Fewer people are applying to be taxi drivers as the lure of private-hire alternatives such as Uber and Grab grows stronger.
According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the number of applications for taxi-driver vocational licences fell from 9,094 in 2013 to 7,968 last year.
That translates to a 12.4 per cent drop in just two years since Uber and Grab entered the market in 2013. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of applicants averaged 9,105 a year.
The development comes as no surprise to taxi industry players, which have been facing rising competition from the private-hire sector.
Mr Neo Nam Heng, chairman of diversified motor group Prime, which has both taxi and private-hire businesses, said: "This definitely is just the beginning.
"The taxi industry will eventually not have enough drivers to replace those who are retiring."
Premier Taxi managing director Lim Chong Boo said that with the proliferation of private-hire fleets, "people don't need to be taxi drivers today". "As a taxi operator, my only request is, please level the playing field. Start by taking away all the quality of service standards and taxi availability standards."
Mr Lim was referring to standards measuring safety, taxi drivers' conduct and response to call bookings. Taxi operators can be penalised if these standards are not met.
In 2013, the LTA also rolled out taxi availability standards, in response to persistent complaints from commuters that it was difficult to get a cab despite Singapore having the most taxis per capita among developed cities. This was partly because there were cabbies who were casual drivers and did not spend enough time on the road.
Taxi operators said private-hire drivers do not have to meet such requirements. National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said: "The playing field is fairly uneven. But with close to 100,000 taxi-driver vocational licences issued, having more licence holders does not necessarily generate a more active driving pool."
Cabby Alan Tang, 53, said: "Some of my taxi-driver friends have jumped ship, but most of us are adopting a wait-and-see approach."
Veteran taxi driver Fred Wu, 70, said it has become more difficult to meet his target earnings of $120 to $150 a day. "It's not as good as before. You have to drive a bit longer," he said. But he said he would stick to driving a cab because the costs are more certain.
The Taxi Academy, which offers courses to train, test and certify taxi drivers and which is directly affected by the lower intake, was not available for comment.