SINGAPORE'S cabbies face a new threat to their livelihood, and this time it comes from across the Causeway.
After being hit by SARS, then tormented by touts at Changi Airport, taxi drivers now have to compete with pirate cabbies.
The pirates ply their illegal services at a taxi stand near the junction of Queen Street and Ban San Street.
The stand is next to the Queen Street Bus Terminal where, at weekends, Singapore-Johor Express buses take hundreds of Malaysians home.
The licensed cabbies say that at any time at least three illegal taxi drivers will stand near a public toilet next to the ticketing counters for these buses - and within 10m of the licensed taxi stand.
They offer a one-way trip to Malaysia at anything between S$10 (RM22) and S$20 (RM44) per passenger, depending on demand. There is no fixed charge for licensed cabs.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the pirates' numbers swell, as they can drive into Singapore without a vehicle entry permit. On weekdays, it costs them S$30 (RM66) to drive in between 2am and 7pm.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Straits Times that it is aware of the situation and is monitoring it.
The pirates park their Proton Wiras and Proton Sagas at carparks behind the Victoria Wholesale Centre in Victoria Street.
They take their passengers to the cabs only after a fee has been agreed.
It is against such drivers that the LTA received 16 complaints last year. Eight of the offenders were caught.
The LTA also warned people against taking them.
But local cabbies want tougher action against the pirates.
The president of the Comfort Taxi Operators Association, Mr Tay Hay Leng, said: “We have expressed our concerns at our meetings with the LTA.”
The pirates are not a new phenomenon. But in the past, when times were better and there were enough passengers to go around, they were ignored. But now, with cabbies suffering unusually hard times, every dollar counts.
Comfort driver Richard Tan, 47, said: “We have to rent our taxis, renew our licences and pay taxes. At the end of the day, we do not earn much. These pirates don't have to make most of these payments and on top of that, they steal our customers.” – The Straits Times/ Asia News Network
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