The Straits Times says

Cabbies should drive service up a gear

Cabbies nationwide must have heaved a collective sigh of relief when it was announced on Saturday that the 250km minimum daily mileage would be scrapped from Jan 1. The rule was put in place to ensure that more taxis ply the roads, thus serving commuters better. But with competition from private-hire cars, it has led to situations where cabbies cruise the streets without a passenger just to clock the necessary mileage. Such aimless driving is not just a waste of time, fuel and resources but also benefits no one. It is high time that the rule took a back seat - in the best interests of both the driver and the commuter. But in giving the drivers of the estimated 27,500 taxis here some reprieve in their battle with about 25,000 private cars on the market, a fine balance must be struck between looking after taxi drivers and ensuring that taxis continue to provide a service that is both relevant and of a high quality.

There is no denying that the average taxi driver does, on paper at least, instil more confidence in the commuter. Taxi drivers here are better screened (they are known by their full names and not just user handles), often more experienced (taxi drivers need to be at least 30 years old, as opposed to 21 for private-hire car drivers) and trained better than the competition. Taxi drivers go through a 25-hour classroom programme and are assessed on their driving abilities on the road. At the moment, neither is done for private drivers, although a 10-hour course will be implemented under a new regulatory framework for Uber and GrabCar drivers next year. Insurance coverage is also clearer for taxi commuters as opposed to those in private cars. In taxis, they need not worry about whether the driver has paid his insurance premiums.

But for all these benefits, perceptions persist that some taxi drivers are not hungry enough or that they rent taxis for their own use and pick up passengers only when they want to. Commitment to service is also a question mark since, unlike private-hire drivers, traditional taxi drivers do not have a rating that commuters can see.

Thus, it is time for taxi companies and drivers to move their approach to service up a gear. With drivers freed from the burden of clocking the daily minimum mileage, they can be more focused and alert during the time they are with passengers. They could engage passengers more, be it by discussing preferred routes or by just asking how one's day has been. Aggressive driving should become a habit consigned to a more stressful past. The onus is on drivers to make certain that every ride is a smooth, pleasant and safe one. The scrapping of the minimum mileage rule should do more than eradicate aimless driving. Cabbies need to see that providing good service benefits them. It should be a win-win situation for both cabby and commuter on the new transport landscape.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Cabbies should drive service up a gear'. Print Edition | Subscribe