Now, they arbitrarily mandated that from January next year, all taxi operators must ensure that 70% of their drivers are on the roads during peak hours and taxi drivers must log in a minimum of 250km per day and progressively to 85% within 3 years or their fleet will stagnated.
But, will this new taxi rules boost taxi availability?
I don't think so.
Firstly, to taxi drivers who depend on their "money-making" machine for a livelihood, clocking 250km per day is "chicken feed". A driver needs only 3 hrs speeding at 80kmh to clock 240km. (albeit cruising empty at expressways).
Presently, most night shift taxi drivers doing a 10hrs shift are logging in at least 250km/shift and the day shift drivers too are logging in similar mileage. In total, a taxi with 2 drivers would easily does 500km/day or more.
All big taxi operators can testify that a vast majority of their drivers already surpassed the mandated 250kg/day standard. So, why get a child to take PSLE when he already got his "O" level?.
Secondly, all cab companies have no direct incentives to press for more mileages on their taxis, as doing so would increase their maintenance costs and bottom line. They are more interested to collect rental from cabbies with as big a fleet as they can muster and at minimum usage.
Thirdly, an extra 900 more cabs out of 28,000 (3.2%) on the road resulting from the new rule is like a drop in an ocean. Only the uninitiated public will be hook winked to believe it will increase taxi availability. Maybe, the minute minority of drivers who use their taxis for personal transport might have to change their driving schedules.
Finally, the new rule will mean more vehicles on the road with a corresponding environmental cost, but with no guarantee that the extra mileage will be occupied mileage. Cabby can always cruise empty.
LTA....wake up!. You've got your act wrong again!
Now, what measures do I think will increase taxi availability? Please allow me, an ordinary old taxi driver, to present my humble suggestions based on my seven years of observation and taxi driving experiences. I stand to be corrected and I welcome your comments.
Upfront, I wish to say that instead of punishing cabbies with disincentives if they don't meet quota, cabbies should be incentivised to pick fares as and when they appear. Cabbies will naturally drive when and to places where the yield is highest i.e. when and where surcharges applies. They also look forward to cab booking.
I think so long as this status-quo remains, it will be hard for taxi availability to improve meaningfully, as the majority of taxi drivers are into this trade for the money. It's perfectly natural and sensible.
Demand for taxis is never even throughout the day or places. There will always be peak demand at certain hours and places. I guess everyone is aware of this fact. If so, then the "treatment" should be targeted at the localized "tumor", not mandating radiation therapy for the whole body.
If the intent of the new rule is to eliminate "personal-use" taxi drivers, then its effective to a certain extent. But, the new rule will not put significantly more taxis on the roads at the right place and at the right time. Traffic congestion during peak hours also contribute to scarcity of taxis and longer waiting time.
From my experience, before the implementation of the longer evening peak hours surcharges from 6pm to 12 midnight (instead of 5pm to 8pm) a year ago, many taxis commuters in the CBD had difficulties in getting a cab. Now, getting a cab in the CBD is much easier because more cabs are attracted to this area due to the extended hours of $3 surcharge. Therefore, taxi availability in CBD had improved significantly. So, pricing mechanism did help to bring supply to meet demand.
But, there are still plentiful of complaints of non-availability of cabs at some areas. If I'm not wrong, these complaints are mainly from commuters at the fringes of CBD, where surcharge is not applicable. I'm sure LTA knows this fact.
As I said earlier, cabbies are naturally attracted to pick fares at areas with surcharges and commuters at fringes of CBD, like Orchard Towers, HarbourFront, Havelock, Little India, Beach Road..etc...etc...are avoided, although its illegal to do so. LTA enforcements to nap errant cabbies are not very effective.
An immediate solution to this perennial problem is to expand the radius of the CBD to include these hotspots that has lots of complaining commuters. Many hotels, shopping malls and tourists attractions are in the fringes of CBD. Physical relocation of ERP gantries is cost prohibitive but with modern technology, the GPS system in taxis can be tweeted to apply the surcharge for these additional hotspots. Similarly, the many hotspots during the day, especially during the morning peak hours in housing estates can be included.
Another solution to improve taxi availability is to allow a real time bidding for taxis, where the highest bidder gets the ride. Mr. Tan Kim Lian (ex-presidential candidate) had such a system in hand (Here).
A more drastic solution is to remove all surcharges and implement a pricey three separate fare structure for peak, non-peak and midnight period across the island.
For example: For Non-peak hour : S1.50 per kilometer,
For Peak Hour: $2.00 per kilometer,
Midnight: $3 per kilometer.
Flag-down prices remain unchanged. Over time, demand for cab will fall drastically and taxi population will drop too, resulting in less pollution and traffic congestion on all roads.
Freelancing taxi drivers and "fringes" commuters will be eliminated. Taxi commuting will become a premium mode of transport for those who can afford it or are willing to pay for it, like in New York, London or Tokyo.
Redundant taxi drivers can become bus drivers to mitigate various problems from PRC bus drivers and commuters can help themselves to the much cheaper and efficient bus and MRT services.
Honestly, I hope such a day will not come. So far, nobody has come out with any satisfactory solutions to solve the taxi availability dilemma, as the trade-off are difficult ones.
Now, in fairness to LTA, they had also done a few good things for taxi drivers like:
1. Allow taxis to pick & drop passengers at more places inside CBD
2. An online portal will be set up next year to match hirer with relief drivers.
3. A $20 discount on vocational licence renewal fee.
For the benefits of both the taxi drivers and commuters alike, I hope LTA could relax the following stone cast rules.
1. Waive all ERP charges for taxis.
2. Allow taxis to travel, pick and drop passengers in all bus lanes outside CBD areas.
3. Match-make regular taxi commuters with drivers at LTA's online portal.
I know I'm hoping for miracles to happen.