Review outdated surcharges as the game changes

The recent announcements on regulating private-hire vehicles and their drivers indicate that this new alternative mode of transport is here to stay ("GrabCar, Uber drivers to be licensed"; April 13).

The private-hire vehicle companies are aggressive in their marketing and provide a competitive service.

The cheaper fares employed by these companies have taken away some business from taxi operators and taxi drivers ("Fare cuts by Uber, Grab will hurt sector: Taxi body"; April 24).

While competition is good for the industry, there are currently some regulations in place that make taxis more expensive than private-hire vehicles.

These are regulations beyond the control of taxi drivers and work against them.

One regulation is the daily city area surcharge from 5pm to midnight.

This regulation was necessary in the past in order to better match supply and demand.

However, with private-hire vehicles coming into play, much of the demand has been taken away.

In reality, there is often a mismatch of supply and demand.

During the surcharge timings, there will be taxis waiting for passengers in the city area, while just outside the city area, the reverse happens, with passengers waiting for cabs.

A solution would be to remove the city area surcharge after 8pm when Electronic Road Pricing ends.

More people might be willing to take taxis, as fares will then be cheaper.

There is a fear that removing the city area surcharge will affect the income of taxi drivers. But without the demand from commuters, there is no point in having surcharges.

Taxi drivers will go where there is demand for their services. They must have this basic knowledge in order to earn a decent living.

The Singapore Zoo is an example where there is no location surcharge, yet, you can find taxis queueing at the taxi stand, especially near the time that the Night Safari closes.

Similarly, you can find queues of cabs at taxi stands at the Woodlands Checkpoint and heartland shopping malls after closing hours.

After midnight, when the city area surcharge ends, many taxis will still head towards the city area empty to ply their trade.

With the tsunami of private-hire vehicles sweeping this country, outdated regulations that work against taxi drivers and commuters have to be reviewed.

Taxi drivers must improve their services in order to remain relevant. Nothing should be cast in stone or taken for granted.

Lim Fang Chek

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Review outdated surcharges as the game changes'. Print Edition | Subscribe