4 area of improvement in the Private-Hire System

Issue 1 – Private-car Driver Vocational Licence’s requirement- Young and Dangerous

Age- Drivers are too young and inexperienced for the road – Having 2 years of driving licence is not equal to 2 years of driving experience. 3 fatal accidents, latest being driver was only 22 years old.

In a Strait Times article dated January 28, 2017, it was reported that the largest car leasing company for private-hire vehicles had more than 2100 accidents and more than $10 million in claims.

Nationalities

Unlike Taxi which is reserved primarily for Singaporeans, private-hire is open to permanent residents and foreigners. Many permanent residents and foreigners on work pass moonlighting have limited knowledge of roads and landmarks in Singapore. Having poor knowledge of the road is a road hazard as drivers would have to make last minute decisions and in turn, endanger other road users.

Banned

Many private-hire drivers were removed from the system when they did not receive their Approval-to-Drive or IPA from LTA before 1 July 2017. Many of those that did not clear the background checks were due to past criminal records in the ‘last few years’ There was no specific timeframe as to how long would these drivers need to ‘sit-out’ before they are cleared for application.

The taxi-stand situation

The taxi-stand issue was raised and heatedly debated among private-hire and taxi drivers when a Taxi Company asked their driver to sabo private-hire vehicles that pick-up and drop off riders at taxi stands

The exponential growth of Private-hire vehicles has made it outnumber taxis by 1.5 times and we conclude that the number of completed private-hire trips greatly outnumber traditional taxi trips

Taxi stands were built and named in a time where there is no such thing as private-hire.

It does not make sense that taxis, with a much smaller population, are given the privileges to pick-up and drop-off at designated taxi stands while private-hire are prohibited.

If Drivers are not allowed to pick-up Riders at taxi stands, where else do you expect the Rider to wait

Inadequate and outdated training structure

The Private car Driver Vocational Licence course’s syllabus is similar to that of the Taxi Driver Vocational Licence course (TDVL). The only difference is that TDVL has a route planning module that the PDVL does not. Having a route planning module has become irrelevant in modern day as GPS is readily available and textbook training does not take into real-time road conditions.

Holders of the Taxi Vocational Licence are allowed to drive both taxi and private-hire. However, PDVL holders are only allowed to operate private-hire service. Why restrict PDVL licence holder restricted to only private-hire service when both syllabus are very similar.

Many PDVL holders have sounded out the toughest part of the PDVL assessment was the demerit point system. Trainee were required to memorize the monetary penalty and demerit point that a driver would be subjected to when they break the rules. Why should the focus be on the punishment instead of equipping trainees with knowledge to carry out their work more professionally.

Unfair and unsafe practice

The child seat rule has caused quite a stir between private-hire drivers and riders as drivers are not allowed to pick riders below the height of 1.35m without an approved child seat.

Taxis are exempted from this rule

Why

LTA’s reason for taxi exemption –

Taxis are exempted from this rule because they can be street-hailed. Hence, it would not be reasonable to expect them to be equipped with booster seats and child restraints at all times, or to reject passengers with infants or children.

In comparison, private hire cars, which must be pre-booked, allows passengers to indicate if they require booster seats or child restraints at the point of booking. This gives private hire car drivers sufficient advance notice to prepare accordingly. 

The reason for Taxi’s exemption does not make sense!

  1. Ample time for a private-hire car to prepare – The time taken for a rider to book a private-hire car with a mobile application can be much faster than flagging down a taxi especially so during peak hours. Riders generally expect private hire drivers to pick them up on demand. Mobile booking applications also assign concurrent ride bookings to Driver, which effectively means Driver has even lesser downtime to install/remove booster seats/ child restraint.  It is inaccurate to say that private-hire drivers have sufficient notice to prepare accordingly.
  2. Many taxi drivers also take bookings via JustGrab and UberTaxi. Should they also be subjected to similar rules when they accept bookings via Uber and Grab since LTA says that rider will indicate upfront whether booster seats or child restraints at the point of booking and that will give sufficient advance notice to prepare?
  3. LTA says the approach strikes a balance between practicality and ensuring that the safety of our children is not compromised. Where is the balance? When there is no child seat or restraint installed on a Taxi, every child is at risk. They would not be safe from accidents just because they are in a Taxi. The risk of meeting with an accident is similar be it in a Taxi or a private-hire vehicle.

Level the playing field for the good of everyone

  1. Adopt a common child seat rule across all taxi and private-hire. Educate all service providers and riders that child seat is required by law.
  2. Consider the operating nature of private-hire vehicle. Remove the need of child seat in private-hire vehicles

The framework for the vocational licence is deeply flawed and does not address many underlying problems that the new private-hire industry faces.

The governing body has a misguided impression of this brand new industry. Their impression is that private-hire operates like a premium limousine booking service characterised by a small number of trips, personalised service and high fares.

However, most private-hire vehicles operate under the economy service category, which is similar to the operating model of a Taxi.

Imposing all these restrictions on private-hire is impractical for both drivers and riders. Changes need to be made through a thorough consultation with the right industry experts.