Setting standards for taxi firms in Singapore good 'but more can be done'

The standards set for taxi companies to ensure enough cabs are on the road when demand is at its peak is a good move, but it is not enough to solve the problem, said observers and taxi drivers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
The standards set for taxi companies to ensure enough cabs are on the road when demand is at its peak is a good move, but it is not enough to solve the problem, said observers and taxi drivers. -- ST FILE PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Observers and cabbies highlight issues like ERP, business model, relief drivers

The standards set for taxi companies to ensure enough cabs are on the road when demand is at its peak is a good move, but it is not enough to solve the problem, said observers and taxi drivers.

Other issues such as Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), the taxi business model and relief drivers have to be tackled as well, they said.

They were commenting on figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) showing that taxi availability standards have led to 3 per cent to 4 per cent more cabs, on average, plying the roads this year compared to last year.

At the same time, the number of call bookings successfully matched has risen by 1.5 percentage points.

The improvements are to be further bolstered by an electronic taxi information system that will inform cab companies on the length of the queue at a taxi stand.

It will be tried out at Lucky Plaza, Paragon Shopping Centre, OG Building, International Plaza and Hitachi Towers for one year, from next July.

These cab stands have up to 100 passengers and an average waiting time of more than 15 minutes during peak hours.

But all five cabbies interviewed are sceptical that drivers would enter the Central Business District (CBD) to pick up commuters, considering the ERP fee.

Said Mr Harry Ng, 55: "The new system would benefit drivers who are already in the CBD. But empty taxis cruising outside the city are less likely to enter, as many drivers do not want to pay the ERP."

The National Taxi Association (NTA) previously proposed that the LTA waive ERP charges to encourage taxi drivers to enter CBD areas more frequently.

Its latest proposal is a monthly concession pass of between $25 and $30 for drivers to enter the CBD between noon and 8pm.

NTA adviser Ang Hin Kee also called for a review of the existing business model, where taxi operators simply rent the vehicles out to drivers. "What can the operator do to help the drivers meet those performance indicators? There should be more responsibility than just the rental of vehicle," he said.

One possible option is an employee-incentive model that pays cabbies a minimum salary, he added.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng from the National University of Singapore agreed that the relationship between the taxi operator and driver should be relooked.

Some form of monetary incentive for meeting certain benchmarks could encourage cabbies to drive more, he added.

The LTA's taxi availability standards will be raised next year, and again in 2015. These require a set percentage of taxis to ply the roads during peak hours and clock at least 250km a day.

Meanwhile, the current standards have led to more taxis being on the road almost round the clock, in two shifts.

From June to September this year, there was a 6.4 per cent rise in two-shift taxis compared to last year.

Still, Mr Ang thinks taxis need to be better used.

One way is to increase the pool of about 10,000 active relief drivers. He suggested that taxi companies require new cabbies to start as relief drivers for a year before they can hire a taxi.

Transport economist Michael Li from the Nanyang Business School said that owing to higher demand, the public may not feel much of a difference even with more cabs on the road.

He would like to to see an integrated call booking system to replace the current one, which he deems inefficient.

Calls for bookings peak at 18,000 between 8am and 9am, and only about 10,000 are successfully matched to taxis.

"Commuters naturally prefer Comfort, so it's a disincentive for smaller firms to improve on their technology," said Dr Li.

roysim@sph.com.sg

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