SMRT Taxis enters private-hire car market

Drivers Christopher Robin Soh (left) and Johnny Ong from Strides, a wholly owned subsidiary of SMRT Taxis.
Drivers Christopher Robin Soh (left) and Johnny Ong from Strides, a wholly owned subsidiary of SMRT Taxis.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

In a move to grab a slice of the growing private-hire car market, SMRT Taxis, the third-largest cab company in the country, will roll out its own private-hire and limousine service next week.

Strides, a wholly owned subsidiary of SMRT Taxis to launch on Monday, will grow a fleet of 300 new Toyota Altis sedans over six months. It will also have 27 Toyota Vellfire seven-seater cars and two Lexus ES Hybrids for corporate clients.

The managing director for SMRT Roads, Mr Benny Lim, said Strides would meet increasing demand for private-hire cars from commuters. He said though it faced "huge competition", he believed the growing market could support another player.

The new venture will be headed by Mr Tony Heng, who is also general manager of SMRT Taxis, which has a fleet of more than 3,500.

Looking to add to its 30 drivers, the new company will take current SMRT Taxis drivers with no restrictions, and cabbies will still enjoy their existing loyalty incentives if they choose to switch.

"Strides is an option for taxi partners who want to have some flexibility," said Mr Heng, who noted that the number of cab drivers defecting to private-hire services has till now not been significant.

When asked if the new company would eat into SMRT's own taxi business, Mr Lim said he felt the market could accommodate both taxis and private-hire cars.

The daily rental rate for a Toyota Altis from Strides is nearly half that of a Toyota Prius from SMRT Taxis - $79 compared with $125.

Drivers who stay accident-free and pay their rental promptly will also stand to have up to $5 shaved from their daily rate.

As part of the new venture, SMRT Taxis has signed a one-year partnership with ride-booking platform Grab, which will allow commuters to book Strides vehicles via its app. Fares will be based on current GrabCar rates. On the heels of Uber reducing its fares by 15 per cent last week, GrabCar announced yesterday it would reduce its minimum fare from $8 to $4, and per kilometre charges from 90 cents to 80 cents.

Mr Lim said Strides would consider working with Grab on a longer- term basis depending on the success of the year-long partnership, adding that it had not ruled out working with other services such as Uber in the future.

The launch of Strides comes as other taxi operators are also moving into the private-hire sector. Prime Taxi launched its fleet of private-hire cars in 2014, while The Straits Times reported last week that Trans-Cab is doing likewise, and Premier Taxi is considering it.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said the greater supply of private-hire cars would benefit commuters, though not the local taxi industry, as the more attractive terms meant more cabbies would defect.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'SMRT Taxis enters private-hire car market'. Print Edition | Subscribe