COMFORT SACKS ITS DRIVERS UNREASONABLY?

Reflection On My Termination as a Comfort Cabby

Lately, I can’t spend much time at my computer because I would quickly develop a splitting headache while looking at the monitor. As I wrote these words, I tried to avoid focusing at the screen to mitigate the pain. Reducing the brightness and contrasts of the monitor didn’t help much. “Panadol” is my quick pain reliever. My font size is now at it’s maximum.

I guess my headache is due of an eye condition I was recently diagnosed with called “Glaucoma”..which has been called the “silent thief of sight” because the loss of vision often occurs gradually over a long period of time. Once lost, vision is irreversible, so treatment is aimed at preventing further loss. If untreated, it would lead to complete blindness in a few years.

Fortunately, only my right eyed is 70% blinded. My left eye is perfect. With daily eye drops to reduce the eye pressure that damage the optic nerves, my vision is maintained. But straining my eyes to focus would tend to initiate a headache. Now, I spent less time with the love of my life…reading and cyber space.

Sometime I felt a tinge of sadness and misgivings. I wonder and so do many elderly people, how did time sped away so quickly? Wasn’t it just yesterday that my eye sights and legs were stronger? My hair is still reasonably black but my skin is crumpled with age spots. Yesterday, my memories were like daylight. And climbing, running, jumping and squatting were taken for granted? Today, aches, pains and comatose are my un-welcomed friends. I learn to be philosophical and accept these changes that are beyond my control.

Growing old is like a journey on a train. You want to stay on to watch life pass by but your ticket has expired and the ticket inspector expelled you. Though I cannot resist growing old or avoid been eventually expelled, I hope to be as active as possible in my remaining years.

Now, this brings me to share with you a recent part of my active working life as a Singaporean cabby, albeit depressing in certain aspect.

I’ve been a loyal taxi driver with Comfort for close to 7 years and like 25,000 of my fellow Comfort drivers, I had invariably contributed in a small way to their recent revenue of S$239 millions. During this period of driving, I ferried at least 50,000 passengers. Inevitably, some of my customers are pleased with my service while some may not.

Honestly, I received more compliments than brickbats. While compliments are seldom relied to Comfort, complaints gets their immediate action. Two or three complaints from my 50,000 passengers will get me the sack from the company, irrespective of the nature, triviality or truthfulness of the complaint. That is the daunting reality of being a cabby with Comfort.

You might think that Comfort is strict with drivers so that passengers will get better customer service. No, I wish to differ. Please allow me to explain:

Firstly, if a hirer of Sonata taxi who is paying a rental of $105 is sacked, Comfort can immediately re-lease out the same taxi to a new hirer at $115…an additional rental income of $10 per day. In a year, Comfort gets an additional income of $3,600 per taxi. If 3,000 Sonata taxis are recycled to new hirers, an additional income of $10.8million is generated annually. Comfort has about 12,000 Sonata taxis to recycle and a large pool of anxious taxi drivers waiting to join them. Recycling only 3,000 Sonata taxi is an easy target to achieve. Therefore, in reality, they egregiously sack many of their Sonata drivers for the lucrative millions and certainly not to improve better customer service for passengers.

Secondly, Comfort has a department delegated to handle passengers complaints. It is staffed with 3 or 4 executive officers, each with a private office and assistants. Most of these officers are long service old-timers. Day in and day out, they handle routine complaints of almost similar nature, like driver is rude, taking longer route, refusing to pick passengers, rejecting cashless payment, overcharging, late pick-up, silent-treatment, reckless driving and the list of complaints goes on and on.

My point is “Routine work breeds complacency and mediocrity”. These Comfort officers hardly conduct thorough investigation into a passenger’s complaint. They never leave their comfortable chair and desk to seek evidences, witness or visit the site of complaint for collaboration. Usually, after receiving a telephone or written customer’s complaint, they will just call up the driver for their explanation and at most, they invite the taxi driver to their office to hear the driver’s side of the story. Thereafter and inveterately without further ado, they will issue the driver with a STANDARD warning letter stressing that the driver had committed a “service lapse” and failed to uphold the company’s good image. They never give a second thought as to what would be the traumatic emotional and finance impact of their warning/termination letter on their drivers. Needless to say, these affected Comfort drivers either swallow the indignation in silence or leave the company to join another taxi operator.

In the taxi market, every taxi driver knows that Comfort would only accept the passenger’s side of the story and penalize their drivers unreasonably. They unconditionally side with the passengers in all complaints. In addition, any passenger who made a successful complaint gets rewarded with free taxi vouchers.

If Comfort treat their drivers so badly, why do taxi drivers still want to join Comfort?. Well, Comfort has plenty of call bookings and taxi drivers love it, as it improves their income. But this preference for joining Comfort will change with third party taxi booking applications like GrabTaxi, EasyCab and Uber coming into the market!

Now, I know that Comfort is basically a taxi rental company. I lease their taxi and is obligated to adhere to their rules and regulations. They have the prerogative to terminate our lease contract and I enjoy the same rights too because I can join another taxi operator as and when I like. But is it fair to terminate a contract arbitrary and solely based on a frivolous complaint or worst, due a mediocre officer job performance?. That’s is my main point of contention.

Now, I let me be honest and tell you the reason for my grouses. I felt my contract was unfairly terminated recently.

Please allow me to share with you my case file.

At lunch time about three weeks ago, I picked up 4 Chinese office girls from Star Shopping Mall at North Buona Vista. It was drizzling lightly. They wanted to drop off at their office at Ulu Pandan Community Club at Ghim Moh Estate. They were probably in their mid-twenties and were People’s Association office staff.
After they boarded my cab, I offered my towel for them to wipe off whatever rain water that might be at the back doors. One lady at the back said that she had already used her hand to dry the few wet spots and returned my towel. I expressed my gratitude for her initiative. The girls were pleased with my politeness and began happily chatting among themselves until we approached the lobby of the building.

A big lorry had blocked the entrance into the lobby. I waited for the lorry to move over. But the lorry driver came out to wave me away as he had no intention of giving way. The light drizzling had stopped. There was no way I could get into the sheltered lobby with the big lorry blocking the entrance. A few minutes later, I dropped them a few steps away from the lobby shelter behind the lorry and asked them whether they were happy. That was all I said.

The plump girl beside me paid the taxi fare of $4.30 and unhappily asked for a receipt. Instinctively, I knew she intended to complain against me and I kept quiet. I think she was angry that I dropped them a few steps away from the lobby shelter and they were probably caught in the very light drizzle which I thought had stopped. Maybe I should not have said “are you happy now” or I should have spoken those words to her in a subservient tone and manner. She probably felt I was rude but the other 3 girls were nonchalant.

As expected, five hours later, a lady from Comfort called me for an explanation of the incident. I honestly explained to her as written here. She told me that she would file the report accordingly and let the management made the final decision. I forgot to ask her what were the subject matter of the complaint. Four days later, I received a registered letter informing me of my contract termination due to my frequent service lapse.

Frankly, I’m not surprised. A few months back, I predicted my days with Comfort were numbered after an earlier complaint (Link) . My termination came sooner than expected. It has been three weeks since I ceased driving a cab. But nothing will alter my desire to continue leading an active life as a taxi driver with another taxi operator as long as I’m fit and healthy in my remaining years.

What I’m most indignant with is the indifference work attitude of those “duffers” in Comfort in managing passengers complaints. Now I can only sanguinely hope that they will treat and protect my buddies.

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