Driving a taxing affair
Just a week into her job as a cabby, Ms Susan Lim was verbally abused until her passenger reached his destination - all because she had made a wrong turn.
It has been 15 years since, but it remains etched in her mind.
It was a frightening experience, she said, because it was the first time anyone had hurled vulgarities at her.
"I'm not used to that kind of language so it shook and hurt me badly. Deep inside I felt like crying. How can such a well-dressed man be so vulgar?
"I was so frightened and at a loss for words then, I just kept quiet and let him talk until we reached the place," said Ms Lim, 68, who now drives a seven-seater cab.
She added that if it were to happen today, she would drive the offending passenger to the police station.
The issue of verbal abuse against cabbies came up after a video of a passenger berating a driver went viral on social media over the weekend.
Last Friday, a taxi driver picked up a passenger, who lives in Chai Chee, in the evening.
In a six-minute video footage cut from the cab's in-car camera, the passenger is heard berating the driver, telling him not to let other cars cut into the lane, and ordering him to get to Telok Ayer MRT station within 15 minutes during the peak hour rush.
"Now I'm the one paying. So you listen to me," he tells the taxi driver.
While Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yewrevealed in Parliament in October 2013 that there were 50 reported cases of unruly passengers over the course of three years, nasty remarks and personal attacks could have fallen through the cracks because they leave no physical traces.
Some taxi drivers have sought help from Member of Parliament Gan Thiam Poh precisely because there is no way to prove that they were on the receiving end.
Mr Gan, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, told The New Paper yesterday: "Actually, I quite pity them. Driving on the road can be tiring, and they even have to accept the abuse. It could be emotionally hurting.
"But it's unfortunate. Who can be the witness?"
Cabby William Lim, 38, who has been driving for 3½ years, said he meets rude customers "almost every day".
"They treat you like their slave or their chauffeur," said Mr Lim.
"In Singapore, we have equal rights, but they (passengers) do it in such a way as if they belong to a higher class just because they are professionals."
When asked for examples of particularly rude passengers, he said: "There are so many, I cannot remember. If we keep it in our heart, our lives will be miserable."
He did relate one encounter though.
"I once drove a passenger from the airport to Sengkang, and it was a couple with a baby," he said. "The lady sat in the front and the husband was seated at the back with the baby in his arms. The baby was screaming all the way and was screaming in my ear, from the moment they entered the taxi."
Unable to stand the noise, Mr Lim said he pulled over and asked the couple to quieten the baby, but they responded: "Baby, how to control?"
Mr Joseph Ho, 55, who has been a cabby for 14 years, recalled a particularly hurtful experience.
The passenger had tried to pass him a torn $10 note after alighting at a hotel. He had folded the note to hide the tear. Mr Ho said he asked politely for a new note.
Said the cabby: "Nobody else would have accepted it. There was a piece missing from the note.
"He snatched the note and threw another one at me, yelling vulgarities at me, including the four-letter word," he said.
He found the experience particularly hurtful because he had spoken nicely to the passenger.
In response to TNP's queries, taxi operator ComfortDelGro said it takes a no-abuse stance when it comes to staff abuse.
Its Group Corporate Communications Officer Tammy Tan said: "ComfortDelGro does not condone any form of abuse where our staff or drivers are concerned and where possible, we will pursue justice on behalf of our people."
A spokesman for taxi operator Premier said that their drivers have been briefed to contact the call centre or the police directly for assistance when it comes to physical or verbal abuse.
If a complaint is filed against the taxi driver, Premier's customer service officers will conduct a "thorough investigation".
Nobody else would have accepted it. There was a piece missing from the note. He snatched the note and threw another one at me, yelling vulgarities at me, including the four-letter word.
- Mr Joseph Ho, 55, on a passenger who tried to give him a torn $10 note
He called me a jackass, used a four-lettered word and threatened to beat me up.
- Mr Dennis Pereira, 50, a cabby of eight years, relating how a passenger reacted when he told him to stop kissing and getting handsy with his girlfriend in the backseat.
I took the expressway which was longer but had no traffic lights, and my passenger started accusing me of intentionally taking a longer route to cheat her. She went on and on even after I offered not to charge her for the ride. The 10-minute drive felt like hours.
- Ms Irene Kee, 54
Taxi drivers are human too
Anyone who takes a taxi frequently enough will have a story to tell about that grumpy taxi driver who took the long way round.
Or the one who wasn't sure of the directions, but would never admit it.
I know, because I too, have mine.
But over the weekend, we got a up-close-and-personal view of what it is like on the other side.
A video that went viral over the weekend showed a driver bearing the brunt of a passenger's demeaning words.
I contacted the passenger, but the 31-year-old would only say that he intends to apologise to the taxi driver in person, before he stopped responding to my queries altogether.
This was confirmed by taxi operator ComfortDelGro. The driver, however, is uncomfortable about meeting the passenger again, the taxi operator said.
National Taxi Association's executive adviser Mr Ang Hin Kee said such cases of prolonged abuse are more unusual.
As for other "varying degrees of unreasonableness", most cabbies have come to accept them as part and parcel of a day job, said the MP, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport.
But verbal abuse is insidious, and can take a toll on the drivers emotionally, as MP Gan Thiam Poh, who sits on the same committee, pointed out.
Many of these taxi drivers are fathers who work long shifts just to provide for their family.
What if the driver in the video was your father, subjected to this again and again just so he could put you through years of schooling?
It must be up to us to calibrate a new relationship with taxi drivers, one based on mutual respect.
A pleasant and fuss-free journey takes two hands to clap.
The cabby will take you to your destination no matter what. But he will be more compelled to do his utmost if you make the effort to be polite and appreciative.
So the next time a taxi driver makes a wrong turn or takes a longer route than the one you're used to, don't be quick to flare up and assume he is out to fleece you.
Just because you're paying for his services doesn't make him less of a human being than you are.
- FOO JIE YING