Sunday 25 November 2012

Improving Taxi Availability from 1 January 2013

Benchmarks set for taxis to meet demand
More cabs will have to ply during peak hours and clock more miles
By Maria Almenoar and Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2012

TO TACKLE commuter grouses about a shortage of taxis, operators have been set standards for the number of cabs that must ply the roads during peak hours, and the minimum mileage that drivers should clock every day.

Six taxi companies currently operate 28,000 cabs here.

From January, they must ensure that at least 70 per cent of their fleets are on the road during the peak hours of 7am to 11am and 5pm to 11pm. The level will go up to 80 per cent in 2014 and 85 per cent in 2015.

Standards have also been set for the run-up to peak hours.

From 6am to 7am and 11pm to midnight, 65 per cent of each company's fleet must be on the road. The target is 75 per cent for 2014 and 80 per cent for 2015.

Also from January, the operators must ensure that 70 per cent of their fleets cover a daily average of 250km per cab. The level will be raised to 80 per cent in 2014 and 85 per cent in 2015.

This measure will increase the number of kilometres clocked by the industry by about 1 per cent a year for the next three years.

To meet the benchmark of 70 per cent, drivers will need to work eight to nine hours a day for five days a week. To get all the way to 85 per cent, they will need to work "eight-plus hours" for six days a week, said LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong.

LTA said 80 per cent of taxis already clock 250km a day. For all fleets to meet the first year's 70 per cent target, 900 taxis will need to be on the road more.

Mr Chew said there should be a tangible difference even from the first year. "We are very conscious that even though it's over three years, from the first year, there should be (a difference)."

Companies will be assessed every six months, and must meet standards at least four times in six months to be allowed to grow their fleet the following year.

LTA said it might levy financial penalties on those that fail but has not finalised details.

Even as it wields the stick, it is also offering carrots. The Central Business District taxi-stand rule will be adjusted to make it easier for cabbies to pick up passengers.

Also, incentives will be given to get more people holding a vocational licence to drive cabs to join the relief-driver pool. Perks include a discount on the licence-renewal fee and a waiver of certain refresher modules in the taxi test. In addition, LTA is putting up a website to match relief drivers and hirers.

LTA noted that the largest player, ComfortDelGro, is already able to meet the peak hour and mileage standards up to 2015, but one operator said it would be a challenge.

TransCab general manager Jasmine Tan said "there shouldn't be any problem" for its cabbies to clock the daily average of 250km. However, meeting peak hour standards would be more difficult. About 48 per cent of its fleet operate on one shift, and cabbies would probably have to change their driving patterns.

The National Taxi Association, which represents taxi-driver unions, said many cabbies are already working actively during peak hours to offset rental costs.

MP Cedric Foo, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the move will improve how taxis are used and hopefully translate into more cabs for commuters.

Will new taxi rules boost availability?
LTA standards for cabs on roads seem to be set cautiously low
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2012

PRESCRIBING how many of Singapore's fleet of about 28,000 taxis must be on the road during peak hours, and the minimum mileage a taxi must clock a day, can be effective medicine for a city known for its high taxi-to-people ratio and seemingly low taxi availability rate.

But as in all medicine, efficacy depends on the right dosage. And that does not seem to be the case for the new taxi availability standards announced by the Land Transport Authority yesterday.

According to the new standards, taxi companies must ensure that 70 per cent of their cabs clock at least 250km a day from next year. That percentage rises to 85 per cent by 2015.

During peak periods of 7am to 11am and 5pm to 11pm, they must ensure that 70 per cent of their cabs are on the road. This rises to 85 per cent by 2015.

These measures are meant to increase taxi availability. It will be in the direct interest of taxi companies to ensure that their cabbies meet them, as failing to do so will have an adverse impact on their bottom line.

Their future growth depends on it too, as companies can expand their fleet only if they meet the standards.

Hence, companies are likely to roll out their own measures - likely to be a combination of carrot and stick - to encourage compliance from drivers.

Technically, a number of things should happen when the measures kick in from next year:
Taxi drivers should become less picky about fares. There should be fewer instances of "I'll take you only if you're going my way". 
Taxi drivers should become less likely to "hide" in the city fringes - waiting for call bookings - while taxi queues grow in length. 
Taxi drivers will spend less time in coffee shops and more time on the road. 
There should be more two-shift cabs on the road, as drivers rope in relief drivers to meet the standards. In the last five years, the proportion of two-shift cabs has fallen from 60 per cent to 50 per cent. 
There should be fewer fair-weather cabbies, and commuters should find it less difficult to get a cab when it pours. 
There should be more career cabbies, as those who do not really need to drive for a living and whose cabs double as their own private transport fall out.
The question is, are the prescribed standards strong enough to effect a meaningful change?

The LTA says the vast majority of taxis already clock 250km a day. It says only about 900 cabs - or 3 per cent of the total fleet - need to be on the road for longer than they are today for the industry to meet the first-year standard.

Total industry mileage will rise by only 1 per cent per year up to 2015, the LTA says.

The authority requires taxi availability during peak hours to be 70 per cent from next year, and 85 per cent by 2015 - from between 66 and 86 per cent today.

The bar has been set pretty low, compared with standards elsewhere.

In Dubai for instance, 93 per cent of taxis must be available during peak hours. In New York, fleet owners must ensure their cabs operate 18 hours a day. Perth taxis must operate 12-hour days from Monday to Saturday.

The LTA says that for taxis to meet first-year standards, they need to ply the roads for only eight to nine hours a day, five days a week. By 2015, they will need to do so for six days a week.

Singapore cabbies interviewed by The Straits Times say they typically drive nine to 10 hours a day, six days a week. Many say they clock 300km a day.

So, why are the measures to improve taxi availability so mild?

LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong says the standards are calibrated carefully to strike a balance between meeting the needs of commuters and cabbies.

In other words, the authority does not want to risk overdoing things, which might result in a surge in empty cruising (leading to unnecessary congestion and pollution).

Even though it seems to be erring on the side of caution, the LTA says commuters should see a tangible improvement in taxi availability from next year.

Meanwhile, ComfortDelGro, the largest operator with a 57 per cent market share, is almost assured of increasing its presence in the next three years. That is because it already meets the availability standards up to 2015.

This means it will be able to expand its fleet - currently at about 16,300 - by 2 per cent a year. That will indeed be good news to shareholders.

The group's share of the taxi market has shrunk from more than 85 per cent before the industry was liberalised in 2003, triggering several new players to enter the fray.

The liberalisation also fuelled a surge in the taxi population, which has grown by 47 per cent to about 28,500 since 2003.

As a result, there are more than five taxis for every 1,000 people here - possibly the highest among cities in the developed world.

At the same time, taxi ridership has grown by 16 per cent over the same period, indicating a misallocation of supply somewhere.

The taxi availability standards aim to cure that. And from the looks of it, the medicine is far from bitter.

CBD taxi rules to be eased from January
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2012

RULES that govern where taxis can pick up and drop off passengers in the city centre are being eased to make hailing a cab easier.

But the National Taxi Association is calling for them to be tweaked further.

The changes to the Central Business District (CBD) rule were announced yesterday by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

At the moment, cabbies who pick up or drop off passengers from 7.30am to 8pm between Monday and Saturday can do so only at taxi stands or along side roads.

From next January, they will be able to stop on all roads at all times, with several exceptions - those with bus lanes in operation and a handful of other roads including Finlayson Green, High Street and Esplanade Drive.

The taxi association welcomes the move, but also wants the LTA to review electronic road pricing (ERP) rates and lower them to encourage more cabs to enter the CBD and pick up passengers.

Its president, Mr Wee Boon Kim, also called for taxis to be allowed to pick up and drop off commuters at bus stops. He added that some passengers who are unaware of the rule mistakenly think taxis do not want to serve them.

Cabby Wong Chong Hock, 62, noted that at times taxis have to pass through two or three ERP gantries before picking up a passenger. This additional cost deters many drivers from entering the CBD, he said.

Implemented in 2008, the pick-up/drop-off rule was met with unhappiness from both passengers and cabbies. The LTA said at the time that it was brought in for safety reasons and to improve traffic flow.

In other cities...
By Christopher Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2012

MANY cities around the world regulate their taxi industries to ensure cabs fulfil their role as a bridge between public and private transport.

Many actually limit taxi supply by issuing licences. In Hong Kong and New York for instance, licences are traded in the open market. City regulators also set service standards. In London, would-be cabbies need to study for a stringent exam, which typically takes two to four years to pass.

In New York, fleet owners must ensure their cabs are on two nine-hour shifts per day, while in Dubai, taxi franchises must ensure that 93 per cent of cabs are available during peak hours.

In Singapore, the taxi industry went from being unregulated before 1970 - where non-metered "pirate taxis" roamed - to a tightly regulated one.

Union-based NTUC Comfort was formed in 1970 to rein in an unruly trade that compromised the safety of commuters and other road users.

By the 1990s, two other smaller players emerged: ST Automotive's CityCab and Mr Ng Ser Miang's Tibs.

NTUC Comfort became Comfort Group and eventually ComfortDelGro. It also bought a share in CityCab. Tibs was bought over by SMRT.

In 1998, taxi fares were deregulated. In 2003, the industry was liberalised, and the size - and variety - of taxi companies were no longer restricted.

This year, after a 47 per cent surge in the taxi population, the Government is capping the growth rate once again.

* Taxi operators get more time to adjust
LTA gives firms until December to meet the mark following feedback
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) will give taxi companies a grace period of another six months to meet stipulated standards that aim to make it easier for commuters to get cabs.

The standards were announced last year and implemented in January, and companies faced the prospect of being fined should they fall short.

But following feedback from some that they needed more time to adjust to the new requirements, the LTA yesterday gave them until December to meet the mark.

The standards essentially require a proportion of a company's fleet to ply the roads during peak hours and to clock a minimum daily mileage of 250km.

But some operators told the LTA they needed more time to adjust their operations and encourage drivers to better use their taxis.

"In view of the consistent efforts made by the taxi companies to meet the taxi availability standards, we decided to give them more time to adjust," LTA said in its statement yesterday.

Singapore has seven taxi operators which own about 28,000 taxis altogether.

In the first four months of this year, only Comfort and CityCab - both owned by ComfortDelGro with a combined fleet of 16,200 taxis - met both the peak hour and daily mileage standards.

Premier Taxi and TransCab failed to do so during the peak periods of 6am to 7am and 11pm to midnight.

TransCab could not meet the daily mileage standard from January to March, while SMRT failed in January and February.

The two smallest operators, Prime and Smart, failed on both counts every month.

While the taxi companies contacted cheered the news, an industry insider said the companies are already being penalised for not meeting the standards.

They are not allowed to increase their fleet in the first six months of next year.

Only Comfort and CityCab can do so.

TransCab general manager Jasmine Tan said her company is still seeking ways to coax its drivers to ply the roads more often.

More of the taxis need to have two drivers to meet the standards, she said. Currently, only about 54 per cent of TransCab's hirers have a relief driver. The proportion has to go up to 80 per cent, she added.

Premier managing director Lim Chong Boo noted: "We need the cooperation of drivers. A lot of them prefer to start at 7am instead of 6am."

Meanwhile, SMRT said its performance improved after rolling out a relief driving matching scheme and other incentives, such as a monthly lucky draw where drivers who met the quota could win a $500 diesel voucher.

Smart could not be reached for comment, while Prime deputy general manager Neo Chee Yong declined to elaborate on why his company did not meet the mark. But Mr Neo added: "Taxi operators need a transition period to meet the LTA's stringent service standards."

The LTA yesterday outlined several measures to help cabbies.

It launched an online portal to match hirers and relief drivers.

From next January, active drivers will need to pay only half of the vocational licence renewal fee and will undergo a shorter refresher course.

The LTA had also eased the Central Business District rule in January, making it easier for cabbies to pick up and drop off passengers in the city area.

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