SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) has set minimum standards for taxi availability, following commuters’ feedback.
Singapore’s taxi—to—population ratio, at more than five cabs per thousand people, is higher than cities like Hong Kong, London and New York.
The number of taxis has also been growing faster than the daily ridership. Yet, many commuters complain of not being able to find cabs when they need them.
From January 2013, 70 per cent of all taxis, per cab company, will have to reach a minimum daily mileage of 250 kilometres.
This translates to around eight to nine hours on the road per day, five days a week.
It will be raised to 80 per cent the following year and 85 per cent by 2015.
Cab companies will also need to ensure that 70 per cent of their entire fleet are on the roads during the morning and evening peak periods of between 7am and 11am and between 5pm and 11pm.
The bar will be raised to 80 per cent in 2014 and 85 per cent by 2015.
Based on these indicators, authorities will evaluate if taxi firms are allowed to grow their fleet.
As the measures are new, LTA said standards are being progressively elevated over three years.
LTA will evaluate each operator’s performance monthly. Operators will need to submit data on whether they have achieved the standards.
When the measures kick in, LTA will also look at the overall results after six months, from January to June, and July to December.
Only if operators meet the benchmarks for four out of every six—month period will they be allowed to expand their taxi fleet in the corresponding six—month period of the following year.
"We try to balance out the interests of commuters on the one hand, and what is realistically doable on the other hand, in terms of the taxi industry. And we try to find the right calibration, so that there’s adequate supply to meet the demand," said LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong.
There will be penalties if operators fail the standards, likely in the form of fines. LTA said it is studying details of the penalty framework.
There will be no financial penalties imposed during the first six months of the new measures kicking in.
The effectiveness of the new measures will also be monitored and reviewed as necessary.
LTA added that the taxi industry is liberalised and fares are set by operators, so the benchmarks and corresponding results do not have a direct link to how cab companies may want to set or revise their fares in future.
Singapore has 28,000 taxis. Authorities say only 900 of these need to be plying longer to meet the set standard of a 250—kilometre—daily—mileage.
They say if these 900 taxis meet the mark, commuters should begin to see the difference in cab availability.
The authorities add that operators like Comfort and CityCab already meet the benchmarks set.
To make it easier for taxi drivers to pick up and drop off passengers, the Central Business District (CBD) taxi stand rules will be adjusted.
From January next year, taxis will be allowed to pick up and drop off passengers along roads within the CBD, except for roads with bus lanes during the operating hours of the lanes.
Cabbies also cannot pick up and drop off passengers at specific roads which are dangerous for all vehicles to stop at any time.
These roads include Finlayson Green, High Street, Orchard Link and Esplanade Drive.
In the first half of 2013, there will also be an online portal for cabbies and relief drivers to match their needs.
Additionally, from the second quarter of 2013, active taxi drivers will get a 50 per cent discount on their Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence renewal fee.
The fee is normally S$40 every three years.
Drivers must show proof from their companies that they have been driving regularly.
Meanwhile, the National Taxi Association (NTA) said that LTA’s new indicators should not compromise the safety and health of drivers, in the attempt to better match the supply and demand of cab services.
"The measures introduced represent a good start, but more has to be done through collective effort to solve the problem," said NTA adviser Ang Hin Kee.
In a statement, the association said many taxi drivers are already plying the roads actively during peak hours.
Mr Ang said: "There could be drivers who face difficulty in meeting the requirements, and we would require more support. To that, the creation of a website to collate a central pool of relief drivers would be a good start to help hirers better match with relief drivers near their homes."
"What we want is for drivers to sustain driving over a long period of time, and not be able to try to so—called ’chiong’ for one, two months just to meet a certain target," he said.
NTA added cabbies have to meet a minimum daily return to offset their taxi rental costs. Most drivers will have to attain a certain number of trips, mileage and driving hours.
The association added increasing the taxi fleet to meet demand is not a viable option as it could potentially worsen road congestion. The real problem, it said, is how to meet demand for taxis during peak hours.
The association welcomed LTA’s proposal to further tweak the CBD Pick—up and Drop—off rule.
Other areas that it hopes the LTA can look into to further improve taxi availability include:
Reviewing ERP rates to encourage more taxis to enter CBD areas to pick up passengers
Enabling cabbies to pick up and drop off passengers at bus stops
"It is also important that taxi operators provide adequate support for taxi drivers to meet the requirements," added Mr Ang. NTA will look at working closely with both taxi drivers and operators to ensure that it is a win—win situation for hirers, relief and taxi operators."
The new measures have drawn mixed reactions from commuters, with some saying getting a taxi may be faster while others think it may be dangerous for commuters if cabbies are forced to work too long hours.
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