About 1,750 taxis were equipped with child booster seats as part of a trial last year, but there were very few requests from commuters to use the seats, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport Baey Yam Keng yesterday.
He was responding to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who had asked for an update on a pilot programme launched by SMRT Taxis in March last year to progressively equip its fleet of 2,800 cabs with booster seats. The six-month trial was extended by three months till December due to the eight-week circuit breaker period, Mr Baey said.
Despite the low utilisation rate, the booster seats will remain in these taxis, and SMRT - the first taxi operator here to offer free booster seats for passengers - will provide further updates on usage.
While private cars are required to have appropriate child restraints or booster seats for children under 1.35m in height, taxis are exempt from this requirement.
Pointing out this discrepancy, Mr Ng urged the authorities to look at the issue from the perspective of safety rather than practicality, noting that child seats are now compact and some booster seats can fit under the driver's seat.
"We know that children are getting injured because they're not in child car seats during accidents. We know that being in a child car seat can reduce the incidence of death by over 50 per cent," he said.
He added: "For private vehicles, if your child is not in a (child) seat, you could go to jail for it... I find it strange that (if) the same car now becomes a taxi, the safety considerations just disappear."
Mr Ng had raised a similar argument in Parliament in August 2019 during the debate on the Point-to-Point Passenger Transport Industry Bill, which was passed into law.
Then Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary had said that opinions on the matter were divided, and the authorities were unable to engineer a compromise when they consulted operators and commuters for the Bill.
Mr Baey alluded to this yesterday, noting that the Government had reached its current position following public consultation with different stakeholders. Taxi operators highlighted constraints, such as the need to have a minimum amount of space in the boot to fit luggage or other items carried by passengers.
Mr Baey said it is also not feasible for taxis to be fully equipped with "the different permutations of child restraints", and families with multiple young children may need to hail more than one taxi if the cab does not have enough child seats to accommodate them.
Exempting taxis from this requirement strikes a good balance, taking into account cost and operational considerations of equipping taxis with child seats while facilitating street hails, he added.
The Transport Ministry will continue to monitor the situation and may consider imposing the requirement on ride-hail type journeys that are provided by taxis, said Mr Baey. "We will continue to consult and work with the different stakeholders as we look into this area."