up taxi-driving to occupy whatever free time they have. Both men, who are in their 50s, said driving a taxi is still better than having to stay home all day and face four walls.

Ah Huat is married with three grown-up children – all who are university graduates – while Edmund’s children are still in secondary school.

“So boring, at least I can drive around and get to chit-chat with people,” said Ah Huat, who used to run a trade business in Thailand. “Even though I don’t earn much, at least driving around Singapore keeps me going. Now that I’m 53, who would hire me except ComfortDelGro, Trans Cab and SMRT?”

According to the National Taxi Association (NTA), there are 27,700 taxis on Singapore’s roads but the number of drivers are far more than the number of vehicles.

In 2012, the Land Transport Authority issued 95,800 licences.

Today, the number of licences may have crossed 100,000, given that LTA issues 400 vocational taxi licences every month. When asked for a statement why there’s more licences handed out than taxis available, the NTA was unable to respond in time.

In the meantime, try and get a taxi when you need one. Maybe there just are not enough Jacks or Gie Hies around.