Six Things I Learned about Singapore Taxis

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Taking taxis in foreign countries can sometimes be an adventure. Throw jet lag in the mix and it can be comical too.  I’ve taken taxis frequently on previous business and pleasure trips to Singapore, but decided to try UberTAXI as well this time with mixed results.

Here are six things I learned from our five Singapore taxi rides during our 18 hour stay at the start of the Indonesian cruise adventure:

1.  UberTAXI cannot pick up at Changi Airport.

This was not readily apparent as the Uber app allows a user to request an UberTAXI, which we did. We had drivers accept and we’d watch them on the app drive as far as the edges of the terminal before making a U-turn and driving away.  We tried moving locations, wheeling the overloaded luggage cart to the shuttle pick up location on the edge of the terminal.  Nothing.  We kept getting the same driver making circles. We finally gave up and went back to the standard taxi line.

2.  Singapore taxis accept Mastercard but not Visa.

One of the benefits of an UberTAXI is the direct billing and not worrying about having small bills/change or a surcharge for using a card, but sometimes a taxi ride charged to a credit card is the best thing.

3.  UberTAXI is still confusing to doormen.

At the hotel motor court, they were convinced we were trying to jump the long taxi line when our UberTAXI pulled into the court (and tried to go into the line of waiting taxis). We knew who he was from the license plate (and he looked ever as much as the potential serial killer his in-app photo suggested) so we waved him to stop before he got in the taxi queue.  It took me showing the Uber app and driver info to the doorman to allow us into the taxi outside the queue.

4.  UberTAXI is still confusing to drivers.

Something interesting I picked up on (as an UberX driver) is that our driver had fare information on both the Uber app in the window as well as on his dispatch screen. I found myself wondering if he had to use the Uber app at all or if they have already managed a direct dispatch interface.  He had a bit of trouble beginning the ride and almost drove off without ending the ride.

5.  It’s easier (at times) to hail a taxi from the street.

My local friends tell me it’s better to take Uber to avoid all the miscellaneous surcharges that Singapore taxis are known for. But when we finished eating pepper crabs at Boat Quay at 1 am, our UberTAXI was still six minutes away.  My friend hailed a cab from the street after asking me why we were waiting as several unoccupied cabs sped past us.

6.  The universal language of “ignore the passenger’s request” is alive and well here.

We had a minor series of driver miscommunications when leaving for the cruise terminal the next day (that could have turned into a major disaster if we had not been on our toes!)

Singapore has TWO cruise ports. We knew this.  The newer cruise center is at Marina Bay.  The older cruise center is at Harbourfront (and called Singapore Cruise Center).  We told our bellman (and the doorman) that we were going to the Harbourfront/Singapore Cruise Center and NOT Marina Bay.  They shook their heads, probably convinced we were confused but communicated with the taxi driver that we were leaving.

He was convinced we needed to go to Changi however, not to a ship, and almost ended our ride when he found out we were not going to the airport. “I can’t pick up another passenger there right now – not good for me”, he said.  Then he attempted to deposit us at Marina Bay and pointing to the Celebrity ship docked there and insisting that was OUR ship.  (Ummm… no, it’s not.)

After arguing with us a bit longer (when we refused to get out at a spot about four blocks from that ship), he finally shook his head and drove to the Harbourfront. But he still would not take us to the cruise terminal, instead trying to deposit us at an office building/shopping mall a couple of blocks away. We refused to get out of the taxi and kept pointing to where we needed to go.

“No, you have too much luggage and you need to drop it off first”, he insisted. Yes, we needed to drop off our luggage at the check-in point, not a shopping mall.

Finally he got the point that we were actually boarding one of those large cruise ships and not trying to get on a ferry with several pieces of luggage. We were going on a cruise, not just looking at ships on our way to the airport.  I’m not sure why he got this in his head but he thought it was the funniest thing ever once he figured it out, laughing and laughing as he unloaded our luggage.

“Bon voyage” he wished us, laughing. Maybe the joke was on us all along.

About Jennifer Moody

Jennifer is a management consultant and avid volunteer. Her career and volunteer duty travels have helped her log top-tier airline and hotel status annually for the last nineteen years. In addition, she embraces the opportunity to maximize her vacation time by planning extracurricular trips that have taken her to over 60 countries and 48.5 US states. Once an "every week" road warrior, she now only travels around 100 days a year. She resides in her native Fort Worth, Texas where she enjoys cooking, gardening, sewing, needlepoint, wine, and playing with her Border Collie/Great Pyreness mix puppy Harley Quinn.

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  1. I live in Singapore for a couple years, and I have no love for Taxis there.

    1) Even on the regular taxi line at the airport, the attendant there will sometimes point to one of the luxury taxis as the next in line and say something as simple as “this one OK?”, without telling you you could be paying twice as much for that one over a standard taxi. This always seemed really deceptive.

    2) Looks like that’s new as of this year / last year, but even before the Visa issues it was rare to find a taxi that would take a credit card, especially at the beginning of the week when they were low on cash. Usually the machine was “broken”. Less trouble to pay by NETS, which is like a debit card.

    3) Singapore taxis have had a call-ahead/SMS booking service for years. All normal taxis have a means to display “On Call” (sometimes just a placard in the window), and drivers know the license plate via SMS.

    5) Unless it’s raining. Or it’s “change shift” time (why. why. why. why. why.) or you’re in the CBD and not at a taxi stand. or they don’t feel like driving where you’re going.

    6) This I think is mostly language. Although people in Singapore speak english, Singlish is real and it there is an initial barrier, mostly manifesting in taxi drivers. It can be confusing to figure out the right words that drivers expect to hear to go to certain places, it takes experience. Harbourfront is also the name of the mall there, which is connected to the port. You can walk into the mall and get to the waiting area for boats. Even after living there a while I continued to have miscommunications when trying to go to a new area and not knowing the key phrase they were expecting to hear. It’s also the only place I’ve been where after saying you want to go to the airport, they immediately want to know the terminal. They’ll pull over to the side of the road or wait to leave until you figure it out, even if you’re 40 minutes from the airport. It’s infuriating when you’re running late.

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