Cabbies: Easier to find passengers, less time wasted

Ride-booking apps have made it easier for taxi drivers to find passengers, and cut the time spent burning diesel while cruising empty.

But competition from private chauffeur cars - which can be booked under some of the apps like Uber and GrabTaxi - are hitting certain groups of taxi drivers hard, especially relief drivers who work the graveyard shift.

An industry source, who declined to be named, estimates that business for such drivers has fallen by as much as a third.

"There used to be long queues at Clarke Quay for taxis, but now the numbers are dwindling," he said.

 
 
 
 

Commuters are eschewing taxis, which have an additional 50 per cent surcharge after midnight, for services like UberX - Uber's saloon ride option - which is comparatively cheaper, he added.

While UberX does not levy a midnight charge, it has a "surge pricing" system which raises the fares during periods of high demand.

Still, taxi apps have benefited drivers, especially those who hail from smaller taxi companies, which do not get the same volume of call bookings as the bigger players, said National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee.

Among the five companies, Prime and Premier are the smallest, with fleets of more than 850 and 1,930, respectively.

Taxi apps, he explained, allow all drivers, regardless of company, to get a share of the bookings.

Mr Ang added: "Taxi drivers have less of empty cruising as the apps also assign drivers to the nearest passenger."

Taxi driver Shawn Shawket, 55, said: "Out of the 15 trips I do every day, at least 10 are from app bookings. Nowadays, I seldom go to the taxi stand to wait or drive around looking for street hails."

"I used to do a longer 12-hour shift - from 6am to 6pm. Now I can start later, at 8.30am to 9am, as the app bookings come in very fast and I take shorter breaks," he added.

Asked if competition from UberX has affected him, he replied: "Thanks to apps, more people are actually taking both cabs and private hire cars. Some are giving up cars. On the whole, business is better."

Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Cabbies: Easier to find passengers, less time wasted'. Print Edition | Subscribe