Friday 28 November 2014

Taxi companies to meet stricter taxi availability standards from next year

More cabs during peak hours under new rules
Taxi firms must ensure 85% of fleet meet minimum mileage on weekdays
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 27 Nov 2014

MORE taxis will have to ply the roads during peak hours and clock at least 250km on the road every day when stricter standards kick in on Jan 1.

In a bid to make it easier for commuters to get a cab, firms will be required to have 85 per cent of their fleet on the road from 7am to 11am, and 5pm to 11pm.

Cab companies must also ensure that 85 per cent of their taxi fleet meet the minimum mileage on weekdays, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.

Both standards have been steadily increased since they were put into place last year. Currently, 80 per cent of the fleet must meet the mark; last year, it was 70 per cent. In total, there are about 28,000 taxis on the road.

LTA said that while more stringent standards will be imposed on weekdays, only 75 per cent of a firm's fleet must meet the mileage standard on weekends and public holidays. This was due to lower demand, and feedback from the National Taxi Association (NTA), which said cabbies have been cruising empty on weekends.

Since the standards have been put into place, only the biggest player ComfortDelGro - which also runs CityCab - has been able to consistently meet the mark. This means they will be allowed to grow their taxi fleets next year.

SMRT, Trans-Cab and Premier have been unable to meet the minimum mileage standard every month this year.

They have also occasionally failed to have enough cabs on the road during peak hours.

Prime Taxis has failed both requirements for the entire year and has been fined about $140,000.

Asked about how the cab companies will fare against the new standards, LTA's director of public transport promotion and services, Mr Leow Yew Chin, said most of the smaller players should be able to meet this year's standards "if they work a little harder".

LTA's group director of public transport Yeo Teck Guan said it was a realistic target and there was even scope to push the standards further. LTA added that the standards have helped to improve the situation for commuters.

In 2012, 82 per cent of all taxis were on the roads during peak hours. In the first nine months of this year, this increased to 87 per cent, which means an extra 1,400 cabs were available.

The proportion of mileage where a taxi is hired also increased from 65 per cent last year to 68 per cent up to September this year.

The NTA said that LTA could have gone further to assist drivers who are unable to meet standards.

NTA executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said: "With the majority of the taxi drivers already driving 12 hours a day, the key is to make every taxi work harder, not the drivers."

He added that more needs to be done to better match supply and demand for taxis, and to increase the pool of relief drivers.

Prime's deputy general manager Neo Chee Yong said it was hard to find relief drivers for his hirers. "All operators, other than Comfort, are unable to grow their fleet. Where is the fairness and how can the industry cope with the increased demand for taxis?"

As of September, there were about 10,000 hirers without relief drivers. NTA said that of the 100,000 taxi licence holders, some 50 per cent are inactive. LTA and cab firms should tap this pool of licence holders, it said.

Taxi drivers ‘need more help to meet LTA’s availability standards’
By Kelly Ng, TODAY, 27 Nov 2014

Citing taxi drivers’ concerns over the mileage requirement for weekends and a shortage of relief cabbies, a taxi association said yesterday that its members need more help to meet the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) availability standards.

Although there has been a 13 per cent increase in two-shift taxis from 2012 to September this year, about 10,000 taxi drivers here — or 34 per cent — remain one-man operators who may still fail to meet the LTA’s requirements despite driving long hours, said the National Taxi Association (NTA).

These operators have problems finding relief drivers due to competition from taxi companies looking for hirers — as opposed to shift drivers — to take over unhired cabs and a decline in taxi driver vocational licence (TDVL) holders, the association said yesterday at a media briefing.

More than half of the existing TDVL holders — 99,392 as of August, down from 100,382 at the beginning of the year — are currently inactive, said the NTA.

“Reaching out to them to join the pool of taxi drivers will go a long way in helping with taxi availability,” said its executive adviser, Mr Ang Hin Kee.

Comfort taxi driver Simon Lee is one of those who find it a struggle to meet the 250km daily mileage requirement on his own. “Currently, relief drivers come and go. Perhaps, the authorities can encourage or make it compulsory for TDVL holders to join the industry for six months or a year as part of their training,” said Mr Lee, 59, who usually works more than 15 hours on a weekday.

As of Oct 31, about 13,000 TDVL holders have registered on the LTA’s e-portal, which matches hirers with potential relief drivers. One hundred and thirty successful matches have been made since the portal’s launch last year. “As more TDVL holders register their particulars, there should be higher instances of successful matching between hirers and relief drivers,” said the LTA.

While acknowledging that the LTA had taken into account the association’s feedback by lowering the minimum mileage requirement on weekends, the NTA called for its further relaxation. The NTA also called for the taxi-availability computation to be reviewed to exclude “unhired taxis” (those that are not rented out to taxi drivers to ply for hire on the roads), those in workshops for repairs and premium taxi services.

In response to the association’s feedback, the LTA noted that the taxi availability (TA) framework had reversed a six-year downward trend of dual-shift cabs.

“From 2006 to 2012, the share of two-shift taxis declined steadily from 60 per cent to just 53 per cent ... after the TA framework was introduced, the proportion of two-shift taxis has increased to about 66 per cent in less than two years.”

As the average daily mileage for a two-shift cab is 450km — one and a half times that of a single shift — the arrangement has benefited commuters, it added.

Noting that the current number of TDVL holders is still higher than in recent years, the LTA said: “As representatives of taxi drivers, the NTA should help to attract more inactive drivers to ply the trade and increase the taxi supply.”

As for revising the computation of taxi fleet, the LTA said calculating taxi availability against the entire registered taxi fleets will encourage taxi companies to reduce the number of unhired taxis and optimise their fleet.

The current computation does take into consideration taxis that are on standby or in the workshops, it said.

Taxi companies can also apply to the LTA to exempt niche and premium taxis from the framework, although the authority said it would be “judicious” to avoid granting exemptions to operators who “simply categorise their taxis as premium taxis to circumvent the TA standards”.

Greater cooperation needed to improve taxi availability: NTA
By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 27 Nov 2014

The National Taxi Association (NTA) is calling for greater cooperation among all parties - including the authorities and taxi operators - to improve taxi availability in Singapore. It said new measures are needed for a "big leap forward" in attracting more relief drivers as it believes that would help ramp up taxi supply.

Under the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) Taxi Availability framework, each taxi needs to clock a minimum of 250 kilometres daily. Most drivers said that translates to at least 12 hours on the roads to achieve that target and this makes it tougher on those who have no shift drivers to share the load. Currently, only two-thirds are shift drivers, which means about 10,000 drivers, or 34 per cent of taxi drivers, are one-man operators.

The NTA has suggested getting new cabbies to start out as relief drivers. It said there have been many cases of new drivers returning their taxis after a few months when they realise this is not an easy job.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive adviser of the NTA, said: "If you can have one out of every two or one out of every three joining the relief pool, you will bring (the number of shift drivers) up from 66 per cent to maybe 70 or 80 per cent.

"Many may feel that this call from the union sounds very constraining or it is trying to force you to be one, but when you are faced with this kind of challenges, you enter and exit the market after going through a very difficult learning curve.

"At the end of the day, we are saying OMO (one-man operations) can't meet the taxi availability anyway, so that is why we suggested this."


The association believes the shortage of relief drivers is a main reason hampering taxi availability in Singapore. There is also a pool of potential drivers out there - it is estimated that half of the 100,000 taxi licence holders are inactive.

Thus, the association is calling for greater cooperation among all stakeholders - the authorities, operators and others - to come up with new ways to attract relief drivers.

"Doing more of the same events may not bring us big gains compared to the 130 matches done so far. Perhaps let us examine what are the conditions needed, are there incentives to be put in place, are there policies that need to be tweaked," said Mr Ang.

The Taxi Availability framework kicked in early last year and it is based on two indicators - whether companies can maintain a certain percentage of taxis on the roads during peak hours and whether each taxi can clock a minimum 250 kilometres daily.

From next year, taxi companies must also reach a target of 85 per cent for both indicators, up from 80 per cent this year. LTA has said it is not raising standards for the sake of doing so but to meet actual demand.


Only two of the six taxi companies passed this year's availability standards, but Mr Ang said that the ultimate goal should still be to improve commuter experience.

"Whether we pass the indicator or not, I think most people at the end of the day just hope to be able to get hold of an empty cab in a more efficient manner. They are not really going to be celebrating if all the companies pass, yet there are empty cabs that cannot be matched in an efficient manner," he said.

He added: "I think the outcome must be a better matching of empty cabs to commuters rather than pushing the standard higher. It is a proxy but even if we exceed the proxy, there may be empty cabs plying around looking for people. So perhaps, we should be more focused on the end goal. It is not so much the means, but the end that we want to achieve."

For many commuters, there is still room for improvement in taxi availability, especially during peak hours. Ms Anna Goda, a banker, said: "I would not say there is no improvement, but I think it can be much better. During peak hours, either it comes as 'change shift' or it does not stop - it is a green taxi but it still does not stop at the taxi stand."

Commuters said that ideally, taxis should be available even without them having to book one.

Two years on, some taxi operators still missing the mark
By Joy Fang, TODAY, 27 Nov 2014

Two years into the implementation of the taxi availability standards, at least half of the six taxi operators here are still not meeting the mark, based on the two indicators set by the authorities. One of the companies, Prime Group, the smallest operator with about 900 taxis, has been fined S$140,000 so far after the financial penalties kicked in this year.

First introduced in January last year, the standards were made more stringent at the start of the year.

For the first nine months of this year, only Comfort and CityCab — both owned by ComfortDelGro — were able to achieve the requirement of having at least 80 per cent of their fleet meeting the minimum daily mileage of 250km. SMRT, Trans-Cab and Premier Taxis managed to achieve only the first-year standard of 70 per cent.

As for meeting peak-period standards, only Comfort, CityCab and Premier were able to achieve the second-year standard of having 80 per cent of their fleet on the roads from 7am to 11am, and 5pm to 11pm. SMRT met the standards from May to September and TransCab was also able to meet them, except for the time slots of 7am to 8am, and 10pm to 11pm.

The operators are required to pass standards for both indicators in at least four months out of every six-month period in order to be allowed to grow their fleet — capped at 2 per cent per annum. Hence, only Comfort and CityCab can do so in the first half of next year. Currently, the combined fleet size of Comfort and CityCab is about 16,600.

Prime failed both indicators for the first nine months of the year. It did not achieve the stipulated percentage of having taxis on the roads for all time slots during the morning and evening peak periods, and did not hit a minimum daily mileage for 80 per cent of its fleet.

Prime Group chairman Neo Nam Heng said meeting the standards is challenging because of its business model: The company started operations in 2007, focusing on one-driver schemes whereby it was written into cabbies’ contracts that they would not be required to get a relief driver to operate two shifts a day.

Mr Neo said the company is drawing up new two-shift contracts for drivers when their five-year contracts are up. However, the new arrangement would take time, he noted. He lamented that the double whammy of not being able to grow the operator’s fleet — on top of the fines — meant it would be even more difficult to meet the standards in the future.

To encourage its drivers to meet daily mileage standards, Prime has started sending reminders to those who fall short of the requirement. It will also monitor these drivers for a few months. If they continue not to meet the standards, despite several reminders, the firm may request that they return their cabs as a last resort, Mr Neo said.

On SMRT’s performance, its vice-president of corporate information and communications Patrick Nathan said: “SMRT will work towards meeting the new taxi availability standards set by the LTA, despite the constraints faced by the industry.”

More cabs on the road but how do commuters fare?
Jury still out on whether availability standards work
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 28 Nov 2014

SINCE their introduction last year, taxi availability standards have proven to be effective in increasing the supply of taxis on Singapore's roads.

In 2012, 82 per cent of the total taxi fleet was on the road during peak hours. This rose to 85 per cent last year, and 87 per cent in the first nine months of this year, meaning there are 1,400 more cabs available now during the peak hour grind than there were two years ago.

The average utilisation ratehas also improved - suggesting that the taxis are ferrying customers instead of driving empty. Last year, the rate was 65 per cent, and between January and September this year, it jumped to 68 per cent.

Based on the year's performance up till September, cab companies have generally fared well in having the bulk of their fleets on the road during the 7am-11am and 5pm-11pm peaks. However, many commuters say taxis are still hard to come by during peak hours.

And when it comes to pulling their weight in putting taxis on the road, not every company is equal. Comfort and CityCab were up to par but Premier, SMRT and Trans-Cab fell short on occasion.

The latter three also struggled to keep up with the mileage requirement, which means their drivers are not plying the roads often enough. In fact, they have failed this standard every month this year.

There is much at stake for taxi firms. Not meeting the mark means financial and other penalties.

Prime, the smallest operator with some 900 taxis, has been fined about $140,000, while the other companies have not been hit so far.

But their plight will just get worse next year when the Land Transport Authority (LTA) raises the bar even higher.

On Wednesday, it said that from next year, 85 per cent of a taxi operator's fleet must be on the road during peak hours and clock at least 250km on weekdays, up from 80 per cent now.

But while it has not been shown if the new standards have met peak hour demands, what does seem to be the case is that such stringent requirements can lead to inefficiencies and taxi driver stress.

Cab companies have passed down the availability standards to their hirers - sending out electronic reminders to fulfil the outstanding mileage, or dangling cash incentives and rebates.

Taxi drivers say it makes economic sense to be on the road during peak periods, when they can make 25 per cent more on top of the metered rate.

But they find it a grind to meet the daily mileage requirement. "For one-man operators, it can take about 12 hours to meet 250km," said Mr Lim Chye Lye, 61. As of September, there were about 10,000 hirers without relief drivers. Cabbies say to hit the mileage target, they cruise around empty for hours.

National Taxi Association executive adviser Ang Hin Kee said raising the standards next year will just mean more of the same. He suggests, instead of a blanket increase in supply, to match it better with demand by tapping location-based technologies so cabbies know where people are waiting for taxis.

The LTA maintains that an overall increase is necessary. But with the majority of taxi companies clearly failing to make the mark, and a lack of information on whether passengers are indeed being better served, the efficacy of the framework warrants more study.

No relief for cab drivers

I HAVE been a taxi driver for the past 28 years.

I used to be a one-man operator, as rental was not high then.

In the past two years, however, I have had no choice but to get a relief driver to share the cost, as rental has increased from $80 a day to $130 a day now. Including the cost of diesel, my daily cost has risen to $170 a day, or about $5,100 a month.

Finding a relief driver is not easy. I have had three relief drivers over the past two years - they wanted to hire their own cabs or were unable to continue driving, hence the changes.

Many other cab drivers face the same problems finding a relief driver.

This is why I am disappointed by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) imposing more stringent standards on taxis to boost their availability ("More cabs during peak hours under new rules"; last Thursday).

There was also no acknowledgement from the LTA on the hard work drivers put in to improve taxi availability.

There is no point requiring cabs to travel 250km a day if there is no match with demand, especially during off-peak periods when supply outstrips demand.

Many of my colleagues have to rely on third-party apps to figure out where customers are, rather than wait at taxi stands.

LTA should help the industry by studying emerging trends and practices that could work each taxi harder, rather than put all the pressure on drivers.

The end-goal should be to ensure commuters can get cabs more easily, and that drivers get to enjoy a balanced work life.

Lee Tat Meng
ST Forum, 1 Dec 2014

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