SINGAPORE: Private-hire car (PHC) drivers from ride-sourcing service operators such as Uber and Grab are now required to obtain a vocational licence under amendments to the Road Traffic Act (RTA) made in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 7).
The framework, first announced at the Ministry of Transport’s (MOT) Committee of Supply debate in 2016, will ensure the drivers are equipped with sufficient knowledge and skills to provide the service safely, said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng.
“For identification purposes, all chauffeur-driven PHCs must be affixed with tamper-evident decals issued by the LTA (Land Transport Authority) by the middle of this year,” he added. “Together with our existing rules that require PHCs to be licensed as public service vehicles and to have adequate insurance, these measures help LTA better enforce against errant drivers and vehicle owners.”
The amendments also give LTA the power to introduce and enforce other rules such as ensuring the service operators provide the authority with trip and other fleet-related data to help in transport planning functions.
Operators could be fined up to S$10,000 per offence. The Registrar of Vehicles can also issue a general suspension order barring all drivers from driving for an operator that has had three or more instances of their drivers committing major offences within a rolling 12-month period.
If a driver continues to drive for the operator during the suspension period, they could be fined up to S$2,000, imprisoned up to six months or both, depending on the number of offences. Their vocational licence could also be suspended or revoked.
“Our regulations are not overly onerous. Service operators like Uber and Grab will agree that these are necessary for the interest of commuters,” said Mr Ng.
PHCs VS TAXIS
Several members of the House aired their concerns over taxis having to compete on the same playing field as PHCs.
Mr Ng said the vocational licence framework will impose on PHC drivers the same demerit point system currently applied across taxi drivers. PHC drivers must also abide to a similar code of conduct and standards relating to cleanliness, dressing and more.
However, PHC booking service operators will continue to be exempt from licensing fees “for now”. Taxi companies will see their operating licence fees rise to 0.3 per cent of their gross revenue this year, up from 0.2 per cent in 2016.
“This light touch approach allows an industry which is still evolving to continue to innovate and benefit consumers while ensuring their safety,” Mr Ng explained. “It is appropriate for now, but we will continue to monitor closely and adjust as needed.”
He also clarified that taxi stands will remain solely for the use of taxis, along with the street hailing market.
Mr Ng was also asked if regulation would extend to ride-sharing and carpooling services such as GrabHitch and Schoolber. He said these should not be confused with PHC services.
“Our regulations allow a driver to use a private vehicle to give rides to others traveling to the same destination or in the same direction, and for the driver to collect a small fee on a cost recovery basis but not for profit,” Mr Ng noted. “This is different from a PHC service where the intent is for the driver to provide a ride as a source of income. Hence we don’t intend to regulate car-pooling.”
“If commuters intend to use these, they should assess for themselves their own comfort … in particular the chihuahua case,” he said, referring to a GrabHitch driver being suspended in December last year after his pet dog bit a passenger.
“Over-regulation of this budding initiative will most likely curtail growth … If they have reservations, they may want to use licensed taxis or PHC services or licensed school bus services.”
CRACKING DOWN ON TRAFFIC OFFENCES
Mr Ng also announced several amendments to update the penalties for offences under the RTA.
LTA can now turn back foreign-registered vehicles entering and exiting Singapore via the Tuas and Woodlands Checkpoints, if they have unpaid Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) fees, tolls, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) fees, Reciprocal Road Charges and more.
The penalties for reckless or dangerous driving have been increased from S$3,000 to S$5,000 for the first offence, and from S$5,000 to S$10,000 for the second or subsequent offence.
If a person fails to stop and report an accident that could have occurred due to his vehicle, he may be punished with both a fine and jail sentence.
Motorists driving without adequate insurance will no longer enjoy a time bar on prosecution - where LTA must prosecute within either three or six months, after which no prosecution can be made.
Singaporeans and Singapore permanent residents will no longer be allowed to keep or use foreign-registered vehicles in Singapore. In the past, they could do so simply by paying the requisite Additional Registration Fee.
The maximum composition sum for any RTA offence will also be increased from the current S$500 to 50 per cent of the maximum fine prescribed for the offence, or S$5,000, whichever is lower.