SINGAPORE: There will be a new licensing framework for private-hire car drivers come the first half of 2017, and updates to the existing Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL), announced Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng on Tuesday (Apr 12).
Mr Ng, during his speech in the ministry's Committee of Supply debate in Parliament, noted that there was a rise in taxi drivers taking bookings via apps. For instance, the number of pre-booked taxi trips has increased by 50 per cent over the last three years, with the bulk of this increase coming from bookings via apps.
He noted that this increase is in part because taxi companies here have improved their own booking apps, with smarter algorithms to more quickly and efficiently match commuters with drivers. Third-party apps have also helped to "aggregate supply and demand" at the industry-level, he added.
As a result, taxi drivers are earning more. On average, taxi drivers' nominal net earnings have increased continuously over the past three years, Mr Ng, who is also the Acting Education Minister, said.
Commuters, too, have benefited as there an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 drivers providing chauffeured services during peak hours. "This has effectively increased the supply of point-to-point transport services by about a third during these hours," he said.
PDVL REGULATORY FRAMEWORK
However, while the growth of such services has benefited commuters, there have been some speed bumps.
Mr Ng said the new competition has "understandably caused disquiet amongst some taxi drivers”. Thus, a new regulatory framework has to be in place to better protect commuters, and help the taxi industry adapt to the new environment. This led to a review of the private hire industry in October 2015, which he had spearheaded.
"With the growth of apps like Uber and Grab, some basic regulations are needed to ensure that the commuters' interests, particularly safety, are taken care of,” Mr Ng said.
"Hence, LTA will introduce a new Private Hire Car Driver Vocational Licencing (PDVL) framework. This framework ensures that drivers providing chauffeured services undergo sufficient training on safety and the regulations for providing such services."
Applicants will also undergo background screening, and be subject to a demerit point system - the Vocational Licence Points System - for errant conduct, like touting and soliciting street-hail jobs, he added.
MEDICAL, BACKGROUND CHECKS NEEDED
Elaborating, Mr Ng said that to earn a PDVL, applicants must go through a medical examination. They must be employed either as a driver in a limousine company, or be a registered owner of a chauffeured services company. Singaporeans have to be sole-proprietors, or employees of a car rental or chauffeur company.
These drivers must also have driven for at least two years, and must hold a Class 3/3A driving licence for at least two years prior to applying for a PDVL.
Applicants must attend and pass a 10-hour PDVL course, and go for a three-hour refresher course once every six years. Active drivers with no demerit points will be exempted, and so will drivers employed by limousine companies, if the companies' training programmes meet LTA's requirements.
Besides the PDVL, Mr Ng said that private hire cars must now be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Drivers must also display their PDVLs and a tamper-evident decal which cannot be re-used once it has been removed.
The Transport Ministry said this will assure commuters that the cars are indeed registered with LTA, and to strengthen enforcement efforts.
CHANGES TO TDVL TO REFLECT CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Mr Ng also said that most taxi drivers feel that the training curriculum for the existing TDVL should be updated. That is why the ministry is making changes to reflect changing industry practices and technology.
In the revised TDVL course, taxi drivers will be taught how to use tools such the Global Positioning System (GPS) and not just the traditional hardcopy street directory. The course will also be shortened - from 60 hours to 25 hours - and there are plans for more training to be taught online rather than in classrooms.
As for the refresher course taxi drivers must attend every six years, Mr Ng said this will be shortened to three and five hours, from the six- and nine-hour sessions. Good drivers who do not have any demerit points will also be exempted from having to attend the refresher course, he said.
"I hope this incentive can lead to better services which would ultimately benefit commuters," he added.
For those who wish to convert their TDVL to a PDVL, Mr Ng said a two-hour briefing is needed.
"The TDVL curriculum covers a substantial part of the PDVL curriculum,” he said. “Hence, we will make it easy for taxi drivers to convert their TDVL to a dual TDVL-PDVL licence. They will only need to undergo a short briefing on the chauffeured services industry and regulations unique to the industry. This will allow them to easily switch between taxi driving and providing chauffeured services using private hire cars."
The new TDVL course will be updated from May 2016, he said.