Number of new cabby licences issued hits new low

In yet another sign that the taxi industry is reeling from the private-hire onslaught, the number of taxi driver's vocational licences (TDVLs) issued has crashed to a record low.

The TDVL is issued to new applicants after they have finished their vocational training.

According to figures just released by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), only 95 TDVLs were issued in July. This was 41 per cent lower than the average in the preceding six months, and the lowest number issued in well over 10 years. In 2012, the year before ride-hailing companies Grab and Uber arrived here, the average was 410 per month.

This follows a sharp drop in number of cabby applicants too. Last year, the LTA received 5,910 applications - 26 per cent fewer than the 7,968 in 2015 and an average of 9,105 between 2010 and 2012.

Taxi drivers, many of whom have been seeing dwindling earnings since 2013, are not surprised by the numbers.

Mr Danny Gow, 50, recently switched from driving for taxi giant ComfortDelGro to driving for Uber and Grab because "my earnings fell by 25 per cent". This, he said, was most noticeable after JustGrab - which dispatches the nearest available cab or private-hire car - was launched in late March.

Mr Gow said he was able to match what he was earning during the pre-Grab/Uber days, but has had to clock 16 hours to 18 hours a day - up from 14 as a taxi driver.

  • 95

    Number of taxi driver's vocational licences (TDVLs) issued in July.

    410

    Average number of TDVLs issued each month in 2012, the year before the arrival of ride-hailing companies Grab and Uber.

He said there is no shortage of bookings, but this is largely because of freebies dished out by the two ride-hailing firms. "It is induced demand, and it is not healthy," he said. "If this continues, no one will take the bicycle, no one will take the bus, no one will take the MRT."

Taxi trips have indeed diminished. According to the LTA, a single-shift cabby averaged 17.8 trips a day in the first seven months of this year - down 11.4 per cent from 2012. A two-shift driver averaged 26.4 trips, down 11.7 per cent.

While the drop may not seem drastic, industry players said it has a significant impact on cabby earnings because a two-shift driver takes up to 10 trips to cover rental and fuel.

National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee noted that there is an oversupply of vehicles - both taxis and private-hire cars - resulting in drivers "not being able to attain the optimal number of trips per day". But he added that there are still "a large number of TDVL holders who are dormant".

According to LTA statistics, the number of TDVL holders stood at 97,854 as at July - the lowest since 2013.

Industry watchers reckon the cash-rich but loss-incurring ride-hailing firms will not be able to sustain their incentive payments to cabbies. Once those end, taxis could see hirers returning.

Mr Ang said an "equilibrium" between supply of vehicles and drivers must return if drivers' earnings are to be "decent".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Number of new cabby licences issued hits new low'. Print Edition | Subscribe