CNG cabs must get safety check by tomorrow

The 7,066 sq m compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling station in Old Toh Tuck Road.
The 7,066 sq m compressed natural gas (CNG) refuelling station in Old Toh Tuck Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

LTA order follows cases of taxi fires caused by leaking gas, ignited by cigarette lighting

The two recent incidents of compressed natural gas (CNG) taxis catching fire were the result of leaking gas, which was ignited by the lighting of cigarettes, it was revealed yesterday.

The news comes as the Land Transport Authority (LTA) required that all 950 CNG taxis are to pass an inspection by tomorrow so they can continue to be driven on the roads. Of the 431 taxis inspected as of 8pm last night, 30 failed the checks and will have to undergo further inspections and rectifications.

On Monday, a Trans-Cab taxi caught fire in Marymount Road, near the Sin Ming Avenue junction. The 57-year-old cabby suffered burn injuries and was taken to the Singapore General Hospital.

A Toyota Wish Trans-Cab caught fire on April 30 when it was involved in an accident with another car in Commonwealth Avenue. The incident, which was captured on video by eyewitnesses, left four men injured, including a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer, who suffered first-degree burns on his face and neck.

"Preliminary fire investigations by the SCDF indicate that both fires resulted from the leakage of compressed natural gas within the vehicles, which was then ignited by the lighting of cigarettes," a spokesman for the SCDF told The Straits Times.

The LTA said the latest inspection, which takes about 10 minutes and can be carried out at any of the nine authorised vehicle inspection centres, will help to "ensure road worthiness".

It did not give further details on the inspection, which began yesterday and is on top of the half- yearly maintenance checks that all taxis must undergo.

Of the 431 taxis inspected as of 8pm last night, 30 failed the checks and will have to undergo further inspections and rectifications.

An LTA spokesman added that the authority is working closely with taxi companies and the National Taxi Association (NTA) to ensure that CNG taxi drivers are informed and to have all the taxis inspected over three days.

Trans-Cab is the biggest operator of CNG taxis, with 920 of them. The rest are owned by SMRT, Prime and also by individual cabbies under the yellow-top scheme, which allows them to own their vehicles.

Trans-Cab general manager Jasmine Tan told The Straits Times that the tests will help to ascertain if there are any gas leaks. CNG is usually stored in cylinders in the boot of the taxis.

CNG is said to be less flammable than petrol. Still, experts have said that regardless of the fuel, a leak and a fire can still cause an explosion.

Ms Tan said the company's CNG Toyota Wish taxis are between six and 71/2 years old, and added: "The checks will assure the public and drivers that the taxis are safe."

For cabbies with taxis that fail the tests, Ms Tan said Trans-Cab will offer to rent them one of its 2,300 diesel-powered Renault Latitude cabs.

While the Renault has a rental rate of $92 a day, compared with the Toyota's $68, Ms Tan said hirers are permitted to find a relief driver with the former.

The LTA has advised CNG vehicle owners not to smoke in their vehicles and to send the vehicles for inspection if they detect any sulphur-type odour, similar to the smell of rotten eggs.

NTA executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said: "Safety issues must be addressed expeditiously to safeguard commuters, cabbies and other road users.

"We also urge taxi operators to find replacement taxis for those drivers who are affected, at rentals similar to their current rates or lower."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'CNG cabs must get safety check by tomorrow'. Print Edition | Subscribe