One of the best parts of living in Singapore is the conversations with Taxi, Grab and Uber drivers. Stay with me on this. Not every trip is a dream. Like any country, you get a range of drivers. Many who drive badly (swerving, driving in the middle of two lanes, putting their foot on and off the accelerator so you feel woozy), not following the GPS (when there is usually one or two devices at least in the vehicle they could use), credit card machines that don’t work (which I don’t believe 90% of the time, they just want cash so they don’t have to declare it as income) or just generally being difficult and grumpy. But generally, most drivers are courteous, hardworking and good at their job. Overall Singapore probably has one of the best taxi systems going.
I have been using lots of Taxi’s and Grab and Uber since being back in Singapore, as they are a much cheaper option than owning or leasing a car, despite once a day having a yearning to have a car anyway. As with many things there are unintended and often surprising consequences.
Usually the best conversations I have are with Grab or Uber drivers, I think because many of these drivers are not driving as their full-time job. Some are but many are not. Grab and Uber are disrupting the Taxi industry in Singapore, and they provide the opportunity for people to supplement their income. Taxi drivers tend to drive full-time.
I usually start my trip by asking if they drive full-time and if they don’t, what else do they do in their life? I have met the most interesting people doing interesting things and working really hard to support their families, make ends meet or just get ahead. Singapore is an expensive place to live and many of these drivers are quite enterprising.
- The part-time driver who works as a DJ in clubs 6 nights a week from 11pm to 3am. He got into being a DJ after working as a bar person and got interested in what was happening at the turntable deck beside him. Had a great conversation about whether there was a drug and/or alcohol culture in Singapore clubs. The answer was no, which made me feel a little disappointed and then made me question my values! Singapore can be quite sterile at times and I guess I was looking for some grit and “underground” insight. There was nothing.
- The man from Indonesia who lives in Singapore with his wife and young family. He was working in a sales role in addition to driving. He has applied for Permanent Residency three times and was in the process of applying for a fourth time. Permanent residency would give him and his family stability, and access to local schools and subsidized healthcare. In Singapore you don’t get any feedback on your application so you just have to keep trying. Each application process takes a minimum of 6 months and often takes much longer.
- My absolute favourite was the Grab driver who took me to work last week. He was curious and wanted to know about me and what I do in Singapore. I told him I worked for a big company in Human Resources. He asked more about this. What do I actually do? I often struggle with this because even though I feel like I contribute (most of the time) to making the organisation successful it sometimes is hard to explain and sometimes sounds a little, well……wanky. On top of this most people hate their HR departments and usually tell me so! So here I was explaining that I help recruit new people and help managers manage their people. He asked about how you recruit people and how can you tell if they can do the job? I proceeded to tell him about asking good questions and other techniques but said in the end the best way is to have them to do the job. Some people work out and some people don’t!
His gentle and profound explanation for this was because you can’t see inside people’s hearts. And I couldn’t agree more with this kind and humble driver, working full-time driving for Grab to support his seriously mentally ill wife, in an expensive and unforgiving country with little to no social support.