Wednesday 13 February 2013

Call to help cabbies find relief drivers

Having two drivers per cab will increase availability, says association adviser
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2013

MORE should be done to help cabbies find relief drivers, said National Taxi Association (NTA) adviser Ang Hin Kee on Sunday.

Sharing feedback from NTA members in the light of new taxi availability standards that started last month, Mr Ang encouraged the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and taxi companies to help match more cabbies with relief drivers.

Though many people have signed up for a taxi vocational licence, not many are keen to become relief drivers, he noted.

He said a taxi that has two drivers will "enable one vehicle to be used for a longer time of the day, and provide greater availability".

He suggested encouraging all new taxi vocational licence holders to serve as a relief driver for at least a year, which would allow new drivers to learn from experienced cabbies. These rookie cabbies would also face less pressure than if they had hired a taxi and struck out on their own, he said.

As of November last year, there were about 95,300 taxi drivers' vocational licence holders.

The taxi availability standards set by the authority require 70 per cent of each taxi operator's fleet to clock a minimum mileage daily and ply the roads during peak hours. The standards will be raised next year and again in 2015.

Taxi firms must meet these benchmarks for four months in a six-month period before they can expand their fleets.

Mr Ang, an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said some elderly drivers have found it hard to meet the minimum daily mileage of 250km. Cabbies are also driving longer hours to meet the standards.

It appears that more passengers are able to get a cab in a shorter period of time since restrictions on taxis in the Central Business District were eased, he added.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to Changi Airport, where he and other NTA members distributed mandarin oranges and red packets to about 600 cabbies queuing at the airport terminals.

Touching on concerns shared by cabbies, he said some are worried that rising certificate of entitlement premiums could prompt operators to raise taxi rental fees.

He also called on shopping malls or other destinations that experience high demand for taxis to emulate Changi Airport, which has display boards along the road leading there stating the number of arriving flights and taxi count at each of the three terminals.

If other shopping centres could put up boards indicating how many passengers there are at a particular taxi stand, this would help direct cabbies to that area, he said.

Cabby Foo Chi Yong said there are two main factors that cabbies consider when they seek a relief driver.

The first is location: the second driver must live nearby, ideally in the same estate so minimal time is wasted ferrying each other home when changing shifts. For instance, he lives along Yishun Street 81 while his relief lives along Yishun Avenue 7.

Both parties must also agree on a time to hand over the taxi. Other operational issues such as washing the taxi can be negotiated, he said.

Added Mr Foo: "The taxi company has the resources, the pool of contacts. They can find better matches between drivers."

He hails from Premier, which has a driver matching system. But Mr Foo said if such information can be provided to the LTA, the authority could also help pair drivers up.

Cabby John Leong said certain taxi drivers prefer to work alone to free up their taxis for personal use. But for those who do not, it is not easy to find a second driver. "It's very hard to find two people who can really click," he said.

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