Friday, 29 November 2013

3 out of 6 taxi firms fail to meet availability standards from January to September 2013

Regular taxi commuters say they do not notice a discernible improvement in the availability of cabs over the past year
By Woo Sian Boon and Kenneth Cheng, TODAY, 28 Nov 2013

Half of the six taxi companies here failed to meet the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) availability standards in the first six months of the year, the LTA said yesterday.

These requirements stipulate the percentage of the operators’ fleet that should ply the roads during peak periods and the minimum daily mileage for each of their cabbies. As a penalty for not meeting the standards, Transcab, Premier and Prime Taxis — which together own about a quarter of the total number of taxis on the roads — will not be allowed to expand their fleets in the first half of next year.

Nevertheless, trotting out statistics between January and September, the LTA noted that the situation has improved. By September, only one taxi operator — Prime, the smallest player here — failed to meet both standards.

However, regular taxi commuters TODAY spoke to said they did not notice a discernible improvement in the availability of cabs over the past year. In particular, they said it was “practically impossible” to get a taxi on rainy days.

Account assistant Ong Jia Xuan, 21, who takes a cab twice a week, added that it was also hard to hail a taxi during the morning rush hour.

The LTA said it will be doing more to alleviate commuters’ woes. From July next year, it will conduct a one-year trial to monitor real-time information on passenger waiting times at five taxi stands located at Lucky Plaza, Paragon Shopping Centre, OG Building at Upper Cross Street, International Plaza and Hitachi Towers.

Using sensors, the new system will share the waiting times at these locations with taxi companies so that their taxis can be dispatched to areas with high demand.

The taxi availability framework was rolled out in January and it will be phased in over three years. For the first year, taxi companies are required to have 70 per cent of their fleet chalk up at least 250km per day and for a similar proportion to ply the roads during peak hours.

All taxi operators, except Prime Taxis, met the requirement for daily minimum mileage. And while Comfort, CityCab and SMRT were able to meet the latter requirement for the first nine months of the year, Trans-Cab managed this only from April onwards. The worst performers were Premier — which met the standard only once, in September — and Prime Taxis, which is still falling short on this count.

The LTA requires a company to pass both indicators for four months out of six months before it can be allowed to expand its fleet — up to a cap of 2 per cent on a per-annum basis — in the corresponding period the following year.

The LTA said that since the framework was introduced, more taxis have been plying the roads. In September, more than 86 per cent of Singapore’s entire taxi fleet was on the roads during peak periods, as compared to about 83 per cent in the same period last year.

The authority also noted a 6.4-per-cent increase in the number of taxis with double shifts from January to September, as compared to the same period last year. Average taxi-booking cater rate — the percentage of calls successfully matched to taxis — have also improved by 1.5 percentage points.

LTA Group Director for Public Transport Yeo Teck Guan said he would be “cautious” about saying that “everywhere in Singapore, it’s easier to get a cab”. “Sometimes it’s a traffic issue or a local issue. There might also be a spike in demand,” he said.

On anecdotal accounts by commuters that it is difficult to get a taxi on rainy days, he said: “The underlying reason is that demand actually spikes by a lot. So, under such circumstances, when there is extraordinary demand, I don’t think it is (fair) to say that taxis don’t come out, because ultimately, taxi drivers also have to earn their living.”

Noting that taxi operators and drivers have raised their game, Mr Yeo said the LTA will go ahead with implementing its second-year standards, which stipulate that both minimum mileage and peak period standards on the percentage of taxis on the roads will be increased to 80 per cent from January.

However, the standard for percentage of taxis on the roads during shoulder peak hours — between 6am and 7am, as well as between 11pm and 12am — will be adjusted downwards from the original standard of 75 per cent to 60 per cent, due to lower demand, said the LTA.

To give companies more time to adjust to the standards next year, they will only face financial penalties if they fail to meet the less stringent standards that were imposed this year. Nevertheless, they will not be allowed to expand their fleet in 2015 if they do not meet the higher standards.

Taxi operators TODAY spoke to said they will continue to work towards meeting the LTA’s standards.

Trans-Cab General Manager Jasmine Tan said a technical glitch had led to her company not being able to submit a thorough report on their performance standards in the first three months of this year. The problem has been rectified, she said. Premier has upgraded its dispatch systems, while Prime Taxi is in the midst of doing so.

The latter’s Deputy General Manager (Taxi Division) Neo Chee Yong said that meeting the standards was a challenge for a “young company” like Prime, which entered the taxi business in 2007. He added: “We find the standards to be unfairly onerous. Nonetheless, Prime Taxis has spent substantial sums to modernise our systems to comply with LTA’s requirements.

Taxi availability standards: LTA missed the point, says National Taxi Association adviser
By Foo Jie Ying and Ng Jun Sen, The New Paper, 28 Nov 2013

They are missing the point, said the National Taxi Association’s executive adviser, Mr Ang Hin Kee, of LTA’s latest updates on taxi availability (TA) standards.

Mr Ang, who is also Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said that too much emphasis is placed on the 250km minimum mileage that drivers have to clock each day.

Said Mr Ang: “The TA standards only help with one small aspect of the total number of taxis on the road, but they don’t account for other problems taxi drivers face.”

The biggest problem facing the taxi industry is the business models used by taxi operators here, he said.

“Today, taxi companies behave like a rental service. They rent out the taxis to hirers and let them sort out how to work around the 250km mileage or other requirements,” said Mr Ang.

But he said their role should be more of a transport service provider, just like how public buses here operate.

Setting standards for taxi firms good 'but more can be done'
Observers and cabbies highlight issues like ERP, business model, relief drivers
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2013

THE standards set for taxi companies to ensure enough cabs are on the road when demand is at its peak is a good move, but it is not enough to solve the problem, said observers and taxi drivers.

Other issues such as Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), the taxi business model and relief drivers have to be tackled as well, they said.

They were commenting on figures from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) showing that taxi availability standards have led to 3 per cent to 4 per cent more cabs, on average, plying the roads this year compared to last year.

At the same time, the number of call bookings successfully matched has risen by 1.5 percentage points.

The improvements are to be further bolstered by an electronic taxi information system that will inform cab companies on the length of the queue at a taxi stand.

It will be tried out at Lucky Plaza, Paragon Shopping Centre, OG Building, International Plaza and Hitachi Towers for one year, from next July.

These cab stands have up to 100 passengers and an average waiting time of more than 15 minutes during peak hours.

But all five cabbies interviewed are sceptical that drivers would enter the Central Business District (CBD) to pick up commuters, considering the ERP fee.

Said Mr Harry Ng, 55: "The new system would benefit drivers who are already in the CBD. But empty taxis cruising outside the city are less likely to enter, as many drivers do not want to pay the ERP."

The National Taxi Association (NTA) previously proposed that the LTA waive ERP charges to encourage taxi drivers to enter CBD areas more frequently.

Its latest proposal is a monthly concession pass of between $25 and $30 for drivers to enter the CBD between noon and 8pm.

NTA adviser Ang Hin Kee also called for a review of the existing business model, where taxi operators simply rent the vehicles out to drivers. "What can the operator do to help the drivers meet those performance indicators? There should be more responsibility than just the rental of vehicle," he said.

One possible option is an employee-incentive model that pays cabbies a minimum salary, he added.

Transport researcher Lee Der Horng from the National University of Singapore agreed that the relationship between the taxi operator and driver should be relooked.

Some form of monetary incentive for meeting certain benchmarks could encourage cabbies to drive more, he added.

The LTA's taxi availability standards will be raised next year, and again in 2015. These require a set percentage of taxis to ply the roads during peak hours and clock at least 250km a day.

Meanwhile, the current standards have led to more taxis being on the road almost round the clock, in two shifts.

From June to September this year, there was a 6.4 per cent rise in two-shift taxis compared to last year.

Still, Mr Ang thinks taxis need to be better used.

One way is to increase the pool of about 10,000 active relief drivers. He suggested that taxi companies require new cabbies to start as relief drivers for a year before they can hire a taxi.

Transport economist Michael Li from the Nanyang Business School said that owing to higher demand, the public may not feel much of a difference even with more cabs on the road.

He would like to to see an integrated call booking system to replace the current one, which he deems inefficient.

Calls for bookings peak at 18,000 between 8am and 9am, and only about 10,000 are successfully matched to taxis.

"Commuters naturally prefer Comfort, so it's a disincentive for smaller firms to improve on their technology," said Dr Li.

Comfort, CityCab and SMRT eligible to grow their fleet next year
By Woo Sian Boon, TODAY, 27 Nov 2013

All taxi companies except Prime met the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) standards for 70 per cent of its cabbies to drive a minimum of 250km daily from April to September this year, the LTA said in a statement today (Nov 27).

Comfort, CityCab, SMRT also consistently passed the standard to have a majority of their taxis on the roads during peak periods.

Transcab met this standard from April onwards while Premier only met it in September.

Based on their performance from January to June, this means that only Comfort, CityCab and SMRT will be eligible to grow their fleet next year.

The LTA says it will be proceeding with the second year taxi standards from January, where 80 per cent of taxis will have to ply 250km per day and be on the roads during peak periods.

However, the shoulder peak standard (from 6am to 7am and 11pm to 12am) for percentage of taxis on the roads have been adjusted downwards from the original plan’s 75 per cent to 60 per cent due to lower demand and feedback from taxi drivers and companies.

Implemented in January this year, the availability standards require 70 per cent of a company’s fleet to chalk up at least 250km per day and to ply the roads during peak hours.

In June, the LTA had given the taxi companies another six months to meet the standards without incurring financial penalties after receiving feedback that they needed more time to adjust.

Taxi hirers: Good relief drivers hard to find
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 5 Dec 2013

CABBY Woo Chong Guan spent 15 years hiring his vehicle from a taxi firm and renting it out to a relief driver after his shifts.

But finding such drivers did not prove easy and it was this burden - together with concern for his health - that prompted the 52-year-old to become a relief driver himself in May last year.

Last week, the National Taxi Association suggested increasing the pool of 10,000 relief drivers in an effort to meet improved standards being set by the Land Transport Authority, which wants to ensure enough cabs are on the road at peak times. This move would see more "two-shift" taxis on the road virtually round the clock.

However, Mr Woo, who is on the road from 7am to 7pm every day except Sunday, said finding reliable partners to work with is not easy. "It's a give-and-take relationship," he said. "Sometimes there are misunderstandings."

Some cabbies run over their time when they take more passengers at the end of a shift. Others complain their partners do not pump enough petrol into the cab when they hand it over, he said.

In June, the LTA set up a website to match hirers with relief drivers but by the end of October, it had only made 48 matches.

From January to September, the proportion of two-shift taxis on Singapore's roads was 56 per cent, up from about 50 per cent in that period last year.

Typically, a cab on a single shift is on the road from eight to 12 hours a day, while those with a relief driver can be on the move for up to 24 hours.

National Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee says more can be done to increase the pool of relief drivers. As of August, there were about 98,620 taxi drivers' vocational licence holders.

"It's good that LTA portal can give some supplementary help," said Mr Ang, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC. "But at the end of the day, it falls back on the owner of the vehicle to find a better solution,"

He has called for a review of the taxi business model, whereby operators rent out their cabs. The seven taxi operators here own about 27,000 vehicles altogether.

With the existing model, hirers are in a poorer bargaining position because they bear the full burden of finding relief drivers to share the vehicle's rental cost, he said.

There is also the hassle of finding drivers near their homes, working out private agreements, and settling disputes.

"Cab companies can be more proactive in helping all drivers take part-ownership of the vehicles instead of leaving it to hirers," he said. "It's not about put- ting more cabs on the road, but making each cab work harder."

A spokesman for the LTA said it will look into NTA's suggestion to increase the relief drivers pool.

Mr Zali Abu, 52, a cabby for more than 20 years, works closely with four relief drivers. "I'm quite easy-going. They just need to keep the vehicle clean, pump the petrol and pay the rental," he said. "But I've heard of cases where hirers are fussy and end up quarrelling with their partners."

Some cabbies prefer to work solo. Cabby C.S. Lee, 57, said: "Maybe they want to go home to rest and come out to drive again during the peak hours."

Taxi woes and the ghost of 1985
Govt steered clear after bid to resolve problems pleased nobody, but situation won't improve unless it takes action
By Han Fook Kwang, The Sunday Times, 1 Dec 2013

Whenever the state of the taxi service is discussed, my mind goes back to 1985.

That, in my view, was the last time the Government tried to tackle the problem in a fundamental way.

But that experience was so painful, no transport minister since has had the appetite to take on the issue.

Which is why the problems persist, almost 30 years on.

What is the issue?

The Straits Times carried several stories in recent weeks of taxi queues in the city during the evening, with waiting times much longer than they were a year ago.

A Sri Lankan businessman was quoted as saying: "It's the worst thing I hate about Singapore - standing in taxi queues."

One statistic alone tells the story of how poorly the service here compares with that in other cities: Singapore has 29,000 taxis, Hong Kong has only 18,000. But despite their fewer numbers, Hong Kong taxi drivers make more than a million trips a day, compared with fewer than a million here.

So what's happening?

That 1985 saga was instructive. I know because I was in the thick of it as a young officer at the then Communications Ministry.

The problem then was exactly the same as it is now. Commuters complained they could not get a taxi when they wanted one, that taxi drivers were choosy, refusing to pick up passengers headed for certain destinations, or disappearing just before midnight when the surcharge kicked in.

Sounds familiar?

At the ministry, it seemed like a straightforward analysis - taxi fares in Singapore were too low, relative to buses and the cost of owning a car. If four people shared a cab, it would be cheaper than taking the bus.

The solution? Raise taxi fares substantially to reduce demand, and solve the problem once and for all.

But that wasn't all - taxi diesel taxes were also increased to make the cost of owning and running them closer to that of a privately owned car.

The theory was sound but, alas, we guessed wrongly how sensitive commuters would be to a big fare hike.

Demand for taxis plunged so much that taxi drivers' earnings went down despite the higher fares.

There was an uproar: Commuters were unhappy over the increased cost, and taxi drivers were up in arms that their earnings had gone down.

The Government had to do an embarrassing U-turn, moderating both the fare and tax increases of the original plan.

More significantly though, and with serious implications for the future, it backed off from trying to intervene in the taxi business.

So fares were later deregulated and no longer decided by government but left to taxi companies to determine. The number of taxis on the road was also left to the market until recently.

But the problems have not gone away, hence the spate of newspaper reports lately.

Many suggestions have been made to improve the situation - getting rid of the surcharges, simplifying the fare structure, imposing a minimum cruising mileage, and so on.

Indeed, the Land Transport Authority has just announced changes to the rule requiring operators to have a certain proportion of their fleet on the road during peak hours.

These moves are worth trying.

But I am afraid they will not solve the problem unless Singapore is clear about the role of taxis in its overall transport system.

Unless this is settled, the patchwork of measures that have been tried over the years will continue to frustrate.

Unlike buses and the MRT, which run on fixed routes, taxi demand is more unpredictable, driven by those whose needs cannot be met by public and private transport.

This includes regular bus and MRT commuters who occasionally use taxis, tourists, and even motorists who sometimes find it more convenient not to drive.

How to devise a system to meet so many of these different needs with no obvious pattern to them?

It turns out that getting the price right is the most important.

If it is set too low, demand will surge and service levels will deteriorate unless the roads are flooded with taxis, which isn't possible without causing serious traffic congestion.

If it is set too high and demand collapses, neither commuters nor drivers will be happy, as was the case in 1985.

Because it is so important to get the price right, it cannot be left to taxi companies to decide. They have other commercial considerations when setting the price and may not necessarily take into account the proper role of taxis in the overall transport system.

Indeed, as many critics have pointed out, because their revenues come from renting the taxis out, they have no direct interest in providing good service, apart from meeting minimum regulatory standards.

For these reasons, the correct fare level ought to be decided by the transport authorities, taking into account the overall transport system.

In Singapore, this price should be pegged between public and private transport.

One other factor needs to be taken into account, which is often overlooked.

This is the effect price has on taxi driver behaviour.

If the price is set too low, cabbies have to pick many fares through the day to make a decent living. Each fare then becomes relatively unimportant because it represents a smaller part of his overall earnings, as he knows he can pick another fare just round the corner.

Taxi drivers operating in this scenario tend to be choosy about the fares they pick.

On the other hand, if the price is set higher and demand is lower, you can expect better service as every customer contributes a larger share to the driver's earnings.

It's the difference between a supermarket and a boutique.

Both types of taxi service can be found all over the world - the supermarket model prevailing in developing countries, whereas in, say, Tokyo or London, it's a boutique service.

What's critical is that whichever model is chosen must not result only in better service for commuters but also give taxi drivers a better deal going forward.

Their livelihood has to be a priority because a good taxi service can happen only when cab drivers believe there is a secure future for them, they earn decent wages, and have a profession that others respect.

So, whenever changes are made to the taxi service, one critical question to ask is: Will taxi drivers be better off as a result?

There is much work that needs to be done to make these fundamental changes that will result in permanent improvements to the taxi service: determining which taxi model is best for Singapore, setting the correct fare level, the number of taxis needed, the cost of owning and operating them, and the way the business is operated.

These issues require decisions that only the Government can make. But it has to first exorcise the ghost of 1985.


To fix the problem, real change is needed
More ideas tossed up after last week's column draws a strong response from Sunday Times' readers
By Han Fook Kwang, The Sunday Times, 8 Dec 2013

Taxi! If you're a frustrated commuter who can't seem to get a cab when you want one, you are in good company.
That's judging by the number of e-mails I received regarding the piece I wrote last week.

It was a varied group - former taxi drivers, foreigners working here, a Singaporean working in Hong Kong, but mostly ordinary people who can't understand why the problem hasn't been fixed.

They offered interesting insights which are worth airing because of the multifaceted nature of the problem.

Quite a few pointed out that, unlike in other places, many Singapore taxi drivers are not committed to the job.

One reader summed it up this way: "Many taxi drivers in their 50s, 60s and 70s come from multiple-income families thanks to the very low unemployment rates. Many have children holding good paying jobs. This group of cab drivers are probably less dedicated to their cabby profession because there is less urgency to bring in the money to support their families.

"Where I live, there are a few cab drivers. Frequently, I've witnessed them loading their families into the cab appearing like they were off on shopping trips."

This might explain why, even though there are more taxis here than in Hong Kong, they clock fewer trips.

What to do about this?

The answer lies partly in being less liberal with the way taxi vocational licences are issued.

Now, you only need to have a driving licence, pass a medical examination and sign up for a 10-day course.

But the more effective solution is to make taxi companies responsible for ensuring their cabs are rented out to only drivers who will utilise their taxis throughout the day.

The present minimum mileage requirement is not good enough.

Taxi companies have to be held more accountable for making sure the service is up to the mark.

But they should not do this at the expense of the well-being and welfare of taxi drivers, whom many readers sympathise with for having to pay ever-increasing rentals.

One reader put it this way: "The taxi companies are not interested in consumers as they just rent cars mostly. The companies make too much, the drivers too little and consumers pay too much. Taxi companies are an oligopoly and competition is a myth. Anti-trust should break these up and drivers should own their own cars."

Another reader urged me to look at the example of Addison Lee, a very successful London company that operates 4,000 cabs. Drivers who work there pay lower rentals if they hit a certain number of trips a day and there is revenue sharing between company and driver. Because the company has a vested interest in how well the cabs are used, it will ensure maximum utilisation by being selective about who it rents its taxis to.

Singapore needs such innovative companies with out-of-the-box solutions.

Finally, quite a few readers asked for my specific suggestions on improving the service. So, here goes.

First, taxi companies should be made to submit specific plans on how they intend to improve their service, including making sure the cabs are well utilised, the proper training of their drivers and how they intend to improve their welfare.

This should be an annual exercise, and a requirement for renewing their operating licence.

If they fail to deliver, then open the market to other companies which can do a better job.

Second, the Government should set the correct fare level, somewhere between the cost of public and private transport - and, yes, get rid of all those confusing surcharges.

Third, re-look the slate of vehicle ownership taxes that apply to taxis, including the certificate of entitlement.

The cost of owning and operating taxis has a huge bearing on rentals and fare levels and needs to be carefully considered, taking into account the role taxis play in the overall transport system.

These taxes are a powerful tool to drive taxi companies to improve their service.

Making these changes will require much political will on the part of the Government.

In the meantime, good luck with getting that cab.

The Sunday Times, 8 Dec 2013

Scrap 'ownership' system

The suggestion to expand the taxi fleet is not going to improve availability. We already have more taxis than Hong Kong, and having more will only add to road congestion and competition among cabbies.
The solution lies in having the current fleet (or even a reduced one) ply the streets more.

In New York, taxis have to be returned to the depot after the cabbies finish their shifts, to allow other drivers to work their shifts.

But in Singapore, many cabbies seem to treat their taxis as personal vehicles.

With the rising cost of car ownership, one of the ways to own a vehicle in Singapore may be to "own" a taxi.

By driving between eight and 10 hours a day, most cabbies can cover rental and fuel costs, and make a tidy profit. The number of hours spent on the road can be much less if the cabby is not totally dependent on driving as a means of making a living.

After that, the taxi can pretty much be used as a personal vehicle.

For the operators, collecting rental seems to be the primary objective, rather than seeing the taxi service as an important arm of the public transport system.

As long as taxis remain a weak link in our public transport network, many people will continue to want to own cars.

Insisting that drivers clock the minimum mileage has proven unsuccessful.

Raising fares, as suggested by some, would mean cabbies need to pick up fewer passengers to cover their daily operating costs. So they would spend less time plying the roads.

If we scrap the taxi "ownership" model, there may be a significant but temporary exodus of "fringe" drivers. This would mean that the remaining cabbies will face less competition and can make a decent living. Hopefully, this would also lead to happier commuters.

Foo Der Ho

Job shouldn't be for 'uncles' only

The best way to solve the taxi problem is to segment the public transport system clearly and make taxi driving a viable career for younger Singaporeans.

Our taxi service is not much differentiated from the other forms of public transport.

When four people share a cab, it could be cheaper than taking the bus. Charges are so affordable that some people take taxis every day, and it is still cheaper than owning a car.

Buses, trains and taxis need to complement one another to form an efficient and effective public transport network.

Routes should also complement one another, so that peak-hour traffic can be mitigated by all three. And during non-peak periods, the three forms of public transport can differentiate themselves by carrying different groups of commuters.

Fares should be raised (at least to more than four times the bus fare) but kept simple, and surcharges should be scrapped.

This will make each trip more worthwhile for taxi drivers.

Cabbies need to make enough so that driving a taxi becomes a viable career for younger Singaporeans, and not what it is now - a job for "uncles".

Toh Keng Hoe

Some can afford to drive less

Many taxi drivers in their 50s, 60s and 70s come from multiple-income families. Many have children who are polytechnic or university graduates holding well-paying jobs. The earnings from driving a cab could be of secondary importance to them.

These cabbies are probably less dedicated to their profession because there is no real urgency to earn money to support their families.

A comprehensive survey should be done to find out the percentage of drivers from multiple-income families, and those who are genuinely dependent on their earnings to support their families.

It is also important to find out if those in the latter group spend more time plying the roads.

If it is indeed true that cabbies from multiple-income families drive less, then perhaps it is time to allow Bangladeshi or Chinese drivers, who are in greater need of money, to ply the roads.

The authorities must also be stringent when awarding vocational licences, by giving priority to those who genuinely need to drive cabs to earn money.

Tim Tio

Some current models not passenger-friendly

Remember how easy it was when there was only one taxi model, the Toyota Crown, plying the roads?

The taxis were easy to board, could take up to five passengers, and had adequate luggage space.

Nowadays, we see senior citizens, mothers with children and disabled people struggling to board and alight from some taxi models. These vehicles are also uncomfortable to sit in and have limited luggage space. Some are "end of the line" models, as taxi companies are more interested in making profits than ensuring passenger comfort.

The Land Transport Authority should make clear the features of vehicles that can be used as taxis.

Also, there should be central control of when cabbies change shift. When a cabby decides to change shift, this should be registered with the operator, and the direction he is heading towards should appear on the cab's rooftop display. Too many cabbies abuse the changing-shift system, using it as an excuse not to pick up passengers.

Finally, charges should be the same for all standard taxis.

Rinaldo Romani

Open up cab licences to foreigners

Perhaps the majority of our taxi drivers are too well-fed and have lost the motivation or, more importantly, the need to put in more than eight hours of work per day.

They choose when they want to drive on weekdays, wait for bookings and avoid plying the road for fares. Many even choose not to work on Sundays, preferring to use their vehicles for personal errands.

Some no longer need to lease out their taxis for the second shift.

It may be a good idea to open up a quarter of taxi licences to foreign workers, who are only too happy to give our spoilt locals a run for their money. As all taxis are equipped with Global Positioning Systems, there is no danger of foreign drivers getting lost on our roads.

The Land Transport Authority could look into eligibility tests before issuing licences to them.

London, Australia and other European countries have their share of non-local cabbies - and their systems work just fine.

Mike Sim

Operators should employ cabbies

I am perplexed by the continuing dismay and woes of taxi users. Having lived in Singapore for four years, I have experienced the woes of taxi commuting.

The root of the problem is that all taxi drivers are self-employed. So it is their prerogative to refuse to go to certain destinations, or stop driving when it rains.

Complaining to the taxi companies or the Government will not change the fact that a cabby is under no obligation to accept a fare.

Hence, growing the taxi fleet may not improve availability.

But if the system were to be complemented by having the operators employ taxi drivers, the cabbies would be committed to responding to bookings, regardless of the rain, destination or timing.

Addison Lee is an example of a private service that supplements the existing London cab system with a booking-only taxi operator, where all drivers are employed by the company and provided with a schedule of pick-ups and drop-offs that are executed on their shifts.

Controversial, perhaps, but it effectively plugs the gaps.

David R. Hardoon (Dr)

Two root causes of taxi woes

Foreigners know about Singapore's notorious taxi system, but the Government has been unable to resolve the issue in decades ("Taxi woes and the ghost of 1985"; last Sunday).

There are two fundamental problems. First, the free market is not suitable for the taxi industry.

Our Government is a firm believer in the free-market system, but have so many years of competition benefited the taxi industry and commuters? Have service standards improved? Most passengers just want a cab to take them from point A to point B. But we now have taxis coming in all shapes, sizes and colours. Do we need this?

It is an irony that the Government wants the taxi industry to operate under free-market conditions, yet it keeps intervening. The latest example is the requirement for taxi companies to have 70per cent of their fleet travel at least 250km each day and ply the roads during peak hours. This shows that the free-market model is not working.

Second, whenever a problem arises, there seems to be only one solution - adjust prices.

Singapore taxi charges are among the most complicated in the world. Surcharges can give rise to unintended consequences. For example, the 50 per cent midnight surcharge has led to taxis "disappearing" before midnight.

The Government should look to reverse the deregulation of the industry. It should set and simplify charges, and scrap all surcharges except the airport surcharge.

Also, there should be no charge for booking taxis. This will stop cabbies from waiting for call bookings instead of picking up passengers at taxi stands.

Tan Boon Tiong

Offer perks to drive during peak hours

There are simply too many complaints of taxi drivers who are picky, go missing during peak periods and fail to meet service standards.

If taxis are truly an essential part of the public transport system, they should not be managed by profit-driven private corporations.

Governance measures put in place are not working well. The penalties for taxi companies that fail to meet standards are peanuts compared to their profits.

Also, it's time the Government offered some form of incentive to cabbies who ply the roads during peak hours. Such perks should go directly to the drivers, in the form of Central Provident Fund contributions or monetary subsidies, and not through the taxi companies.

Lastly, the National Taxi Association has no bite and is not seen to be representing the taxi-driver community, apart from sporadic press comments. The association needs to be more visible at times like this.

Loke Chee Wai

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