GrabCar, Uber drivers to be licensed

Transport app drivers will also have to go for medical checks, background screenings

A driver showing the Uber app on his handphone. PHOTO: ST FILE

Private-hire car services like Uber and GrabCar will now be regulated, but with a "light touch" that will afford these ride-matching start-ups room to grow.

By the first half of next year, their drivers will have to obtain a vocational licence, go for medical tests and background screenings, and comply with a demerit point system.

Cars used for these services must be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and display a tamper-evident decal for easy identification.

The measures were announced yesterday in Parliament after a six-month review. Worldwide, the transport apps have drawn the ire of cabbies for competing unfairly.

Noting that many countries have taken the "wrong turn" by banning Uber, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said innovation should not be obstructed when it benefits commuters.

During the debate on his ministry's budget, Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng said there are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Uber and GrabCar drivers, who add about a third more cars to the supply of 28,000 taxis during peak hours.

Mr Ng said the new regulations will protect commuters, while allowing the industry to grow.

Drivers will have to pass a 10-hour course to get a licence.

While there is no minimum age, they will need to have held a Class 3/3A driving licence for at least two years. Both permanent residents and work permit holders are eligible, if they work for a chauffeur company. Singaporeans have the option of being a sole owner of their own limousine firm.

Yesterday, Mr Khaw also said that the Government is "mindful of the disruption to incumbents" and will help the taxi industry to make necessary adjustments.

From next month, the Taxi Driver Vocational Licence course will be cut by more than half, from 60 hours to 25 hours, and have its syllabus revised.

Cabbies who are active with no demerit points will also be exempted from refresher courses.

Mr Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore, said the new rules will free the firm from having to do its own checks, and reduce its costs.

However, the National Taxi Association (NTA) called for the Transport Ministry to take "bolder steps" in regulations, to further level the playing field. NTA executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said the LTA should consider setting standards for insurance coverage and recourse in the event of accidents and disputes.

He said: "In such cases, commuters can approach the taxi operator or its insurer. But for private-hire services, do the commuters look for Uber and GrabCar or the drivers, or the leasing firms? Is there a minimum standard of insurance coverage set by LTA?"


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline GrabCar, Uber drivers to be licensed. Subscribe