ComfortDelgro – altruism, really?

So, what’s new? Taxi operators – in particular ComfortDelgro which runs the largest fleet of taxicabs here – are “revising” fares again. The news has, unsurprisingly, caused a howl and more among the commuting public. It is the perennial bugbear – transport fares.

This latest piece of news comes on the back of an expected global downturn in the economy. Just yesterday, the newspapers were reporting how Singapore should prepare itself for the start of retrenchments, and the prime minister urging Singaporeans not to expect high growth in the economy.

Yet, here we are – taxi operators claiming the altruistic reason for the fare increase: taxi drivers need to make a decent living and be able to meet the rising cost of living. We’ve heard this before, of course. Somehow, I – and I think many Singaporeans – are cynical of this altruistic excuse the operators are giving.

If they really were concerned about the income of the drivers, the operators could look into the rental charges they impose on their drivers. Rental which, to my knowledge, is about S$100 per day.

“ComfortDelGro Corporation’s revenue for the three months ended 30 September 2011 increased by $53.6 million, or 6.5% year-on-year, to a record $877 million.” (Source)

So there.

So much for its altruistic proclamations of concerns for the driver’s livelihood. The company could jolly well use part of its profits to either share with the drivers or subsidise their operations. Perhaps even to lower the rental of the cabs for the drivers.

But of course it won’t. Why should it when there is an easier and much more profitable way – just lay the charges on commuters. It’s not like anyone can do anything about it anyway, right?

What riles me no end, personally, is how the National Taxi Association (NTA) is now also urging all other taxi operators to “revise” – love this euphemism – their charges too. Yes, please do not wait for the pie is there for the taking! Jump in before you lose out!

And then we have the Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Transport, Mr Cedric Foo, who said “it was important to note that the taxi industry was deregulated and therefore a free market”. (Straits Times, 6 December, Pg A4.)

“If Comfort was charging higher than the market could bear, other operators could come in to offer an alternative to commuters,” he said. “Commuters can then vote with their feet. If they feel fares are too high, then they can take a cab with another company.”

Mr Foo is being spurious and facetious, surely – if not, downright ignorant and clueless.

How are commuters going to be able to have a reasonable choice or alternative to Comfort if and when all taxi operators raise their fares – together – and urged to do so by the NTA?

It is a cartel-like behaviour which we have seen from the petrol companies. One raises its price and all others follow suit in quick succession because no one wants to be left out of the profit pie!

What also outrages me is how these transport operators – including the MRT and bus operators – are allowed to raise their fares in a heartbeat – while the disabled, the handicapped, and even polytechnic students have to fight tooth and nail, for years, asking for concessions because they do not earn much. The disabled, for example, have been appealing for concessions for 13 years without success.

And here we have transport companies which make hundreds of millions of dollars each year being allowed to increase fares again and again.

It all looks, to me, highly hypocritical.

That these same companies would claim the altruistic reason for wanting fares to be increased while at the same time dismiss giving concessions to the very people whom their altruism would help most – the handicapped and the disabled and the students.

And, as some asked, how much really will the taxi drivers bring home with this latest “revision” of fares?

NTA president Wee Boon Kim says “S$6 to S$7 more per day on average.”

Will we see better service, better availability of taxis?

I doubt so. Raising fares has never solved the problem in the past. What makes us think it will now?

This reminds one of that saying – about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I think it’s called madness. Or in this case, pure, utter and blatant dishonesty.

For clearly, with all the superlative headlines ComfortDelgro has received, with “stellar” performances annually of record-breaking profits, it is not benefiting those who are contributing to the company’s performances – including the taxi drivers.

So, may I humbly suggest that perhaps the root of the problem is in, besides the evident greed of the company, its internal policies, perhaps? Maybe the company should seriously look into how it can share a tiny bit of these superlative record-breaking profits with some of its rank and files who, in its own words, “have families to feed”.

Do it, Comfort, and we may then believe you really have a heart.

** I’ve just been informed that the NTA represents taxi drivers and not taxi companies. [Thanks, Tessa.] So, it is natural for it to call for all taxi companies to “revise” fares to benefit the drivers. Perhaps the NTA should change its name to something like “National Association for Taxi Drivers”, instead of the present “National Taxi Association”. It is quite misleading.

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4 thoughts on “ComfortDelgro – altruism, really?

  1. All these happened just after the watershed election. As usual, broken promises all over the place once more.

  2. hi andrew,

    agree with you.

    BTW, shall we dubunk this systemetically? Show conclusively that everything ends up in govt and govt related coffers?

  3. You are spot on, Andrew! Another great and insightful post!

    As usual Cedric Foo shows himself to be a real bl**dy fool!!

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