Booking apps a boon

You cannot say Singaporeans are not resourceful. As phone apps for booking a taxi or a limousine become more popular, some drivers with rental cars are elbowing into the business, according to car rental industry sources. Singapore has about 17,000 rental cars, but only an estimated 500 to 1,000 are registered limousines. Insurance for limousines is three to four times that for a private car, while the premium for a taxi is about five times.

What these opportunistic drivers are doing is wrong. They are breaking the law. Under Land Transport Authority rules, other than taxis, only company-owned vehicles insured as limousines and driven by its employees are allowed to ferry passengers for a fee. Those who are caught flouting the law can be fined up to $3,000 or jailed for up to six months, or both.

Certainly, these new illegal services can help ease the peak-hour demand for taxis. But the customers are not protected by insurance, and the drivers may not have the proper training. Should something go wrong, like an accident, the customer may have no legal recourse. On the other hand, to keep out such services, taxi and limousine companies have to improve their service. Cabbies should keep up with innovations and a changed environment.

Booking apps such as GrabTaxi and Uber and their like should, however, be encouraged. Used legally, they are a boon to both cabbies and commuters. It is counter-productive to crack down on them, as Shanghai and Beijing did because commuters complained it was becoming harder to hail a cab from the kerbside. Cabbies would rather pick up those people who use the apps, especially during peak hours, just as they would those who make phone bookings, because there is a premium. As for illegal rental car taxis, it may be time for the authorities to put in place some safeguards to curb their spread.