Monday 24 November 2014

Third-party taxi booking apps to be regulated

By Sharon See, Channel NewsAsia, 21 Nov 2014

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Friday (Nov 21) announced that it will introduce a basic regulatory framework, which is expected to come into effect by the second quarter of 2015, following consultation with commuters, the National Taxi Association (NTA), third-party taxi booking services and taxi companies extensively over the past year.

Under this framework, all third-party taxi booking services will be required to comply with the following conditions:
- Registration of services with LTA
- Dispatch only licensed taxis and drivers holding valid Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licences
- Fare-related safeguards for commuters
- Taxi booking services cannot require commuters to specify their destinations before they can make bookings
- Customer support services for commuters
Under the framework, all third-party taxi booking services will have to register with the LTA to operate, and successful applicants will be granted a certificate of registration valid for three years. 

The third-party booking services will need to ensure commuters are served by taxis and taxi drivers who are operating legally in Singapore.

Third-party taxi booking service providers will also need to offer all information on fare rates, surcharges and fees payable for the journey upfront - including peak period and location surcharges. They should also give commuters the option to reject certain types of taxis or taxis with certain fare rates and surcharges, said LTA.

Additionally, commuters should have the option of whether they want to specify their destination in the apps, said LTA, highlighting that some drivers might avoid taking bookings to certain destinations. These services will also be required to provide basic customer support, such as lost and found services, and avenues for commuters to raise queries and complaints.

The framework will also apply to booking apps belonging to taxi operators.

“While the regulations are expected to be implemented only in the second quarter of 2015 after the necessary legislative processes are completed, taxi booking services and taxi companies are encouraged to begin their preparations to comply with these regulations,” LTA said.


When asked if the new rules will apply to private car bookings such as those offered by Uber, an LTA spokesperson said the framework will require third-party taxi booking services to "ensure that taxis and other transport services offered (such as chauffeured vehicles) are clearly differentiated from one another using separate and distinct icons".

The difference in charges must be "highlighted upfront and clearly" and if a commuter specifically requests for taxi services, only licensed taxis and taxi drivers can be dispatched.

"In cases involving private cars, which are unlicensed public service vehicles, LTA will also take action against the drivers," the spokesperson said.


One analyst said the move to introduce a regulatory framework indicates that such services are now viewed as a valid business.

Dr Park Byung Joon, head of the urban transport management programme at SIM University, said: "So far, there has been a lot of uncertainty in the air - whether it is really legal to use this kind of services, whether it is really okay for taxi drivers to sign up for these services. Even for the investors, is it really okay to invest in this business? Now, what is most significant today is that it's recognised as a valid business,

"For the commuters, it at least provides you with some kind of a peace of mind when you use these services. Now, you do not have to worry whether you are really getting a taxi driver with a proper licence or whether you are getting ripped off by using this kind of services."

And while the regulatory framework is designed to protect commuters, there may also be a need for one that protects the welfare of drivers in future, Dr Park said - especially if these third-party taxi app companies continue to expand. For example, there may be a need to ensure drivers are paid promptly by the taxi app companies if the payment is made through their system.

Dr Park also said that taxi operators may need to step up their game to update their own booking apps so that they can stay competitive. He added they could also consider entering into joint venture partnerships, like the way SMRT is working with Hailo.


One third-party taxi booking service provider, Uber, told Channel NewsAsia that it welcomes LTA's announcement. "Uber works with governments around the world to develop new regulatory frameworks that embrace innovation and new technologies that bring choice to riders, more opportunities for drivers and a higher quality transportation alternative to cities," said Mike Brown, Regional General Manager for Southeast Asia at Uber Technologies.

"Uber welcomes the LTA's announcement to introduce a new regulatory framework for third-party taxi booking apps; this is great news for residents and visitors to Singapore and especially for taxi drivers. We appreciate that the LTA has acknowledged the benefits our technology brings, and like Uber, is putting the interest and safety of consumers and drivers first."

In Singapore, Uber has three product options - uberX, uberExec and uberTAXI. For the first two products, it partners with fully licensed limousine or rental car companies, and these categories do not fall into the category of taxi drivers. In other markets, the company engages private drivers to offer rides to commuters.

GrabTaxi, meanwhile, said the regulations help to define the parameters within which taxi app services can operate. Its customers must specify their destination, but the company said it will tweak its app to comply with the regulations.

Mr Lim Kell Jay, general manager of GrabTaxi, said: "We do, however, encourage passengers to indicate the destination because that will encourage drivers to accept their jobs, particularly during a shift change."

Easy Taxi's Singapore managing director, Mr Jianggan Li, said he believes the framework will further level the playing field and encourage taxi-booking apps to be more competitive.

Mr Li also appreciated the LTA's engagement with industry players in designing the framework.

"Compared with local government regulations in the other countries Easy Taxi is present in, we believe that the framework set by LTA is among the most open and encouraging for such a new service, which genuinely provides convenience to consumers," Mr Li said.

A spokesperson from Hailo said its plan has always been to "constructively disrupt" Singapore's taxi booking and payment status quo through technology and partnership. He added it aims to innovate constructively within the current legal and regulatory framework.

LTA to launch new taxi app in mid-December this year
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 24 Nov 2014

Called Taxi-Taxi@SG, it will show the availability and location of taxis across the island and better match these taxis to commuters.

Through an integrated platform map, commuters can easily locate the number of available taxis near them, and broadcast their positions so taxi drivers can identify the exact locations of potential customers. Similarly, taxi drivers can make use of this app to cut down the time spent on the roads looking for customers.

The LTA has also updated its existing journey planner app with new features. The MyTransport.SG app (on IOS and Android platforms) will have an improved estimated time of arrival for buses.

The enhanced feature tracks a bus' location by the seconds and updates commuters by the minute. Commuters will also be able to know if there is seating or standing room available on the selected bus route arriving at the bus stop, said the LTA in a statement on Monday.

The LTA on Monday also took home the top prize in the Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology segment.

The awards honours organisations and companies here that have used infocommunications technology to achieve excellence, and is organised by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and the Singapore infocomm Technology Federation.

The transport regulator has, since 2012, used data analytics to look at the information stored in commuters' fare cards to understand the country's travel patterns and demands more.

Such detailed information allows LTA to quickly identify areas with a large number of passengers during peak hours and increase the number of buses in these areas.

LTA's chief executive Chew Men Leong said the data collected is translated into useful applications that can benefit commuters.

"By providing commuters with more meaningful and intuitive information, they will be able to make better decisions when they travel on buses and trains, and enjoy a smoother commuting experience," he said.

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