SINGAPORE: The National Taxi Association (NTA) and transport apps Grab and Uber have released statements in response to changes to the licensing frameworks for private hire car drivers and taxi drivers, as announced by Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng during the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament on Tuesday (Apr 12).
"We view these regulations as an endorsement of private hire cars and a positive development for the industry as a whole," said Grab.
During his speech, Mr Ng announced that there would be a new Private Hire Car Driver Vocational Licencing (PDVL) framework in place by the first half of 2017. This framework requires that drivers providing chauffeured services undergo sufficient training on safety and the regulations, as well as medical and background checks.
He also said there would be updates to the existing Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL), such as including training for taxi drivers to use tools like the Global Positioning System (GPS) and shortening the duration of refresher courses from six- to nine- hour sessions to between three and five hours.
In separate statements on Tuesday, Grab and Uber - which both offer private hire car services - said they supported the new regulations, while NTA said more could be done to level the playing field between taxi drivers and private hire services.
GRAB, UBER EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR NEW RULES
Ride-hailing service provider Grab said it was in favour of regulations that complement its "robust driver registration, training and ratings and vehicle inspection framework" to drive the transport industry forward in safety and accessibility.
"We commend the Singapore Government’s willingness to embrace innovation and build Singapore as a Smart Nation," it said, adding that the company had been working closely with the Ministry of Transport (MOT) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) since it began operations in Singapore.
"Grab is aligned with the MOT’s and LTA’s efforts to create a sustainable transportation ecosystem where private hire vehicles are a trusted and reliable transport option and co-exist with taxis, benefiting and protecting both passengers and drivers' interests," it said in the statement.
It added that many of the requirements announced by Mr Ng complemented the company's existing practices and "strict driver code of conduct". In addition, it said the PDVL will enable Grab to reduce its operational costs in enforcing background and medical checks, and instead focus its training on delivering a better ride experience and service standards.
As the passenger demand for ride-hailing services and alternative transport options continues to grow, Grab said it would make sure that its drivers receive "the fullest support they can get from us during this transition period".
Fellow ride-hailing app Uber's general manager Warren Tseng also said the company was "pleased" that the Government had "adopted many of our existing world-class safety standards in these new regulations", such as pre-screening and robust driver skills training.
Mr Tseng added that the measures continued to put safety first, which was "the single most important thing" for the company.
'BOLDER STEPS' REQUIRED FOR FAIR COMPETITION: NTA
Meanwhile, NTA said it was "glad" that MOT had "acknowledged the safety and security concerns of commuters with regard to private hire services", by including its suggestions for private-hire drivers to be registered with LTA for criminal and background checks in the PDVL framework.
Its suggestions that private hire drivers be required to go possess vocational licenses and have clear markings on private hire vehicles had also be included, it noted.
However, the association stated that "bolder steps" were needed to level the playing field between taxi drivers and private hire services in areas of cost and pricing.
The association said compliance requirements such as insurance coverage and emission standards were imposed on taxi operators, adding to the costs of operating a taxi fleet. These costs are passed on to taxi drivers and in turn to commuters, it said.
NTA urged MOT to "go further" to review these rules to level the playing field between taxi drivers and private hire services in terms of cost structure and pricing flexibility.
It requested that MOT allow taxi operators to dynamically change their pricing according to market demand and supply, and remove "unecessary rules" such as the 250km daily minimum mileage required of taxi vehicles.
It also asked for the harmonisation of service quality standards for taxis and private hire services such as by using new technology like third-party apps and direct user reviews.
On top of the proposed framework, NTA said commuters should be protected with a "clear and transparent" accountability system by private hire services so there is recourse in the event of accidents and disputes.
"All in all, this would help encourage optimal usage of our taxi and private hire fleets," NTA said.