Singapore Taxis – Rented or Owned?

I am far behind where I should be on my updates. There is so much to do and I hate when work gets in the way. I am pretty sure I have not yet covered the trips to Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Phuket! Yes, I have some stories to tell. No, I will never divulge them all here. On an anonymous site maybe but not this one! I can tell you Phuket is crazy land. I thought Las Vegas in its heyday was obnoxious but it comes nowhere close to some of the bars and clubs on the Thai island of Phuket. Plus, I have to tell you how the one weekend we go to meet some friends in Bangkok, it is the night before an election which means no alcohol is allowed to be served after 6 PM Saturday night! Yes, of course there are workarounds…

I’ve also had some very short visits from friends in the US (Thank you!) and currently am in the middle of a week with the in-laws – this includes 2 parents, 1 sister, and 1 niece on my wife’s side. Quite a full house!  With them all here, we have finally done a few Singapore tourist things but it mainly involves picking the best buffet, Satay night at La Pau Sat, a great Chicken & Rice place, and so on.  So much food, so little time.

But today I want to talk a bit about Taxis here. I have posted in the past a few of my run-ins, such as the blind taxi driver, and may have mentioned getting a taxi at shift change seems to be easier for us than other because of where we live. While the in-laws are in town, we’ve had discussions about the cheap price of taxis and if they were owned or rented by the driver. I did not know – until today.

On the ride home from on of my long-distance customers, which means a 25 minute taxi ride from the east end of the country/island/city-state, I had a longer talk with the driver. He lived in San Diego for a number of years and that helped kick-start the discussions. Therefore I had a few questions that I now have answers too.

Comfort Cab is one of the largest taxi companies here in Singapore. The interesting thing is the total numbers of cabs varies depending on which driver you ask. Today, he said Comfort alone has a fleet of 25,000. I have heard overall there are up to 70,000 cabs here. I think that is an exaggeration by any count because I cannot find even one cab when it is really raining, which is of course quite often.

A teacher’s favorite source of accurate information, Wikipedia, says the total of all cab companies is about 25,000 with Comfort having 11,000 of these. They are by far the largest fleet no matter who you ask or which site you peruse. You will see their blue Hyundai’s everywhere. Some of my questions have always been around the owner/renter policy and here is my summation for Comfort Cab.

The cab rental is $108 Singapore Dollars per day (24 hours). This means if the driver is busy, anything over the $108 is profit. For a majority of drivers, they share their cab – one day shift and one night shift. This means the cost each is only $54 for the day person, which of course increases his profit margin. Most of my 25-30 minute rides are $20 to $25 and our short rides, less than 10 minutes, are $5-$10. In theory, this means an 8-hour day, assuming mostly busy, is close to $400. However, busy time is really in the morning, lunch, and as people leave work at night. I have seen a lot of empty cabs at non-peak times. Most cabs, by the way, have a green colored sign on the roof if they are available!

Therefore I figure it could be about $300 per day after rental and gas. My driver said even between the two-sharing system, he only fills the tank once per day. A benefit of a small island with a lot of small hops. I am not sure this math is accurate, however, since that would equate to about $90,000 per year.  Taxi drivers must be Singaporean citizens. Considering the 2012 median gross monthly income from full-time employed residents is $3,000, or $36,000 per year (according to MOM – Ministry of Manpower), this is where I debate the actual math for the taxis.

I think the topic of renting cabs and the profit margins is an interesting bit of trivia. When I asked similar questions a few days ago, I also learned the drivers take their cabs home at the end of the shift. Therefore, you want to share with someone who lives very close by for when you have to pick up your cab in the morning. By sharing, it reduces the parking lot fees (car park is the term here). These are typically by the hour. I am sure there is a big difference between hourly rates for 12 hours of parking versus 6!

No matter the sharing concept, you can easily tell who takes pride in their cabs. Some are much cleaner than others but overall have no fear, most are still very clean compared to a number of other Southeast Asian countries.