Taxis in Singapore

Here’s a summary of a discussion I recently had with a nice taxi driver about his profession.

  • Taxi drivers earn on average S$3000 per month after expenses and tax, if they are running the cab with a partner.
  • A older cab (5yrs+) costs $100 per day to hire from the taxi company.
  • The taxi company provides compulsory maintenance every 6 weeks.
  • Drivers have to pay for fuel themselves. Diesel costs S$25-30 per day. At the time of writing oil prices have dropped to historic lows of US$62 per barrel which of course is beneficial for cabbies.
  • The best way to operate a cab is with a partner, each of you working roughly a 12 hour shift. This maximises the earning potential of the vehicle which has a fixed daily hire charge, shared between two drivers.
  • Some drivers choose to operate alone, working a longer day. If a driver works 14-15 hours, even if they take on the full running costs, they will boost their income.
  • A cab driver operating alone and working longer hours takes home around S$4000 per month on average.
  • However the long hours can take their toll leading to increased accidents. The driver I spoke to, told me he had a friend who worked a long shift by himself to pay for his two children at university. He regularly had minor accidents and one day on the way to the airport he crashed into the central reservation and was killed. He was 52 years old.
  • Generally one driver forms the contract with the cab company and is held liable for accidents.
  • The normal switch-over time from a day shift to a night shift is 5pm-6pm. The cab must be cleaned and re-fuelled before changing shift.

So what would be the most dangerous time to take a cab? Presumably when an overworked single-shift driver is coming to the end of a 15-hour day. But presumably these drivers are tired all the time.

I’ve certainly taken cabs when the driver is visibly exhausted, and once had to shout out when we veered into the curb. Additionally quite a lot of Singapore taxis have bad drivers (very heavy on the gears and brakes) irrespective if they are tired or not. Some are also clearly finding the job a strain mentally - though that is probably the same everywhere in the world.

I take a lot more taxis in Singapore than I have done in other cities, and experience good drivers and bad-but-bearable drivers in roughly equal measure. Only rarely do I get a driver who is really bad. Most drivers are also courteous, and some are great conversationalists.

Written on December 23, 2014