Goodbye Consumerism

New Zealand Trip - Spa at Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point, halfway between Queenstown and Arrowtown. Seen here is the view from the onsen, with the full moon hidden behind clouds, and the silhouette of the southern alps in the foreground.

For the past 5 years, many Singaporeans had a taste of what full consumerism was like in an area closely related to their daily lives.

In the height of Uber’s penetration in Singapore, we could actually choose how to pay for our rides, wait for less than 5 minutes for our rides on the lull-est of lull periods and take rides in peace, to name a few.

In fact, Uber had been so close to my life that I began to grow complacent, until Uber left Singapore for good since the start of mid-April 2018.

I’m back to being rejected by taxi drivers if I wanted to pay for my ride electronically (“Sorry, my machine spoiled”, said the driver, pointing at his POS machine, even though the red LED indicating the machine was spoilt was not on.). Heck! Even Grab drivers were pretending that I chose to pay by cash (how unprofessional!) and blamed the app for being faulty, just so he could receive cash payment.

When I wanted to leave my home at 12pm on a weekend (the ordeal starts earlier on weekends), I could find no Grab drivers willing to pick me up. After 5 minutes of search, a Comfort taxi took my booking, but I had to wait for 10 minutes. Memories of pre-Uber 30-minutes search for taxis came flooding my mind. Because I live in a pure residential town, taxi drivers don’t roam here to look for businesses; Grab drivers are not willing to pick up passengers who drop off at Punggol, so they rarely enter Punggol too.

Speaking about willingless to pick passengers, because both taxi and Grab drivers could see the destinations of passenger bookings, they pick and choose their businesses. It resulted in longer waiting times for passengers as compared to Uber-era. Most importantly, Uber drivers do not complain if the destinations are far-flung or too near, because they opted in to a system that did not allow them to pick and choose the destinations.

This is not true for Grab and taxis.

Now, Pasir Ris/Tampines/Punggol residents returning home from the airport will either face the situation where no one accepts their bookings, or face the ranting of disgruntled drivers. I remember an incident pre-Uber (circa 2013), when I had to rush back to my rented apartment in Upper Changi after I touched down at 5am, so that I could still be in time to report for work at 8.30am. So when no one in the queue took the Bentley (that had a flag-down fare of $4-something and clocked up rates faster than a normal taxi), I offered to pay more to save my time in the queue.

The driver gave me a dressing down for taking his cab. In his exact words, he shouted, “Changi? Why did you take my cab?!!!”

I got scolded even though I was the only one in the queue willing to pay for twice the fare. In Chinese, that means, “我有钱还买罪受。”

Those were the pre-Uber days when passengers were treated like they ought to kneel down and kiss the feet of taxi drivers for agreeing to take their money and bring them to their destinations.

The days when I, as the one who paid for services, had to be grateful that someone was willing to offer me the services.

Gone were those days.

Even after a month of Uber’s absence, I still miss those days when I could plainly enjoy the services I paid for, like what a consumer should do.

Week after week, I have to pay for $30+ for a Grab ride home from Somerset after my Japanese class at 9pm, when I used to pay only $14+ for Uber.

Gone were those days.

Can someone just come and change the status quo again?

Leave a Reply