When newcomers such as Grab and Uber can quickly exceed the commuter satisfaction ratings of established players, like ComfortDelGro, it is time for the industry to take a hard look at itself. A survey conducted by the Public Transport Council showed that the motley group of people behind private-hire car services did better than cabbies in all areas: waiting times, booking convenience, information on services, ride comfort, safety, drivers' route knowledge and customer service.
Not surprisingly, the difference in ratings was greatest in the ease of bookings, as even giant taxi operators have struggled to produce apps with the deft touch of the upstarts. And this is not for want of resources, judging from the net profit of $317.1 million earned for its stakeholders last year by ComfortDelGro, Singapore's largest taxi operator - which represented an increase of 5 per cent compared to the year before.
Consumers have undoubtedly benefited from the arrival of the disruptors who have not only multiplied options but are also pushing the incumbents to raise their game. ComfortDelGro, for example, said it will review taxi fares to make them simpler and flatter. Customers would certainly welcome that change as they have been bedevilled for years by "complex and confusing" taxi fares, as a minister described it.
Improvements made by taxi companies should also benefit cabbies who are feeling the pinch from a drop in average daily ridership - from 967,000 in 2013 to 954,000 last year. This is a pool of workers whose interests deserve to be protected because they provide an essential service to commuters. Improving the benefits offered to them - like CPF Medisave top-ups, petrol discounts and loyalty perks - is likely to motivate them to outshine their competitors. Also important are flexi schemes for them like renting by the hour and rental discounts based on performance.