It was another of those weird cab rides. I got into the cab at Clementi MRT and told the driver “Bishan Street 12”. To my surprise, the driver took out a GPS unit and started tapping “Bishan St 12” onto the touch screen. I kept quiet as he placed the GPS unit on the dashboard but the minute the robotic female voice said “Turn Right”, I really had to speak up.
“Uncle, don’t listen to your GPS. It’s telling you the wrong way. Please go straight and turn left to Clementi Road.”
He appeared puzzled, but continued to filter right.
“Uncle, for goodness sake, the GPS is telling you to do a detour to get onto the PIE (Pan Island Expressway for non-Singaporean readers). Listen to me please.”
He acknowledged what I said but still continued to filter right. It took me another few sentences to convince him to ignore the yabbering GPS gadget and turn left instead.
So after I finally got him to go on the right route home (Clementi, Ulu Pandan, Farrer, Lornie, Bishan), I asked him:”So is the GPS from the (Comfort Cab) company?”
“No, I bought it myself. I’m not very familiar with the roads.”
“When did you start driving this taxi?”
“In Dec. I’m just trying this out. So far, it’s been very tough to make a living.”
“But Uncle, okay what, the taxi surcharges are so high now, you don’t need to make many trips.”
“But I have to work 10 hours just to cover the rental of the taxi.” That didn’t tally with what I knew about local taxi drivers’ earning power.
It turned out that this driver had been working for the past 15 years in China at a factory which was doing plastic mould injection. He returned to Singapore to find other work as the factory was no longer making 500% margins like the 1980s.
I didn’t say very much as he continued talking about how tough things were for a taxi driver, how different the roads were, and how plastic injected products were now so dirt cheap.
What I kept mulling on were:
If you’re a new and inexperienced cabby, is it wrong to use a GPS which is not always efficient at planning routes in Singapore?
If you haven’t lived in Singapore for 15 years, why take a job which requires you to know the roads by the back of your hand?
How did this guy manage to get a taxi licence in the first place?
As the downturn worsens, we’ll see more people trying their luck at jobs they aren’t suited for. My take is that everyone should have a chance (or many chances) at trying new things and careers, but they at least got to ask themselves who’s going to pay the price of their new lessons.
I didn’t mind teaching him how to get from Clementi to Bishan, but I’m not sure if other passengers would think the same way.