The 28th October Sunday Times reported that a taxi driver, Mr Muhammad Hasnor Hashim was able to earn $7k a month. He did so by taking advantage of taxi surcharges, and is still able to take a morning nap and have dinner with his family. It is probably a $7k net salary since he quit his $5k security manager job to be a taxi driver with “no regrets”. He admits that he works late on Fridays and Saturdays, when the takings are best (up to $500/night)
This amazing story sheds a couple of important insights:
1. Taxi driving is not a dead-end job. There is an unfortunate perception that taxi drivers tend to be middle-aged professionals who were laid-off and unable to find a new job, due to an influx of younger foreign talent.
2. Taxi driving can pay well if the driver puts in effort and also drives smartly. Because of the above perception that taxi driving is a “last resort” career move, there is also an assumption that the pay is poor. But Mr Muhammad has demonstrated that this is not the case. I had my own personal anecdote where I spoke to another 30-year old taxi driver who said he was able to earn $5k net per month simply by making sure he is driving instead of drinking kopi at the coffee shop. One other idea I’ve seen is this taxi driver who arranged with an office worker to be her dedicated chauffeur during the morning commute, thus creating a steady stream of income.
3. The taxi surcharges, whilst painful to consumers, are doing their part to make taxi driving an attractive job. As consumers, we complain when we pay higher prices for the same service. But higher prices sometimes help ensure that the service is always available. Surcharges help to address the common complaint that there are insufficient taxis during the peak periods.
Why then, does the perception of taxi-driving being a dead-end job still exist?
Taxi drivers are one of the few jobs in Singapore that are still exclusively for Singaporeans (i.e. no foreigners). As the job is protected from foreign labor, this helps create the perception that the job is “reserved” for locals as a last resort career move for those who have no choice.
This poor perception is self-reinforcing. If the conventional wisdom is that taxi driving is a last resort career, then it would naturally attract people who deem that they have no other career choice. This also has the effect of driving most people away from taxi driving as a job, since they do not want to be grouped under the taxi driver stereotype. This could result in a situation where quite a few taxi drivers have “self-selected” themselves into this stereotype.
If we also include the stereotype that taxi drivers tend to be anti-government (especially during the GE), then it also creates the unfortunate perception that these people spend their time complaining about the government in kopitiams (instead of spending their time earning money on the road).
But enough of the negative stuff. I support the idea of taxi driving as an attractive career, as well as making taxis a viable alternative to owning a car. (Perhaps the 30-year old age floor should be removed in the taxi licence requirements). I think there are too many private vehicles on the road, which is causing road congestion as well as taking up too much land for unnecessary carparks. Singapore would be have a much cleaner and more efficient transport network if its people were mostly commuting in public transport or via taxis.