Cabbies talk of love-hate relationship with Grab and Uber

A Grab staff member trying to recruit taxi drivers to use the app outside the Bukit Merah View hawker centre, a popular spot for cabbies to take a break.
A Grab staff member trying to recruit taxi drivers to use the app outside the Bukit Merah View hawker centre, a popular spot for cabbies to take a break.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ask any taxi driver where he takes a break, and he is likely to mention 115 Bukit Merah View hawker centre. And the cabby haunt is also the perfect location for Grab staff to peddle their vehicle booking app.

Many taxi drivers have told The Sunday Times of a love-hate relationship with Grab and its rival Uber. Some, especially the younger ones, use the app to supplement their company's bookings but feel threatened by the onslaught of private-hire car services that the companies have added to the market.

"There has been a drop in bookings by up to 30 per cent on our company's systems," said Mr Dan Lim, 59, who has been driving a taxi for five years. "I have no choice but to use the app to get bookings."


Mr Ken Ng, 45, who has also been driving a cab for five years, said: "Technology has changed so we have no choice but to change with it. Let's be honest, I'm making more because of these apps."

Apart from the benefits brought about by the taxi booking apps, Grab and Uber have added an unwanted dimension to the market that taxi drivers now have to deal with - private-hire car services.

Despite new rules announced in Parliament to regulate such drivers, the disparity between the standards required to get a Private Hire Driver's Vocational Licence and a Taxi Driver's Vocational Licence has angered drivers.

By the first half of next year, GrabCar and Uber drivers will have to attend and pass a 10-hour course, compared with a new 25-hour course for taxi drivers. But that is not the only factor upsetting cabbies.

Mr Khoo, 54, a cabby of five years who, like some others, did not give his full name, said the minimum age of 30 years should be imposed on GrabCar and Uber drivers too, adding: "Twenty-one years is definitely too young."

Taxi drivers say they have seen losses since GrabCar and Uber entered the market in 2014 and 2013, respectively, with some having to work harder to make ends meet.

One of those hit is Mr Singh, 59, who has been driving for about six years. "I used to earn about $36,000 annually but that has dropped to about $29,000. It goes without saying that the entrance of private-hire car drivers has affected us," he said.

Another cabby, Mr Goh - who has a wife and two children - said it is a stretch to maintain his salary as the sole breadwinner. The 56-year- old, a cabby of 10 years, said: "I drive an extra one or two hours a day on top of my usual shift to make up for the decrease in customers."

However, a handful feel the introduction of GrabCar and Uber has not taken a toll on their business.

Mr Tan Chong Sing, 52, said: "I haven't really been impacted, as our advantage over private-hire car services is that we can still pick up passengers by flagdowns and at taxi stands, so we still have a steady customer flow. Relying on my company's booking system is enough to keep me busy."

Mr Ong, 57, who has been driving for eight years, admitted the introduction of Uber and GrabCar has had some positive impact: For example, his company has been more lenient on drivers like him.

"In the past, if there was a complaint against us, they would terminate (our services) straight away," he said in Mandarin. "Now, they're more relaxed - they'll give a warning because they know we can just go and drive somewhere else."

Many cabbies are weighing up their options now that they have more avenues to ply their trade.

Mr Tan, who is in his 50s, said: "I will consider driving a private-hire car, but not at the moment as I think things are still unstable. Perhaps I can think about it again when the new rules kick in." However, others feel they cannot get used to the new systems that Grab and Uber offer. "I've been driving (for my company) for so many years," said Mr Khoo.

Mr Tay, 50, scoffed at the thought of having several phones on display, as he knows some Uber and Grab drivers do. He said: "So many screens, how to keep up?"

With the new rules for private- hire car drivers set to be implemented next year, taxi drivers and companies have grudgingly accepted that the scenario has changed.

Mr Tay added: "We used to complain, but what can we do about it after the new rules have been announced? We can only accept them and move on."

Mr Tan, 61, a driver of more than 10 years with ComfortDelGro, said: "The standards need to be as strict (for Uber and GrabCar) as (they are for) taxis... We just want the requirements to be fairer."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 24, 2016, with the headline 'Cabbies talk of love-hate relationship with Grab and Uber'. Print Edition | Subscribe