SINGAPORE - "It's really hard to get a taxi," I complained to the cabby as I finally managed to hail one after 20 fruitless minutes.
"Why don't you buy a car, then?" he retorted, probably not realising that he would be out of a job if all his customers took his advice.
Still, the thought intrigued me. Conventional wisdom is that cars are much more expensive than taxis which are, in turn, much costlier than taking the bus and MRT.
I have no doubt that public transport is the most affordable but with the non-stop increases in cab fares and surcharges over the years, have taxi costs caught up with the expense of owning a car?
I decided to find out.
I took the case of someone who drove a Toyota Corolla Altis for 10 years before scrapping it for some cash.
This car owner lives in Tampines and drives to and from work in Shenton Way. He also drives on his days off.
A new Toyota Corolla costs about $125,888 now, including certificate of entitlement premium.
I took it that the Tampines driver can pay $50,355 of the car's costs in cash - you'd better have a lot of money if you want to drive in Singapore - and will borrow the rest in a five-year loan from a friendly banker at 2.28 per cent annual interest.
Annual costs include insurance, servicing and road tax, totalling about $3,140. He will also need to pay $4,200 for fuel and $2,700 for parking.
This includes parking in an HDB estate and in shopping malls on weekends. I also assumed this guy's company charges him a good rate of $1,500 a year for parking in Shenton Way.
On the topic of keeping costs low, I assumed that our friend needs to pay only $4.50 in Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges for each working day in the year.
To keep within this budget, he may need to find a way to travel during periods when the ERP charges are slightly lower.
After all the calculations, the cost of owning and operating the car will work out to about $235,590 for 10 years, after deducting the scrap value of about $9,300. That works out to $1,960 a month.
Do note that the costs are very lumpy. On a regular basis you will need to pay less than $1,960 a month because this includes the initial $50,355 car down payment, spread out over many months.
Still, $1,960 is a good ballpark figure for us to know how much driving a new car will cost on average a month.