A day after it came out strongly against taxis and private-hire vehicles being used for delivery services, the Land Transport Authority has said that it will review the rules if necessary - right after a taxi association lobbied for change.
"LTA will monitor recent trends to see if these regulations need to be reviewed," an LTA spokesman told The Straits Times yesterday.
Association adviser Ang Hin Kee said taxi availability for passengers would not be adversely impacted by courier delivery services, which would be a complementary business for drivers.
He told ST: "As it is, there is excess capacity during off-peak hours. This would reduce empty cruising."
The National Private Hire Vehicles Association has also called for a review. "The transport industry is going through rapid transformations and disruptions, and it is getting extremely competitive as private-hire drivers strive to make a decent living," said the association's executive adviser S. Thiagarajan.
"The National Private Hire Vehicles Association calls on LTA to review its position on not allowing private-hire drivers to be couriers or deliverymen for goods if there is no passenger on board."
The LTA had long stood firm on its rules, meant to prevent taxi drivers from being distracted by non-fare tasks.
"Taxis and private-hire cars are public service vehicles licensed to carry passengers for hire and reward," the LTA spokesman noted.
Mr Anthony Chey, an insurance partner at law firm RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, agreed, noting: "The paramount consideration for public transport vehicles is to ensure that commuters have access to the public transport.
"Anyone can do courier services, but not everyone can pick up a passenger from the street."
But most other experts saw it differently. National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said rules must reflect the "sharing economy".
He said the taxi industry faced stiff competition from private-hire operators, and "we have seen the decline of taxi ridership and therefore the decrease of taxi driver income".
"If unhired taxis can be utilised for courier purposes, it is in a way contributing to the overall service productivity," Dr Lee said.
With more than 40,000 private-hire vehicles and 26,000 taxis on the roads, supply to commuters was unlikely to be dented by them also providing courier services.
Dr Walter Theseira, an economist and senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, also noted that the transport sector had evolved, and taxis were not the only ones serving commuters.
"Under the implied new regulatory stance, it would seem more consistent to me if all vehicle drivers and all vehicles were allowed to provide any reasonable transport service except in cases where there are policy concerns," he said. The exceptions would include the carrying of dangerous goods such as chemicals.
Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin said he hoped LTA would assess the situation and make changes where necessary.
Cab commuter Arthur Elfin Chiang, 39, said he does not see why cabbies should not take on courier jobs and the issue of availability could be resolved if "a parcel can be paired with a passenger". "This is killing two birds with one stone," he said.