Govt to look into car hire services like UberX

An Uber logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle. The Government will be reviewing private car hire services such as UberX to study if they have been competing unfairly with taxis.
An Uber logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle. The Government will be reviewing private car hire services such as UberX to study if they have been competing unfairly with taxis. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The Government will be reviewing private car hire services such as UberX to study if they have been competing unfairly with taxis.

Announcing this on his blog yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that during the general election, he received feedback from "quite a number" of taxi drivers who said UberX is unfair.

Mr Khaw said he has asked Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng to conduct the study, consult taxi drivers and the public, and find a fair solution.

"While taxi drivers welcome competition, they demand that the playing field be level. I think our taxi drivers have a point," Mr Khaw wrote. "The Ministry of Transport will study this, and where justified, we shall level the playing field."

UberX, a saloon car chauffeur service that can be booked via the Uber app, has drawn controversy in Singapore and elsewhere as its drivers do not have to possess vocational licences, unlike taxi drivers.

UberX fares are priced similarly to taxis. Uber also offers taxi bookings under UberTaxi.

In June, the Land Transport Authority said it was mulling over vocational licensing for private chauffeur drivers, including those from UberX and GrabTaxi's GrabCar.

In his post, Mr Khaw noted that transport apps help link surplus supply with demand, "leading to better resource utilisation and consumer welfare". Cabbies have seen their business improve through UberTaxi, but services like UberX warranted a review, he said.

"Our instinct must be to flow with the time, keep an open mind to innovations. But we must always be fair to players, whether incumbent or insurgents, and strike a balanced approach," he said.

When asked, SIM University Adjunct Associate Professor Park Byung Joon said that a review is needed, as the boundaries between private-hire cars and taxis are now blurred.

"From the perspective of the private car hire business, Uber is legal. But if we look at it from a taxi (regulatory) framework, it is frowned upon," said the transport expert.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2015, with the headline 'Govt to look into car hire services like UberX'. Print Edition | Subscribe