It's a common practice by most taxi drivers, much to the dismay and anger of cab-riding passengers, to slow their cab down, ask for the destination, reject the passenger and drive off. Some give reasons such as advanced bookings, change of shift and also needing to have a break or a meal. This is obviously a problem for commuters.
However, the focus on cab drivers alone, or them along with angry commuters, does not paint the whole picture of the scenario. We have to consider the context.
This common practice often occurs just outside the perimeters of the Central Business District (CBD). Cab companies frown on this practice and urge commuters to report errant cab drivers who reject passengers. That said, we now come introduce another stakeholder in this equation, apart from cab drivers and passengers: Cab companies.
Unregulated and wild like the drug parties they used to hold in the Seletar airbase residences, cab companies have a large hand to play in these passenger-rejecting practices.
First and foremost, cab companies implement a surcharge for peak hours and hot spots/locations (normally in the CBD, airport or other hot tourist traps, I mean, attractions). The zonal surcharge is the more contentious one. The result of this is that cab drivers will have a greater tendency to pick up passengers at certain times and certain places to maximise their fare. After all, for most drivers, a net earning of $80-$100 would be considered decent, considering on an ordinary day, they have to pay rent of $100 thereabouts and also refuel diesel.
When cab drivers end up in the "zone", they have a tendency to stay in it and wait for passengers, because the incentive of earning that surcharge is there. This leads to a high taxi density in that area. Considering the finite supply (although there is technically an oversupply) of taxis in the country, this will affect cab-demanding passengers in other areas - not that passengers in the "zone" are complaining.
From evening to early night on some weeknights, there are some cab drivers who are reluctant to pick up passengers travelling from the perimeters of the "zone" to the peripheries of the island. The further you get away from the "zone" to a sleepy residential estate, the lesser the possibilities of the taxi driver getting a passenger. Their reluctance is all the more intensified with the geographically-related surcharge.
I am a taxi passenger myself (once a week or a fortnight) and have often met with drivers who refuse to pick me up. But for some of them, their reluctance disappeared when I offered to pay that $3 surcharge (even though we're not in the "zone"), or make other advanced offers such as "I pay you extra, can?". This will dissuade them from staying near or in the "zone". Obviously, there are reasons why they want to do so in the first place, and these reasons at beyond their control, because they don't own cab companies or run LTA.
By the way, cab companies do pocket a portion of phone bookings. I am not sure about the EZ link card, credit card and NETS payment surcharges, but doubt they go to cab drivers.
I feel that this zonal surcharge has to be abolished. This will allow taxi drivers to be more free-flowing. Cab companies have implemented something that causes their drivers to make certain professional decisions that earn the ire of certain passengers, who in turn complain to the cab companies. Drivers suffer.
There is another item that greatly affects taxi movement and density, and that is the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). I feel that cab drivers should not be charged. If the Land Transport Authority enjoys the sound of coins crashing down on its obscene shit-loads of revenue, perhaps cab drivers should only pay a small percentage of the ERP charges. By small, I mean 10%-20%. Preferably, it should be 0%.
In the CBD during ERP operational hours, it is common sense that some people with a bit of spare change will want to hail a cab. So, there is demand for taxis in the CBD. However, if there are no bookings, there will be no incentive for taxi drivers to enter the CBD and pay the ERP charges. Again, these are unquestioned policies that greatly influence taxi movement and density.
The cab companies and LTA, through their actions, are not taxi driver-friendly. Drivers are legitimate stakeholders in this transport ecosystem too, but they appear the most maligned (although some are really dangerous drivers, never mind other attitudinal deficiencies).
Not only are cab companies and LTA blind to their own policies and their effects on cab drivers, the silence and lack of support from passengers/commuters all the more exacerbate the plight of cab drivers in Singapore.
I hope these companies, as well as LTA, can come to their senses some day. But then again, the people who make the decisions and hold the power, drive their own cars (just like how top public transport policy-makers and officials do not actually use public transport). For the powerful and privileged to make policies for the powerless and underprivileged, you should either genuinely listen and act on the concerns of the latter, or you should be wearing their shoes long enough to wake up your idea.