A NEW fleet of gleaming white London cabs hit the road yesterday, much to the anticipation of wheelchair-bound commuters who rely on them to get around.
The Straits Times understands that at least four cabs have started to pick up passengers.
In all, 15 are expected to be in service by the end of the month.
The fleet, which will grow to 30 by August, will replace the existing 15 London cabs, which are being phased out this month after their eight-year licences run out.
SMRT, which operates the service, initially planned to phase them out last year.
But the decision triggered an uproar among wheelchair-bound commuters, who highlighted the lack of transport options for the disabled here.
The roomy vehicle is the only type of taxi in Singapore that can accommodate high-backed, motorised wheelchairs.
The Government later extended the leases of the vehicles by a year. Last year, SMRT was awarded a $3.1 million grant from the Government to bring in a new fleet of London cabs.
The Straits Times understands that the new taxis are a uniform white, unlike the old ones which come in a variety of colours such as champagne gold and pink.
Wheelchair-bound commuters, who lobbied hard to keep the service, were looking forward to the arrival of the new fleet.
Some drivers said they had bookings that came in as early as three days ago. The new cabs can now be booked just two days in advance, instead of at least three previously.
University student Bao Yang tried out the new taxi yesterday, as he travelled from his home in Jurong West to Chinese Garden.
The 20-year-old, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, has been taking the London cab to school almost daily for the last seven years.
"The ride is less bumpy and more comfortable because of the new engine and interior fittings, but it largely looks the same," said the Nanyang Technological University student.
Drivers, however, were concerned about the higher rental for the new vehicles - about $120 to $130 a day compared to about $110 previously.
"We were told the increase is due to rising costs. Hopefully, there will be enough bookings to cover this as there are now more London cabs on the roads," said a driver, who declined to be named as he did not have clearance from his company.
But fares for passengers are expected to remain the same. They pay the metered fare on top of a $10 booking fee or $18 advance booking fee.
Disabled mouth-painter Gilbert Tan still felt that 30 of such cabs here is too few.
Said the 52-year-old, who has been using the service for the last 20 years: "It is indispensable to us because even if some of us can travel by bus or MRT, there are places buses and trains don't go to. Yet, there are so few cabs for so many of us."
Some have proposed having a dedicated transport service run by a few major transport providers for the disabled.
Additional reporting by Lim Yi Han
This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 9, 2013
To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/