Taxi fare cheats to pay higher price for offence

From next month, taxi fare evaders will face fines of $200 and $400, double the current fines. Those who don't pay, or who are caught a third or subsequent time, face being hauled to court.
From next month, taxi fare evaders will face fines of $200 and $400, double the current fines. Those who don't pay, or who are caught a third or subsequent time, face being hauled to court. ST PHOTO: ADELINE ONG

The authorities cracking down on rising number of cases; last year's figures worked out to about 20 every month

Taxi passengers who do not pay their fares will face heftier penalties from next month, as the authorities try to arrest the rising number of taxi fare evasion cases.

From May 9, first- and second-time offenders will face fines of $200 and $400 respectively, double the current fines. They will have to pay this on top of returning the unpaid fare.

Those who do not pay, or who are caught a third or subsequent time, face being hauled to court, the Public Transport Council (PTC) said yesterday.

PTC chief executive Alvin Chia said: "There is a rising trend in taxi fare evasion... Fare evasion affects the livelihood of taxi drivers and the stiffer penalties will help to better deter such offences."

According to the council, the number of such cases has risen from 68 in 2012 to 80 in 2013, and 125 in 2014. Last year, there were 240 cases - which is about 20 every month.

Out of a total of 513 cases, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the PTC have recovered fares for only about half the cases. Another 54 were referred to court, while another 10 are being investigated.

Under the Public Transport Council Act, a passenger found guilty of fare evasion can be fined up to $1,000. Repeat offenders can be fined $2,000, and also jailed up to six months.

National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said the revised penalties are a "move in the right direction".

But more can be done to get cab passengers to pay their fares, and devices such as inward-facing video cameras could be installed to deter potential offenders, he said.

Mr Ang, who had previously called for the use of such cameras to record disputes between passengers and taxi drivers, and deter unruly acts, said the footage would be securely saved and accessible only to cab operators.

Cab operators ComfortDelGro, Premier and SMRT told The Straits Times they had fare evasion decals pasted in their taxis to warn passengers against fare evasion.

They said they will look into each case and try to assist their cabbies to recover the fares before referring it to the LTA and PTC.

Taxi drivers agreed that more needs to be done in addition to meting out stiffer penalties, in order to deter potential taxi fare cheats, who tend to flee when they reach their destinations.

Cabby Henry Tay, 46, said: "Once, a bunch of teenagers I had ferried to Tampines just ran out out my taxi at a red light. There was no way I could just stop my car and leave it unattended to pursue them. I lost about $25.

"I think the inward cameras would stop them from doing so."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2016, with the headline 'Taxi fare cheats to pay higher price for offence'. Print Edition | Subscribe