Singapore, in the words of Mr. Taxi Driver

I was on a taxi heading back to town after a board meeting at Yishun yesterday afternoon, and was privy to some ‘grassroot sentiments’ from my 61-year old taxi driver uncle that I thought I’d share and comment upon.

The gahmen (poorly pronounced Singlish, read as government) will collect 10 times what they need (fines, fees, taxes), and spend 1 time that to build (infrastructure). PAP = Pay And Pay.

Such sentiments are inevitable as the government shifts from indirect to direct taxation. The recent relaxation of our Constitution to allow the use of capital gains to fund public expenditures is a good move, but my gut tells me another GST (goods and service tax) increase (maybe 1%?) is in the offing once the economy recovers from this USA-induced financial mess.

I’ve been driving for 30 years…it’s much harder to make money as a taxi driver nowadays…I’m old, have to take it slower, sometimes don’t earn enough to even cover rent, also like that. Can’t be helped, at least I have something to do.

Hmm, he obviously hasn’t heard of NTUC and opportunities for retraining. But then again, most old dogs don’t want to learn new tricks. They’d rather sit around void decks and coffee stalls and commiserate and gossip about the latest happenings around the estate, and direct their negative energies and emotions and hurl accusations at the boogeyman of the middle-class, a.k.a the Singapore government.

I paid $17+ from the city to Yishun and $22+ on the journey back, for a combined total of $40. A trip home from the office for me would cost me $20 because of peak-hour traffic snarls even though my home is a mere 10km away. I’ve always believed the business model of our taxi operators (revenue via rental of cars) does not incentivize them to optimize taxi-to-passenger matching and translate into taxis as a viable and affordable form of public transport.

You young people have it a lot harder these days…my 4-room HDB flat (public apartment) house was only S$20,000.

As of last night, 1 US dollar equals 1.50 Singapore dollar.

My parents’ 3-room HDB flat in Clementi 25, 30 years ago cost them $15,000. They subsequently upgraded to a 5-room flat when I was 10 years old to the tune of S$90,000. Today, a new 5-room in a good location (transport-wise) can be priced anywhere between S$400,000 to S$600,000. If you’re willing to settle for less in terms of location (on the fringes of Singapore, i.e. Punggol, Yishun, Jurong West) and travel for 1 hour and beyond to work each day, the figure drops to anywhere between S$250,000 to S$350,000 for 100 sqm. Sounds great for the older generation (asset appreciation), sucky for us younger generation indeed!

Drivers these days drive poorly. Don’t know how they teach them driving at the driving schools one.

I had to agree with him on this one – I chose to learn to drive when I was studying in USA because I did not want to be subjected  have to go through to Singapore’s minimum-25-classes requirement and high cost, and got my driving license with flying colours in Pittsburgh after 8 hours of lessons in 2003. 5 years and 20,000 miles later, I am accident-free and ticket-free *crosses fingers*. The system needs to impart confidence, and not just the rules and mechanics of driving.

What to do, I don’t have many more years to go. Just take it one day at a time la.

He has given up fighting the river of life, just like many other Singaporeans. Don’t you join him and become a mere statistic!

Some of the above views left me concerned about where we are heading towards as a country in the name of progress. I know I might be leaning too much on the Law of Small Numbers here by going with just the view of 1 taxi driver, but somehow my gut tells me these views are also shared by the majority of Singapore’s middle-class. The income gap has been increasing, and will only be felt more sorely by the middle class amidst the slowdown – the lower-class will receive their dole-outs and get by, while the upper class continues to live in private housing, move around in fancy cars and travel around the world.

Superb and visionary social engineering has gotten us this far, and will probably get us over that next mountain top. Although some of us will fall wayside on that ardous journey, in the larger scheme of things, they won’t matter very much as long as they continue to check the right box when it is election time. After all, we’re going to grow from 4.8 million to 6.5 million population over the next 40 – 50 years aren’t we? Young adults like us are busily engaged in the rat race to earn a living and get on with the expensive life that is Singapore – unless the numbers and lifestyle make sense, we most certainly won’t be having kids anytime soon. That 6.5 million magical figure can only be achieved by welcoming talent that is better than the average Singaporean – no sense racing to the bottom.

The economically displaced, disgrunted, esoteric and politically opposed can well leave this Little Red Dot. For the rest of us, it’s back to our life in sunny Singapore, where summer reigns all year round.

How’s that as a tagline for Singapore Tourism Board’s overseas campaigns? *wink*

Photo courtesy of Eastbtm

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.