TAXIS are doing their disappearing act again and, this time, it is just before peak hour charges kick in at Changi Airport.
A Straits Times check at about 4.45pm on a recent Sunday found more than 80 people in the Terminal 1 queue, and hardly a cab in sight. But at 5pm, when the airport surcharge increases from $3 to $5 - as is the case from Friday to Sunday, taxis appeared, and the queue cleared in under half an hour.
On other days, cabbies collect an extra 25 per cent of the metered fare during peak hours from 6am to 9.30am, and after 6pm.
Travellers said they have noticed that queues can start growing 15 to 20 minutes before the extra charges kick in and, in some cases, the wait for a cab can exceed 30 minutes.
The problem has become worse with growing passenger and visitor numbers, observers said.
Changi Airport Group spokesman Robin Goh explained: "The long queue for taxis observed on Sunday (when The Straits Times was there) was due to the combined effects of a peak in weekend flight arrivals at T1, as well as the crunch in taxi supply generally observed islandwide between 3pm and 5pm, when taxi drivers change shift."
Airport ground staff have also noticed that some taxis intending to pick up passengers just before the start of the surcharge period may slow down.
Customers have long complained that taxis vanish just before peak hour, but this is believed to be the first time the problem has surfaced at the airport.
In 2012, the Land Transport Authority announced a slew of initiatives to be introduced gradually, including setting standards for taxi companies for the number of cabs that must ply the roads during peak hours, and the minimum mileage that drivers should clock up every day. Standards were also set for the run-up to peak hours.
But the cab shortage just before surcharges kick in has persisted islandwide.
For its part, the airport is taking extra measures.
Said Mr Goh: "We have deployed auxiliary police officers to patrol the roadways along Airport Boulevard, as well the taxi holding areas across all three terminals, to ensure that taxi drivers do not wait out in the taxi holding area."
Not all taxi drivers feel the need to comply.
Said cabby T.L. Wong, 53: "I don't see why it is so wrong for taxi drivers to wait for the surcharge so we can earn more. It is just a few dollars extra for the passengers anyway."
Despite the crunch, Indonesian housewife Nadia Wijaya, 62, who visits Singapore a few times a year, felt that Changi was still an efficient airport. "If you think this is crowded, you should come visit Jakarta," she said.
Most commuters also vanishing from road side and avoid making current call 5 minutes before morning peak hour ended.
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