Bus touts spotted despite new law to curb activities

Private bus drivers seen approaching tourists at local attractions, arrival halls of ferry terminals

Nearly a year after the introduction of an anti-touting law to clamp down on bus touts, such illegal activities persist at tourist spots such as the Singapore Cruise Centre.

And the reason, said touts who spoke to The Sunday Times, is that business can be lucrative.

Many touts are former MaxiCab drivers and cabbies who now drive private excursion buses.

A minibus costs $70 a day to rent, less than half the price of a seven-seater MaxiCab. On a good day, the touts can make up to seven trips, earning $30 to $70 each time.

Some drivers also claim that they resort to touting as their excursion bus services to nearby attractions, such as Legoland in Johor Baru, are faring poorly.

FILLING A MARKET GAP

In such cases, many commuters would be glad for the extra option rather than wait 30 minutes for a taxi.

DR WALTER THESEIRA, senior lecturer at SIM University

Under the new law, which kicked in on Jan 1, bus drivers caught touting their services can face a fine of up to $1,000 or up to three months' jail. However, touts continue to operate discreetly in small groups, using Whatsapp to message others when the authorities are close.

They typically hang around attractions and the arrival halls of ferry terminals in the evenings - when taxis are scarce. They approach tourists and offer them the chance of skipping long queues at taxi stands for a fee. The tourists are then ushered to minibuses waiting some distance away, hidden from public view.

When The Sunday Times visited HarbourFront Centre last Thursday evening, three middle-aged men in polo T-shirts and pants were seen touting near a taxi stand which had a queue of about 40 commuters.  

In one instance, a group of six tourists, after settling on a fee, were ushered into a silver minibus 50m away.

"Sometimes, the tourists approach us instead," said one 52-year-old tout, who has been in the business for five years.

Mapletree Investments, which owns and manages HarbourFront Centre, said it has put up signs to encourage the use of licensed taxi services and hires security personnel to direct the public to the taxi stand.

"However, there are still occasional touting activities due to taxi shortages," a spokesman said.

Transport experts said touting happens when there are not enough regulated transport services to meet demand. SIM University senior lecturer Walter Theseira said: "In such cases, many commuters would be glad for the extra option rather than wait 30 minutes for a taxi."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'Bus touts spotted despite new law to curb activities'. Print Edition | Subscribe