Waiting for a cab to show

Waiting for a cab to show up Three times this past week, I found myself downtown after 10 pm, looking for a cab to bring me home. And every time, not a single empty cab was to be seen, despite the fact that there are about 18,000 cabs plying our streets and I was waiting at visible locations in the heart of town.

Welcome to the impossibility of getting a cab in Singapore in the late evening.

A gregarious cab driver once explained it to me this way:

You see ah, we change shift at about 5 pm. That’s peak hour, everybody going home from work, so we drive for a few hours. Then we want to make sure we drive from midnight onwards, can earn from the midnight surcharge. So the only time we can take a break is after peak hour — 9, 10 pm. Go and makan [eat] with friends, then be back on the road before midnight.

I don’t blame cab drivers for wanting to take a break before trying to hit the midnight jackpot (cab fares go up by 1.5 times between 12 am and 6 am), but that doesn’t mean they should all vanish off the streets, right?

It used to be that you couldn’t get a cab between 11 pm and midnight because all the cabs were waiting till midnight, when they could make extra off the surcharge, before picking up passengers. After years of commuters whining about this problem, the ingenious cab companies decided they could solve the problem by introducing a staggered increase in late-night surcharges, viz.:

11:30 – 11:44 pm — Additional 10% of basic fare
11:45 – 11:59 pm — Additional 20% of basic fare
12 midnight – 12:59 am — Additional 35% of basic fare
1:00 – 6:00 am — Additional 50% of basic fare

(information taken from Uniquely Singapore aka Singapore’s official tourism website)

Which landed us in our current situation: where there are cabs galore from 11:30 pm onwards, but not a single one to be had an hour before. Sure, you can get one if you call a cab company, but that incurs yet one more surcharge. It’s gotten to a point where, if I can afford the time, I’d rather sit and pay instead for one more drink to last till 11:30 pm.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford that time this week. On Tuesday and Thursday in the Hill Street/Victoria Street area, I caved in after waiting for 10-15 minutes and ordered a cab. On Wednesday, off Boat Quay, I lucked out when a cab dropping off a passenger was willing to pick me up next.

Note to self: devise new schedule that doesn’t entail waiting for a cab between 10 and 11 pm.

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