Don't blame taxi apps for meeting commuter needs

A passenger getting out of a taxi with Grab advertisemnet decal pasted on it.
A passenger getting out of a taxi with Grab advertisemnet decal pasted on it. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

I read Sunday's report ("Fare cuts by Uber, Grab will hurt sector: Taxi body") with incredulity and dismay.

It is unfair for the National Taxi Association (NTA) to criticise Grab and Uber's creative business strategies when some of the taxi body's members' bad behaviour is the source of the problem to begin with.

Time and again, commuters have complained about the unavailability of taxis without any clear response from the NTA to address the issue.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had to step in to introduce city area and other surcharges to entice taxi drivers to stay on the streets.

Now, a commuter booking a taxi in the Central Business District in the evening could be paying close to $10 without the taxi having moved an inch - three times the regular flagdown fare.

Still, these measures did not improve the availability of taxis, and the LTA subsequently imposed a 250km daily coverage requirement.

These reactive measures would have been unnecessary if taxi drivers were meeting commuters' needs in the first place.

Even today, the bad behaviour persists - choosing customers by destination, zooming by taxi queues or hiding in carparks to wait for bookings to come in, not accepting electronic payment and disappearing before the surcharges kick in.

What has the NTA done to change taxi drivers' mindsets?

A taxi driver's profession is a service job, and the rules have changed with technology and customer expectations.

If taxi drivers aren't willing to adapt, commuters will readily find alternative service providers who meet their needs, regardless of price.

Taxi drivers, too, have the option of joining third-party taxi app firms.

One cannot blame entrepreneurship for solving customers' problems, and most certainly, one cannot ask to be saved from a fire while fanning the embers.

Gurmit Singh Kullar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Don't blame taxi apps for meeting commuter needs'. Print Edition | Subscribe