We last spoke with a taxi driver who said that he doesn’t mind that third party taxi booking applications in the market. There are a large number of drivers who do not agree with him.
One of these is Mr. Henry Tay, 45 and had been driving for 9 years.
“Let us start by clarifying that we do not mind the competition, but it has to be fair competition”, said Tay.
At the root of it, a pirate taxi service is still a pirate taxi service. If the driver and the taxi company are both not licensed, then it is an illegal service and we have laws to govern that.
Uber claims that it verifies its drivers to make sure that they are honest and have no criminal record. But who is Uber to do this? They are not a governing authority and have no access to the resources required to do this job properly. What if a driver turns rouge and commits an offence? Sure, Uber can terminate the driver but damage has already been done.
Their employment status is also unclear. If you respond to advertisements for such private car rentals, you would be told that you are employed by the company. This is probably for the benefit of the hiring company when it comes to insurance. However, if you are an employee then aren’t you supposed to be paid CPF and other benefits? In fact the matter of employment has come before the courts in many countries.
(An Uber promotional advertisement)
Their activity irks the full-time drivers. Sure, they may not be allowed to do street pickups, however if you hang around taxi stands and the airport you will see people in private cars aggressively tapping on their phones trying to land a bid.
“But Uber drivers can only do pickups via the application, whereas taxi drivers can pickup from the streets and use the app”, I said.
“Yes, but we do not have the same advantages that the casual drivers do!” clarified Tay.
Just two weeks ago, Tay shared that a taxi driver was hauled up to the taxi company for disciplinary action. He had accepted a GrabTaxi order at $10. However, the customer turned on him. Unhappy that he had to pay $10 for a booking that would normally cost $2.50, he lodged a complaint.
“The taxi company has a rule: you cannot charge more or less than what the company sets”, said Tay. The poor driver faced disciplinary action.
You see, what Uber really is, is a limousine service and should not charge by the meter. Worse, technology empowers this limousine service so much that they now have a call-center (the application) that takes orders on such scale that the company resembles a taxi company.
These casual drivers are nothing more than freelancers. They do not rely on the taxi to make a living, yet are out there competing with trained, full-time drivers for their rice bowl.
“There are so many of these private drivers around and it is noticeable that our income has eroded”, said Tay.
Full time drivers pay up to $180 for their rentals and have to comply with strict rules set by their companies. Rental prices have increased but the number of passengers they pick up hasn’t changed. Unlike the casual drivers, they cannot charge more for the ride.
We run on a free market economy and businesses are free to sell. But freedom needs to be managed and one man’s freedom should not encroach on another person’s liberty.
This new technology has indeed put more taxis on the road, but there needs to be some form of discipline. Parliament had put into reading a “Third-Party Booking Service Providers Act” to regulate the system. Soon, all drivers will be required to take a taxi licence.
The Act also requires for drivers to register and get a vocational licence (which costs $335 and can be funded by NTUC’s Union Training Assistance Programme). The compulsory licensing allows the LTA to manage complaints, mete out punishment and uphold the quality of taxi service in Singapore – which sounds fair.
From what I gather at the conversation with Henry, is that the drivers don’t mind the competition. But what they want, is a more equal competition.
Licence the drivers, regulate the company, don’t let the limousine service charge by the meter and set some form of discipline for the industry such that both the passengers and the taxi uncles benefit.