It has to be said that there was an advantage to Sars: you could find a cab in Singapore anywhere, any time. Now, nearly a month after the World Health Organisation lifted its travel advisory against Singapore, local cabs are back to their old tricks.
After 5pm, long queues form at taxi stands within the business district, with no empty cabs in sight because taxis have to pay the electronic road pricing charges themselves if they enter the zone without passengers. And, come 11.30pm, you will be hard-pressed to get an empty cab to stop for you, unless you have booked it for the additional charge of more than S$3 (HK$13.3). Most taxis prefer to wait until after midnight, when fares jump 50 per cent.
Still, taxi drivers continue to complain that business is bad. 'It's not just Sars. The economy is not doing so good, so people are tightening,' explains taxi driver Chua Ah Thor.
Touting is illegal and carries fines of up to S$5,000, jail terms of up to six months, or both. But times are hard and some enterprising drivers have started touting at Changi Airport, a sight more usually associated with Third World countries. These touts usually drive limousine cabs and charge unsuspecting tourists a flat S$35, well above the normal fee to downtown.
But the touts seem to be out-touting themselves. Limousine cab drivers, who conduct legitimate business at the airport when not touting, complain that minibus drivers are stealing their business at the airport, with van operators entering the arrivals hall to seek out tourists directly, while cabbies have to wait outside.
Some taxi drivers also complain that the belated opening of a new underground rail line will take away their business. Still, some people must see a future in the cab business - three newcomers are vying for licences to operate new taxi services.