Taxi availability framework: What took LTA so long to review policies that are not helping taxi drivers?

Taxi availability framework: For the past three years, taxi drivers in Singapore were required to clock a minimum daily mileage of 250 km. That’s about 10 to 12 hours on the road.

There were not enough cabs on the roads so the Land Transport Authority (LTA) tried to address the issue by putting together the Taxi Availability (TA) framework. 

That was in 2013. 

From then till now, the percentage of taxis on the road during peak periods supposedly increased from 87% to 93% (well, according to LTA). 

Of course, the policy was created with good intent to better serve commuters’ needs.

After all, we know how frustrating it is not to successfully get a cab after waiting for 20 mins and witnessing more than 10 empty taxis zipping past us. 

The Taxi Availability framework was supposed to help resolve this issue but we would still often hear people complaining that they can’t get cabs.

These complaints were frequent and it only tapered off when Uber/Grab started to gain a foothold in our transport industry. 

Not only was the intended effect of LTA’s policy not strongly felt by commuters, taxi drivers were struggling to hit the daily mileage too.

Taxis were cruising empty to hit the 250 km mileage

National Taxi Association (NTA) Adviser Ang Hin Kee urged the LTA in 2013  to “review the relevance of the minimum mileage of 250 km indicator as to whether it addresses taxi demand or it has led to more taxis cruising empty”.

LTA responded and said it helps to ensure adequate supply of taxis to serve commuters.

Ang suggested several ways to improve how taxis ply the roads. One of it was to give taxi drivers concession passes to enter CBD area without incurring ERP charges, especially if they are driving in empty to town.

He explained that there were elderly drivers who could not meet the requirements. Indeed, about 8 in 10 taxi drivers in 2014 were aged 50 and above.

LTA did not reject those suggestions but they did not bat an eyelid either.

In 2014, Ang asked in Parliament if taxi drivers were cruising empty to cover the mileage requirements of the taxi availability framework.

Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo replied that the monthly gross earnings for two-shift taxis were more than one-shift taxis. 

Taxi drivers supported the call to review the Taxi Availability framework.

Some cabbies do empty cruising just to hit the daily minimum mileage. 

Isn’t it such a waste of time and fuel? 

Anyway, after repeated calls for LTA to review the policy, Ang still believes that empty cruising is not an efficient way to drive around. He feels it should be on a demand basis instead.

True enough, it is more productive for both drivers and riders if they were matched based on demand and supply.

was uber/grab more effective than lta’s policy?

Just look at how Uber/Grab operates.

Uber drivers whom we spoke to, tell us that business has been good. They hardly cruise empty along the roads these days. Riders also don’t have an issue getting an Uber even on rainy days.

So was LTA’s policy or the presence of Uber/Grab more effective in addressing the taxi availability issue?

Taxi drivers told Ang this year that they receive phone calls and reminders from their taxi operator that they have not hit their mileage. This happens even if it’s past midnight and they’re driving empty. 

After three years, LTA finally removed the daily minimum mileage requirement for taxi drivers.

What took them so long to review policies that were not helping taxi drivers?

Surely there were more creative and effective solutions to address the taxi availability issue such as the idea of issuing concession cards to taxi drivers entering CBD area.

Why hold on to ineffective ideas when it can be discarded at an earlier stage to make way for better ideas?

It’s the same for many organisations that are resistant to change.

At the end of the day, it’s the people who suffer.

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