Fast, easy and efficient could describe life in Singapore. As a rule of thumb people do not stroll along the streets lost in a world of their own making; they definitely do not walk when a taxi can be had. Life in Singapore is geared towards the making of money and any spare moment given is put to that task. So if a person should need to get to work or get to the office, go shopping or attend the cinema (because the children insist on it) then transport is essential.
Private cars are good and super efficient but obtained at a price. The MRT or underground system is a perfect feat of Engineering: fast, clean and cheap. And then there are the Taxi's, required and used whether one owns a car or not and even when one is standing right next to the entrance of an MRT station. The average Singaporean will probably use a taxi about seven times in one week - that in anybody's books is a lot.
A Singapore Taxi Outside the Intercontinental Hotel
Three companies tend to run the Cab business and all are large and modern, consisting of the latest cars with satellite navigation and instant booking services that activated by a frightening voice box and push-button accept system that flashes messages at the driver - as if he is not confused enough with the fast flowing and interchanging traffic that is going on around him.
Taxis Turning into Orchard Road
To catch a cab one can do a variety of things. The usual one of going outside and flagging one down is reasonably popular, calling one up on the booking service equally so or joining a long queue at a taxi rank is another method frequently used. The first one is the most amazing and also one of the most frustrating methods, not that there are no taxi's available but the drivers have a strange way of deciding who to pick up. There you are outside your apartment and this blue cab with its light on comes floating towards you. Stopping beside the kerb the driver will lower his window and ask you where you are going.
And the strangest thing is that if you are not going in his direction or to where he wants to go, then he will not pick you up. Amazing but true! Taxi drivers are very obstinate and although Singaporeans like to make money above all else the taxi-drivers do not follow this basic rule of thumb. For them food and sleep is more important and so, if they are coming towards the end of their shift or if they simply feel like dinner, they will not pick-up passengers who want to go in the opposite direction. It is quite possible to stop five or more cabs in a run only for the drivers to shake their heads and zoom off leaving you stranded and confused. A very frustrating time indeed!
The other method of calling a taxi is probably the most efficient and stable one. Simply by calling up the company a taxi can be on its way in a matter of minutes and mostly all works well - if the cab turns up that is! The third method can also be extremely annoying and frustrating as prospective passengers usually have to stand for about twenty minutes in a long queue whilst suffering from the heat of the day. But by using a taxi rank they are assured of being picked up, by law the driver cannot refuse to take you wherever you want to go if the pick-up point is at a taxi rank (mostly anyway).
Once inside the cab life can get more active. The average driver in Singapore is good. The average taxi-driver in Singapore is definitely in need of help. Psychological help in some cases and others just need some basic lessons in driving. The roads in Singapore can be awkward as the forward momentum of the vehicle is constantly disrupted as another stop sign looms up, as another intersection needs to be navigated or another accident causes the whole system to falter. But the taxi drivers, even with a smooth road ahead, constantly apply the brake and then the gas causing their passengers heads to hit the seat in front and then to be thrown backwards against the rear window.
This constant shifting from brake to gas may also be a result of serious sleep deprivation! They will tell you that they are tired because of the extra long hours that they have to work (to get a tip from you)but regardless of the cause many do nod-off whilst in motion. In one taxi, I was attempting to read a newspaper with my head waggling backwards and forwards, when all of a sudden the jerky motion stopped. All of a sudden I was not being thrown around as the driver applied the gas and break in rapid succession. This was weird and unusual but I accepted it as another quirk of the industry.
A couple of seconds later when we where zooming along at way past the speed limit, I looked closer at my driver. He was asleep and soundly so and we where heading straight for the oncoming lane. I acted instinctively and jumped across my prospective killer and adjusted the wheel to suit an accident free journey. Whilst doing that I jabbed my elbow into his shoulder (well, it turned out to be his face) to wake him up. A lucky save and if I had not been aware or had fallen asleep myself it would undoubtedly have been pancake time. I never fall asleep in a taxi after that experience.
Signs of the driver falling asleep are quite noticeable should one look for them. The constant opening and shutting of the window and the incessant changing of the air conditioning settings are good signs. Another is the drivers desperate scramble for the numerous plastic bottles that he typically has stashed under his seat. I would question the manufacturers of these drugs as however many a driver takes they never seem to aid him in keeping awake. Oh and the most important thing to watch out for is when your head no longer jerks back and forth, this means that the driver has fallen asleep and his foot is still.
I normally hate making small talk. I would rather read a newspaper or stare out of the window. But in Singapore Taxis I prefer to keep the driver in conversation as this undoubtedly and without fail keeps him wide-awake. To start off just say something stupid like, "hot day today" as if Singapore is any different from one day to the next. He will invariable turn the conversation around to asking where you are from and then to start talking about football (usually a fan of Liverpool or Manchester) or he will turn to the state of the local economy. "No profit in taxi driving any-more, no customers and cars cost more to buy than ever before". This should keep him going for a half an hour or so, more than enough for the trip.
I have often climbed into a taxi and been surprised at the activity of my driver. One memorable trip started off okay until he found out that I was from Scotland. I spent the next twenty minutes of the journey listening to bagpipes and a donkey heehawing whilst being thrown violently against the drivers seat and the rear window in turn. He used to say "Scotland" at frequent intervals as if to reassure me that he knew where I came from.
Taxis driving along River Road
I had another bad occurrence in a taxi when he started to get aggressive against some football team or other. He spent more time trying to clamber over the rear of his seat, to reinforce his opinion to me, than looking where he was going. I got extremely worried about him and decided that I should leave his taxi as quickly as possible. I jumped out at an intersection without paying. I could hear him shouting as I ran away down the hard shoulder - but I don't think I should pay to be harassed!
Some of the drivers will seriously annoy or make you feel sick when they open their door and spit a big gob of mucus onto the road side. But this to them is normal. I asked one driver not to do that again - and he didn't, so rather than getting upset about this disgusting habit it is often best just to accept it and be polite in asking them to stop for a little while. They also tend to get a bit vocal inside of the car if involved in a near miss with another or have to sit for any length of time due to an accident up ahead. This is due to the fact that if a driver gets out of his car and shouts at another driver then he can quickly and without question be hauled off to jail. The government does not tolerate drivers making a scene in public and so drivers tend to let-off the steam inside rather than out. This is all-and-well, unless you happen to be the poor passenger that has to take the brunt of his "road rage" whilst pretending that you are not sitting in the back seat of that particular cab.
The taxi system and the drivers are quite excellent and safe in Singapore and no less than in any other town or city the world over. When hiring a taxi in Singapore you are ensured of a rapid and free journey to your destination and the cost is not prohibitive; you are safe and looked after at all times. One thing does puzzle me though, that of why the drivers constantly ask the passengers which way they would like to go. Having just arrived in Singapore I pick up a taxi at the rank just outside the airport. I give him the name of the hotel and off he sets. After five-minutes this driver will invariably turn around and ask me whether I would like to go by the PIE (Pan Island Expressway) or by the East Coast Road. Stupid question really as the average person arriving at Singapore Airport and especially one who is going to a hotel would not have a clue about the transport system in Singapore.
I used to think that the drivers where testing their passengers as to their knowledge of Singapore and that if they showed ignorance then they would be carted off on a tour of the city without knowing any difference. But this has not been the case as I have often put it to the test. The driver has asked me and I have given him no inkling as to my knowledge of the city and he has taken me the quickest route! Such is life!
Whoops there I go again! Listen everybody: the Taxi Drivers in Singapore are of excellent quality and any prospective passenger is assured of an easy, safe and smooth-drive to their destination, don't listen to me.