The case of the phantom fares

Taxis "disappearing" just before peak hours is a common complaint by commuters, but cabbies say passengers are guilty of doing the vanishing act too.

While no official figures are available, taxi drivers told The Straits Times that one in five bookings they accept gets cancelled, with most cancellations occurring during peak hours.

And although some passengers do call the taxi company to cancel their bookings beforehand, others just fail to show up.

"Sometimes you are already at the destination. You call repeatedly but the passenger doesn't answer. It can be frustrating," said cabby Shawn Shawket, 53.

Madam Stephanie Lee, 52, who has been a taxi driver for eight years, said she had seen passengers "running off" right in front of her.

"Once, I could already see the passenger from my car, but the next thing I knew, she had flagged the empty taxi in front of me and hopped on. When I called her, she said she was already in another taxi," Madam Lee said.

Cabbies interviewed said that when a passenger cancels a booking at the last minute, it means a lot of time wasted for the taxi driver, who had to travel to the destination and wait for the passenger - that time would be better spent getting a paying fare.

Before a booking can be classified as a "no-show", cabbies must wait for about 10 minutes at the pick-up point. "Sometimes, we feel angry because we passed by many other people waiting for a taxi - for someone who did not show," said cabby Irene Kee, 54.

Taxi drivers say passengers call a slew of taxi companies at one go and still look for empty cabs driving along the road.

Such attitudes have not deterred cabbies from taking bookings, but some including Madam Lee now call passengers before reaching the destination, to make sure they are still in need of a ride.

Some taxi drivers said companies should impose a penalty on passengers who cancel their bookings indiscriminately - as is the case for passengers who use taxi booking apps.

Uber charges a $2 cancellation fee, while GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi ban users in extreme cases.

Currently, there are no known penalties imposed by taxi companies on errant passengers, although some cabbies told The Straits Times that they are put either on a blacklist or at the bottom of the call queue.

Trans-Cab general manager Jasmine Tan said various factors would need to be considered if taxi companies were to impose a penalty on passengers.

"We would need to talk with the taxi union first, to see if there is an increasing number of cases for instance or any other factor that would warrant imposing a penalty," she said.

Ms Tammy Tan, spokesman for ComfortDelGro, the largest taxi company here, said dealing with cancellations is a constant issue, and it uses recorded messages to try to dissuade customers from cancelling their bookings.

"Customers who book and cancel not only deprive other customers of a cab, but also inconvenience the cab drivers who make their way to the pick-up points," she said.

This article was first published on Oct 13, 2014.
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