ComfortDelGro targets errant private-hire drivers

It sends text message to its cabbies to report illegal practices by private-hire operators

In an escalating fight between incumbents and disruptors in an evolving battlefield, taxi giant ComfortDelGro has instructed its cabbies to help crack down on street hails and other illegal practices by private-hire operators.

In a text message sent to its drivers last week, ComfortDelGro asked its drivers to take photos of private-hire cars - such as those operated by Uber and Grab - that pull up at taxi stands.

Cabbies were told when reporting such infringements to include a photograph of the private-hire car with the vehicle number shown clearly. They should also include the date, time and location of the incident.

The text message also asked cabbies to snap photos if they see other forms of "illegal pick-up anywhere else".

ComfortDelGro said it would forward such reports to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

The message has ignited strong protests from private-hire drivers, who are prohibited under the law from doing street hails or taxi- stand fare pick-ups.

Private-hire driver Chris Koh, 50, said: "There are now more private-hire vehicles than taxis here. So is the rule on taxi-stand (pick- ups) still relevant?"

ComfortDelGro's text message to its drivers last week. No other taxi company has sent out similar text messages.
ComfortDelGro's text message to its drivers last week. No other taxi company has sent out similar text messages. PHOTO: ST READER

Mr Koh, who owns and manages a portfolio of properties, said: "It is my opinion that LTA should have done a robust review of the use of taxi stands funded by public money. Instead of creating more divisiveness in our society, taxi drivers and private-hire drivers should be encouraged to co-exist."

A ComfortDelGro spokesman said: "We have been receiving numerous feedback from our drivers that they have been unable to stop at taxi stands because of private- hire cars, which have been illegally using that space.

"Taxi stands are important pick- up points for our drivers and we will do our best to ensure that they are not misused."

The Straits Times understands that no other taxi company has sent out similar text messages to their drivers.

Veteran ComfortDelGro cabby Tony Pang, 67, said he would not act on his company's message. "I wouldn't do it. You'd have to attend court (to testify)," he said. "Live and let live - after all, we are all Grab or Uber drivers at some point."

Cabby Henry Tay, 48, who was previously with Comfort but now drives for HDT, said: "I don't think this is healthy. It will lead to more disputes between cabbies and private-hire drivers.

"This whole thing should be handled by the LTA. Drivers should just concentrate on doing their job, which is to drive around looking for fares."

Mr Tay, who has been driving a cab for 10 years, said the authorities should do more to tackle the issue.

"You can have the best laws in the world, but if no one enforces them, they are (of) no use," he added.

National Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee said: "There is no need to pit one vocation driver against another. The onus lies on the operator or third-party app provider to educate their drivers."

The LTA has introduced a number of regulations to safeguard the interest and safety of commuters.

From this month, all private-hire drivers must hold a Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL) to provide such services.

Those who provide such services without a PDVL or a concession letter from the LTA can be fined up to $500 and/or jailed for up to three months. They can also be banned from holding such a licence.

Private-hire cars must also have tamper-evident decals on their windscreens.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2017, with the headline 'ComfortDelGro targets errant private-hire drivers'. Print Edition | Subscribe