Some cabbies seeking bets, not fares

It's Friday evening and it has just started to drizzle. You try to book a taxi, but find there are none available.

It is frustrating but not really surprising - it is a known fact that demand for cabs skyrockets when it rains and on weekend nights, including Fridays.

However, besides demand spikes, there is a lesser known contributor to the dearth of cabs when you need one: gambling cabbies.

Industry observers estimate 5 to 10 per cent of taxi drivers are habitual gamblers.

Checks at carparks of the two integrated resorts reveal a sizeable number of parked cabs - often during peak demand hours for them. On horse-racing days - Fridays and weekends - carparks at satellite betting centres are also filled with taxis.

There are 10 such centres here, and the most popular one is in Bukit Merah. A recent check revealed more than 50 parked cabs there between 6pm and 7pm on a Friday.

Said Neo Nam Heng, chairman of the Prime group of companies, including Prime Taxi: "This is the worst problem of taxi drivers. And there's no rule to stop them."

Prime Taxi general manager Eric Ang said: "Gamblers do not only miss rental payments, (but) they are not meeting service requirements too.

"Their mentality is strange - instead of making money during the peak period, they'd rather gamble. Some of them will say: 'If I win, I will win more than the rental.' "

Premier Taxi managing director Lim Chong Boo said: "It is not a new problem, and it has worried us a lot all this while."

Trans-Cab general manager Jasmine Tan said gambling is one of the top causes of drivers missing rental payments, "but so are drinking and womanising".

"We try to help them by giving them a repayment scheme. But if they don't follow it, we terminate (their services)."

A ComfortDelGro spokesman said gambling is not a major problem, but that it is keeping a close watch on the situation.

The phenomenon is no comfort to commuters, who complain that it is often hard to find a cab even though Singapore has the highest taxi population per head among developed cities.

There are 5.2 cabs per 1,000 residents here, compared with 3.3 in London, 2.6 in Hong Kong and 1.5 in New York.

The situation is such that commuters are now choosing parallel taxi services on apps such as Uber and GrabTaxi - even when the cost of a ride is often much higher than that of a conventional cab.

Human resource consultant Alex Yew, 43, once saw close to 100 cabs in a carpark where a Singapore Turf Club betting centre is located. He said: "That was just one carpark - there are three carparks in the vicinity. If you multiply that by the number of betting centres around the island, it is a significant number of cabs.

"So I can understand why people feel that's it's difficult to get a taxi during peak hours."

The Straits Times talked to a couple of cabbies at the Resorts World Sentosa carpark earlier this month on the condition of anonymity.

Said one of them, a 40-something SilverCab driver: "It's my first time here. I've been to Las Vegas, Macau and Perth, but I've not been here."

Asked why he was visiting a casino when it was peak period for fares, he replied confidently: "I'm only driving part-time. I work in a logistics firm, I work 15 days, I get 15 days off.

"So I thought I'd drive a cab when I'm off. When I'm not driving, I'm with my family. We've a three-year-old, so I can't come here when I'm with them."

Another cabby, with leading operator Comfort, denied that he was there to gamble.

"I am here to meet friends for dinner," the 50-something said as he was getting back into his taxi in the VIP section of the carpark just before 6pm.

"I was in the area, so I thought I'd call them to meet up for dinner."

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