Fewer drivers, sharp spike in demand behind fare surges for taxis, private-hire cars

The number of active taxi and private-hire car drivers here has fallen by 18 per cent since January 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Fares for taxis and private-hire cars have gone up while such services have become harder to book as a reduced pool of active drivers cannot accommodate a sharp increase in demand.

The number of active taxi and private-hire car drivers here has fallen by 18 per cent since January 2020, to about 57,000 as at June this year.

At the same time, demand for such services picked up sharply after Covid-19 restrictions were largely eased in March and April, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran on Monday (Aug 1).

Daily taxi and private-hire car trips increased by 30,000 in June this year as compared with February, when there was an average of 550,000 daily trips.

This mismatch in demand and supply appears to have been going on for some time, with the most recent Land Transport Authority (LTA) statistics showing daily ridership figures for taxi and private-hire car services wavering between 530,000 and 596,000 trips between August last year and April this year.

Responding on Monday to a parliamentary question filed by Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), Mr Iswaran said taxi and private-hire car drivers had left the sector over the course of the pandemic due to lower demand for point-to-point (P2P) transport.

This was even after the Government had set aside more than $530 million in support for this group of workers amid a dearth of tourists and restrictions on movements and group sizes due to Covid-19.

When international borders were reopened and more employees returned to the workplace earlier this year, demand for P2P transport went up sharply.

"Like other sectors, the P2P sector will require time to adjust to the surge in demand after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted," Mr Iswaran said, noting that there are signs that the market is responding.

Without providing any figures, he said applications for vocational licences have gone up recently and some drivers who left the sector may progressively return in response to increasing demand.

This will boost the supply of drivers in the coming months, he said.

According to the LTA, as at April this year, 94,576 people hold valid taxi driver licences, while 48,364 people hold valid private-hire car driver licences.

This is up from 94,111 valid taxi driver licence holders and 47,913 valid private-hire car driver licence holders in January.

Mr Saktiandi, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for transport, had also asked whether the Ministry of Transport would consider increasing the limit on the number of paid carpooling trips that regular car owners are allowed to make in a day, which currently stands at two.

In response, Mr Iswaran said that carpooling is incidental and non-commercial in nature, and the current regulations allow car owners to charge for such trips only at a cost-recovery basis.

He added that there are no plans to change the current limit of two paid carpooling trips a day as there are existing avenues for drivers to provide commercial ride-sharing services, such as through ride-hailing platforms.

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