Sunday, 4 October 2015

Government to review private car-sharing apps such as uberX: Khaw Boon Wan

By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2015

The Government will be reviewing private car hire services such as uberX to study if they have been competing unfairly with taxis.

Announcing this on his blog yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that during the general election, he received feedback from "quite a number" of taxi drivers who said uberX is unfair.

Mr Khaw said he has asked Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng to conduct the study, consult taxi drivers and the public, and find a fair solution.

"While taxi drivers welcome competition, they demand that the playing field be level. I think our taxi drivers have a point," Mr Khaw wrote. "The Ministry of Transport will study this, and where justified, we shall level the playing field."

uberX, a saloon car chauffeur service that can be booked via the Uber app, has drawn controversy in Singapore and elsewhere as its drivers do not have to possess vocational licences, unlike taxi drivers.

uberX fares are priced similarly to taxis. Uber also offers taxi bookings under UberTaxi.

In June, the Land Transport Authority said it was mulling over vocational licensing for private chauffeur drivers, including those from uberX and GrabTaxi's GrabCar.

In his post, Mr Khaw noted that transport apps help link surplus supply with demand, "leading to better resource utilisation and consumer welfare". Cabbies have seen their business improve through UberTaxi, but services like uberX warranted a review, he said.

"Our instinct must be to flow with the time, keep an open mind to innovations. But we must always be fair to players, whether incumbent or insurgents, and strike a balanced approach," he said.

When asked, SIM University Adjunct Associate Professor Park Byung Joon said that a review is needed, as the boundaries between private-hire cars and taxis are now blurred.

"From the perspective of the private car hire business, Uber is legal. But if we look at it from a taxi (regulatory) framework, it is frowned upon," said the transport expert.

Framework needed for third-party taxi apps in Singapore: Ang Hin Kee
Taxi body's exec adviser says package of policies could level playing field for cabbies
By Danson Cheong and Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 5 Oct 2015

The National Taxi Association's executive adviser hopes to see a set of operating procedures or a framework that governs how third-party taxi-booking apps and their private-hire drivers operate, to level the playing field between them and taxi drivers.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, told The Straits Times this on Sunday (Oct 4), in response to a blog post by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.

The Land Transport Authority is studying whether to make private-hire drivers get vocational licences, but Mr Ang noted that that might not be the eventual decision taken by the Government. Rather, the solution could come from "a package of policies", he said.

He said commuters needed to know whether they would be covered by insurance in the event of accidents, and should have avenues for disputing charges and unsatisfactory service.

Said Mr Ang: "We've already assembled some info and comments from taxi drivers, so the first thing to do is try and organise a dialogue with Mr Ng (Chee Meng) and share with him the concerns that have been raised."

Last Friday, Mr Khaw blogged that he had tasked Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng to study if private-hire drivers had an unfair advantage over taxi drivers since they "do not need a vocational licence".

This was after he had received feedback from taxi drivers that "uberX is unfair". His ministry would "where justified... level the playing field", he wrote. uberX is a private-hire chauffeur service that can be booked via the Uber app.

Taxi driver Jaya Ananda, 64, points out that these private-hire drivers are not subject to the same requirements as cabbies.

For instance, he has seen foreigners sign up with Uber, when only Singaporeans can hold vocational taxi driver licences. The taxi industry should remain a protected one for Singaporeans, he added.

Mobile apps for on-demand private-hire services such as Uber and GrabCar have grown in popularity in recent years as an alternative to conventional taxis.

In a statement, an Uber spokesman said it was looking forward to continuing its ongoing dialogue with the Government. "Uber has helped thousands of Singaporeans... become thriving driver entrepreneurs using our platform," he said.

Uber drivers said it would be unfair if they were regulated as they were not strictly offering a taxi service. "If we have to get vocational licences, but they allow us to pick up street hires - then I think it would be fair," said Mr Ken Wong, 30.

Another Uber driver, Mr S.K. Low, 54, said he did not think there was a "conflict of interest between Uber services and taxis".

"We cannot take street hires, neither can we go to taxi stands and tout. We rely completely on the app - it's a willing buyer, willing seller situation," he said.

Mr Low added that if anything, the Government could study how to make pricing more even. He estimated that uberX is about 20 per cent cheaper than taxis, but this meant drivers like him had meagre takings and had to work long hours.

Meanwhile, consumers cautioned against a heavy-handed approach, with many saying online that these third-party apps should not be unfairly penalised.

"If people are going to Uber, it means that the Uber business model is better. So why is the Government trying to help (the taxi operators) when they should be trying to improve their business model?" said financial analyst Dez Tan, 29.

Recruiter April Hoon, 27, pointed out that these apps both created jobs for drivers and provided options for commuters.

National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng reckons what is really needed is an one-stop taxi-booking platform that aggregates both third party and taxi services. Calling it a "white knight" solution, Professor Lee said: "Commuters can just go to this app, see all the choices available to them, and then make a decision."

Offering car rides for a fee? Ensure insurance cover
Private car insurance policies limit usage of vehicle to social, domestic, pleasure purposes
By Lorna Tan, Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Oct 2015

Motorists using their vehicles for private car hire services such as UberX have been advised by the General Insurance Association (GIA) to get the necessary motor insurance coverage, to avoid potential financial loss.

Private car insurance policies contain a "limitation to use" condition that restricts usage of the vehicle to "social, domestic and pleasure" purposes.

This means that if the vehicle is used for "hire or reward", such as ferrying passengers for a fee, the insurer is entitled to void the policy on account of breach of warranty, and the policyholder could be denied cover.

In the event of an accident, the insurer will not be liable to pay for damage to the insured vehicle, damage to third-party property, or bodily injury resulting from the accident.

Mr Derek Teo, GIA's executive director, said the association has observed a rising use of passenger vehicles by motor policyholders for "hire and reward", that is, for ferrying passengers in return for a fare.

"While GIA neither supports nor disagrees with the rise of private car hire services, motorists need to be aware that their private car insurance policies have a 'limitation to use' condition, which limits usage to social, domestic and pleasure purposes," said Mr Teo.

Do you use your private car for services like Uber and GrabTaxi? You might not be properly insured, says the General...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Car passengers ferried for a fare are protected under the Motor Vehicle (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Act, which disallows an insurer from denying compensation to claimants for third-party bodily injury.

It is compulsory in Singapore for motorists to buy insurance cover for the death or bodily injury to third parties, including passengers.

The same Act also allows the insurer to recover the compensation paid to the third party from the policyholder of the vehicle if his plan is limited to social, domestic and pleasure usage.

"As most cases of injury claims tend to be of substantial amounts, a policyholder will suffer heavy financial loss if not covered by an expanded motor insurance policy," cautioned Mr Teo.

Motorists who wish to expand the "limitation to use" or the "social, domestic and pleasure" restriction clause are advised to approach insurers to check on their policy's cover and pay an extra premium.

According to GIA, its member insurers are prepared to expand this limitation to allow the insured vehicle to be used for "hire and reward".

A check with Uber Singapore shows that it is compulsory for Uber drivers to have commercial vehicle insurance. Such insurance is typically issued to cover the use of vehicles relating to businesses. For instance, taxis here are insured under commercial vehicle cover.

* Review of private-hire services: Taxi association submits proposals
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2015

The National Taxi Association (NTA) has submitted a list of recommendations for the Government's ongoing review of private-car hire services such as Uber and GrabCar.

In a four-page letter to Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng yesterday, the NTA called for three areas to be studied: the safety and security of passengers, fair competition between transport providers, and greater efficiency in meeting taxi demand.

The letter, signed by NTA executive adviser Ang Hin Kee, came after dialogues with more than 300 cabbies. Last month, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said private-car hire apps will be reviewed, after feedback from cabbies that these services were not competing on a level playing field. He appointed Mr Ng to look into it.

In an update on Facebook, Mr Ng said he met NTA leaders last month and also spoke to more taxi drivers yesterday. In the coming months, he will be meeting commuters and private-hire drivers.

He said of the letter: "I am glad that NTA is looking beyond the taxi industry, and has even recommended how we can improve the safety and service quality of the private- hire car industry."

I met with leaders from the National Taxi Association (NTA) last month to understand the concerns of taxi drivers. Their...
Posted by Ng Chee Meng 黄志明 on Monday, November 16, 2015

Among the issues raised, the NTA has called for drivers of both taxis and private-hire cars to be similarly certified and qualified.

The NTA pointed out that cabbies have to take a 60-hour vocational course and also undergo regular medical checks, among various requirements.

The association also called for private-hire vehicles to be identifiable, similar to taxis, and for their drivers to have a photo identification to ensure commuters' safety.

While commuters involved in disputes with cabbies can approach the Land Transport Authority (LTA) or taxi operators for recourse, the NTA said it is "currently unclear" which party commuters in private-car hires can make claims from - the app providers, the drivers or the car leasing firms.

Another issue the NTA raised was the need for fair competition.

It said taxi operators are subject to a "plethora of compliance costs", which translate into higher rental costs for cabbies and charges for consumers. Taxis, for example, have a shelf life of eight years and have to go for inspections every six months. The NTA called for the Ministry of Transport to review the standards imposed, and for greater parity with private-hire cars.

The association also pointed out that taxi operators had to adhere to a fixed schedule of charges as set out by the LTA, but private-car hire services are not bound by this.

Posted by Gizmodo on Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Regulate Uber and GrabCar with a light touch
This will even the playing field and protect passengers, without hindering the progress of technology
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Jan 2016

Ride-sharing app companies Uber and GrabCar face the prospect of greater controls in Singapore; not just the companies but also their drivers.

A Ministry of Transport (MOT) review is under way, raising the possibility of some form of regulation by year end.

The ministry has so far held dialogues with commuters, taxi drivers and the National Taxi Association (NTA), an affiliate of the powerful National Trades Union Congress.

Details of the review are still sketchy. Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng, who is heading the review, has said that he has three priorities - ensuring that commuters' interests are taken care of, promoting healthy competition and levelling the playing field for taxi drivers where justified.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also said, when he announced the review in October, that it is important to be fair to both the incumbents and new players, and to take a balanced approach.

But how fairness and balance are put into practice is still up in the air.

"To commuters, taking away the convenience, better services and occasional lower fares that Uber and GrabTaxi provide will be seen as a step backwards. It is a no-go zone."
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, January 13, 2016


For taxi companies, being fair means holding Uber and GrabCar to the same regulatory standards.

Industry giant ComfortDelGro has refrained from making public comments on these upstarts, but smaller players have been more vocal. In October, the managing director of Premier Taxis memorably said of its ride-sharing rivals: "They're having a free lunch."

NTA chief Ang Hin Kee, an MP who is part of the labour movement, also sounded mildly annoyed in May when he spoke in Parliament about ride-sharing drivers. "For all intents and purposes, what they are basically doing is to operate like taxi drivers without having to comply with any of the regulations," he said.

To commuters, taking away the convenience, better services and occasional lower fares that Uber and GrabCar provide will be seen as a step backwards. It is a no-go zone.

The MOT will have a trying time balancing these competing demands. Still, it can focus its review on three key areas.


First, it has to take a hard look at how these companies actually operate, not just how they say they operate.

Uber and GrabCar see themselves not as transport companies but tech start-ups that match passengers with drivers.

So far, they have not run foul of the law here, primarily because they have found ways to work within regulations that have not kept up with technological advances.

Still, it is difficult not to see Uber and GrabCar as providing some form of taxi-like or chauffeured vehicle services. Uber even has its own car rental arm here.

Just ask the passengers who book Uber or GrabCar rides. In all likelihood, they will say that they are using Uber or GrabCar services, not those provided by the so-and-so limousine companies that Uber and GrabCar require their drivers to set up. Passengers also make payments to Uber, which takes a 20 per cent cut, not the drivers or their shell companies.

Since chauffeured vehicle services are already regulated in Singapore, it makes sense to extend and update the regulations since the use of such services has exploded with Uber and GrabCar.


Any update of the regulations ought to also examine how fares are set by Uber and GrabCar. This is the second area that the MOT should review.

As a commuter, I am thankful that Uber and GrabCar drivers ply the roads during peak hours where their services are most needed. But I am less enamoured of the surge in fares during peak hours.

GrabCar says on its website that its displayed fares include "peak and location surcharges" that are "supply and time dependent", but it does not say how the extra charges are calculated.

Similarly, Uber does not reveal the mathematics behind how it sets the formula by which fares are multiplied. Just past the stroke of midnight on Jan 1, Uber applied a surge factor of twice the normal fares across Singapore, whether a car is booked for pick up at the cemetery at Lim Chu Kang Road or the nightspots at Clarke Quay.

The demand at nightspots, I understand. But how the demand for Uber cars at the Lim Chu Kang cemetery can be so high at that time for fares to double escapes me.

The lack in transparency in setting fares runs the risk of the companies setting prices that hurt competition and commuters' interests.

While the authorities should not interfere with market forces, they cannot turn a blind eye when companies have the power to set and control prices for their own gain.

Do you know that Uber takes a 20% commission from their drivers? How much do fares differ between a regular taxi, Uber...
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, January 2, 2016


Besides how Uber and GrabCar operate and how they set fares, the third area that the MOT has to examine is how drivers are screened. The safety of passengers is at stake.

When I signed up to be a driver at Uber and GrabCar in November last year, I was surprised by how swiftly I was accepted.

All it took was two hours at their offices.

And the 30-minute training they put me through was so superficial that it was largely forgettable - the trainers mostly ran through the steps of using the apps and highlighted the incentives for drivers.

While both companies screen their drivers, the exact scope of the screening is unclear.

For taxis, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) screens hopeful drivers for criminal records, and those with serious offences will not have their applications approved.

Are Uber and GrabCar drivers screened this way?

I know of a former cabby who said that he lost his taxi driving licence but was able to drive for both Uber and GrabCar. This calls into question the robustness of background checks.

As a passenger, I have met my share of bad drivers. In September last year, an Uber driver would not drop me off at the departure gates at Changi Airport Terminal 2, saying that he would drop me off at the carpark instead, about 250m from my check-in row. Last month, another Uber driver would not ferry me and a colleague after we got into his car at VivoCity, claiming that the booking had been cancelled.

If they were licensed taxi drivers, they would have breached LTA rules and would have faced demerit points, fines or even having their licences suspended.

But because they were unregulated, they got away with nothing more than a poor rating.

In this sense, the calls for Uber and GrabCar drivers to be put through some form of vocational licensing are not unreasonable.

Such licensing gives a degree of assurance to passengers that their drivers have been screened by the authorities, not just the companies, and that their behaviour is governed by some standard rules and not just an internal customer satisfaction rating system.

When applied uniformly and fairly, vocational licensing will not deprive serious-minded Uber and GrabCar drivers of their livelihood. Instead, it can boost their long-term credibility and standing.

That said, the current compulsory two-week taxi drivers' training course is so outdated that it should not be applied without modification to Uber and GrabCar drivers.

When I took the course in 2013, half my time was spent on using the street directory to look for landmarks and plan routes. The trainer even chided me for using Google Maps. The LTA should use the opportunity to review the training for taxi drivers.


Uber and GrabCar are shaking up the taxi industry, but not in a totally undesirable way.

They have got their incentives structured correctly by using the carrot to coax drivers to drive during peak hours. This is in contrast with LTA which uses the stick by setting minimum distances and hours that cabbies have to be on the road, and slapping fines on taxi companies that do not meet the standards.

They also turned the heat on taxi companies and drivers, who then have to up their game, be it in lowering fares or raising service standards. And they are here to stay. Uber has shown a keenness to work with the authorities, and GrabCar has even found an investor in a venture capitalist firm owned by Temasek Holdings.

In this sense, their presence is a welcome one. All that is needed is regulation with a light touch to even the playing field and protect passengers, but without hindering the progress of technology or stifling innovation.

** GrabCar, Uber drivers may need vocational licence soon
Authorities also studying clearer markings on cars being used to pick up passengers
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 17 Mar 2016

Private-car hire drivers operating under Uber and GrabCar may soon be required to have a vocational licence, under regulations expected to be announced next month.

A proposed training programme lasting at least 10 hours - shorter than the 60-hour taxi driver vocational licence (TDVL) course - is being considered by the authorities for these private chauffeurs, sources told The Straits Times.

The licensing requirement, which follows a review that started last October, is expected to be announced by the Ministry of Transport next month during the Budget debate.

There will be a "phase-in" period to allow drivers time to go for the vocational course, said industry sources who requested anonymity. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of private-car hire drivers here.

Course credits attained during the proposed vocational training could also be used for the TDVL, should the drivers want to become cabbies.

A proposed training programme lasting at least 10 hours is being considered, sources said. The authorities are also looking into clearer markings on cars being used to pick up passengers.
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Besides vocational licensing, sources said, the authorities are mulling over clearer markings on cars being used to pick up passengers. This could be through decals pasted on these vehicles to identify them.

Asked about the upcoming regulations, the Land Transport Authority said only that it was finalising the review. "More details will be made known in the coming weeks," a spokesman said.

With a regulatory framework, Singapore will join other countries, such as the Philippines and Australia, which are moving towards regulating an industry that has come under heat worldwide for allegedly competing unfairly with taxis.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan had said in October that, where justified, the Government would "level the playing field" between taxis and private-car hire services.

The head of Grab Singapore, Mr Lim Kell Jay, said vocational licensing can serve as an "added assurance" to commuters.

He said the company does its own screening in the form of "background checks, in-person registration, induction training as well as vehicle inspections".

Uber's general manager in Singapore, Mr Warren Tseng, said he was "hopeful of a positive outcome" to the review - one that will ensure drivers can continue to have flexible work opportunities, and commuters, reliable transportation options.

Private-car hire driver James Koh, 53, said if vocational licences become a requirement, part-timers may find it a hassle and stop driving. "We have been operating for so long without problems, I find it strange that we need to have a licence," he said.

However, National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der Horng said regulations actually benefit private-car hire services by legitimising them.

He said services like Uber and GrabCar should also disclose data on their platforms with the Government, as taxi operators do.

"The Government can have full visibility of how many vehicles are on the roads on a day-to-day basis, and how much mileage is clocked.

"By being better informed, policies can be adjusted to help solve transportation issues in Singapore, for example, by putting more taxis or private cars for hire on the roads."


No comments:

Post a Comment