A long-awaited move to impose tighter regulations on private-hire operators is round the corner.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it is proposing to license all street-hail and ride-hail operators "as they provide the same fundamental service of transporting commuters from point to point".
This is a stark change from the time when these newcomers arrived six years ago, when the authority viewed them as "tech companies" and not transport providers.
The LTA said yesterday that regulations will also cover companies which provide pre-booked chauffeured services.
Observers expect changes to harmonise regulations governing taxis and private-hire players, and create a more level playing field.
The LTA noted that the change will be "different from today's regulatory framework, where one set of regulations apply to taxi operators which provide both street-hail and ride-hail services, and there are no uniform regulations that apply to operators that purely provide ride-hail services".
It said a new regulatory framework "will replace the existing Taxi Service Operator Licence and Third Party Booking Registration Certificate".
The LTA is also looking to improve safety, but gave no details on how it will do this. Preliminary data from motor insurers indicates that road accident rates have crept up since the debut of private-hire firms.
On the commercial side, the new regulatory framework will allow drivers freedom to drive for whoever they wish. It will "allow LTA to prohibit all operators from having driver exclusivity arrangements", the authority added.
The Straits Times understands that the Public Transport Council (PTC) will eventually see that both taxi and private-hire companies adhere to the new regulations. When asked, the PTC said it was more appropriate for the LTA to reply.
An LTA spokesman would not comment, merely saying that "more details on the review will be made available when ready".
The LTA is seeking public feedback on the proposed changes.
Industry players have long highlighted the stark differences between taxis and private-hire operators such as Grab and Gojek.
These include differences pertaining to the driver's age, controlled fleet sizes, a passenger's legal recourse in the case of accidents, prescribed service standards and fares.
Ms Tammy Tan, spokesman for ComfortDelGro, the largest cab operator here, said: "We welcome any proposals which will ensure not only a sustainable and fair competitive environment for the entire point-to-point sector, but also a safe one.
"We will, however, have to balance these with operational viability. We will be examining the proposals closely and will submit our comments by the end of the public consultation period."
Singapore University of Social Sciences' transport economist Walter Theseira said regulators should not assume that the ideal market is a competitive one. "This may be a natural monopoly if returns to scale are large enough," he said.
He added that "all personal point-to-point services should be considered in the same market... all should be regulated similarly".
"I have some reservations about the race to the bottom in regulation, primarily due to safety concerns, so it may be the case that private-hire needs to be regulated up," he added.
To ensure that new regulations are adhered to, Dr Theseira said the authorities need "a much tighter hand... on data and operations from the market players".
For instance, no one except Grab knows how many rides the hailing firm caters to a day.