National Taxi Association's Ang Hin Kee to represent interests of private-hire drivers

Labour MP and National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee (centre) will also operate as the executive adviser to the National Private Hire Vehicles Assocation from Feb 1, 2018.
Labour MP and National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee (centre) will also operate as the executive adviser to the National Private Hire Vehicles Assocation from Feb 1, 2018.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - He has been championing the rights of cabbies for the last six years, but labour MP Ang Hin Kee will now represent the interests of Uber and Grab drivers too.

Mr Ang, executive adviser to the National Taxi Association (NTA), will also operate as the executive adviser to the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) from Thursday (Feb 1), The Straits Times has learnt.

He takes over from Mr S. Thiagarajan, who has been leading the 5,700-member NPHVA since it was registered in May 2016.

While private-hire car services, which entered the market in 2013, are often seen as competitors to taxis, Mr Ang told the ST that he sees no conflict in representing both associations.

In fact, two major alliances formed between taxi operators and ride-hailing services mean that both groups of drivers now face a common set of challenges, Mr Ang explained.

Earlier this month, Singapore's largest taxi firm, ComfortDelGro, teamed up with Uber to pool private-hire cars and taxis under a common booking service called UberFlash, with fares that vary based on demand. Uber's rival Grab made a similar move with the five other taxi operators last March.

Mr Ang said that when private-hire car services entered the market, he called for a level playing field with the taxis, and the authorities subsequently introduced a vocational licence for drivers, similar to those required for cabbies.

But the landscape has now shifted. "Today, with the alliances, the playing field is tilted in favour of the operators and the third-party service providers as they collaborate and merge their resources.

"We hope to be able to champion for common challenges, especially in the areas of moderating the current rental and fare structure, enhancing the road worthiness and safety of vehicles, as well as ensuring that all ride service drivers are taxed fairly."

Giving an example of what he hopes to see change, Mr Ang said that under the Uber app, cabbies and Uber drivers do not know what the fares or their passenger's destinations are when they accept the bookings. He hopes to see more transparency in this area.

Some cabbies are sceptical of Mr Ang taking on both roles, saying that the issues being advocated by the NPHVA affect the livelihood of cabbies.

Cabby Henry Tay, 48, one of the NTA's 19,700 members, said: "The NPHVA has asked the authorities to allow private-hire cars to use the taxi stand to pick up their passengers, which will affect the flow of cabs and impede our business.

"In future, will they ask to take street-hailed rides too?"

NTA president Raymond Ong, 59, said he was "concerned" about how NTA's members will take the news. But Mr Ong said: "Both associations have different interests that have to be ironed out. We will see how it goes."

Mr Ang maintains that there will be no changes to the way taxis or private-hire cars operate.

"The only difference is that both associations will be working together, as a common voice, to look at common interests and common challenges," he added.