SINGAPORE: Uber and Grab on Thursday (Mar 9) welcomed the new Private Hire Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL) regulations, describing them as a “step in the right direction” and a “validation” of the private-hire business model.
Applications for the licence open on Monday and ahead of that, the companies have announced several measures designed to speed up the application processes, which includes a medical examination and background check.
For Uber, it is about putting its drivers in the "Fastlane" - a new programme designed to expedite the PDVL application process. This means covering the application costs and setting up a one-stop centre to help drivers with their medical checks and paperwork, among other things.
Uber said there will be doctors on-site at its office in Paya Lebar starting next week.
"Ultimately it's about speed in getting these drivers through the process, as low cost and as seamlessly and as quickly as possible,” Uber Singapore’s general manager, Warren Tseng, told Channel NewsAsia on Thursday.
"If an individual wants to go through the process on their own, it could take anything up to six to eight weeks to get fully licensed and additionally, it might cost them up to S$350 for their application fees for their health checks, as well as the tuition fees for the training programme,” he said.
The Fastlane programme, which has been months in the making and developed based on focus groups and surveys with drivers, aims to cut this down to two to three weeks.
Uber’s rival, Grab, said it will also help to defray all PDVL charges for its drivers, including the S$40 application fee, training, medical fees, test fees and other charges. It said it will invest S$10 million to help existing drivers obtain PDVLs.
Speaking at an event on Thursday, head of Grab Singapore Lim Kell Jay said its online PDVL application portal will help drivers with their applications and automated reminders will be sent to drivers to renew their PDVL or commercial insurance policies when they are about to expire.
To ensure only licensed Grab drivers can accept passenger bookings, drivers will be required to verify their profiles through in-app biometric or facial recognition features from mid-2017. Uber is also set to explore facial recognition technology for its drivers.
Out of the S$10 million Grab will be investing, S$2 million will be used to build a driver support network of old and new drivers, with cash prizes for those who achieve certain objectives.
"Where we're going to invest this S$10 million is really across the whole life cycle of the driver,” Mr Lim told Channel NewsAsia on Thursday.
The company said it will also start Medisave contributions for certain drivers. "The Medisave contribution came about from our consultation with the National Private Hire Vehicles Association,” Mr Lim said. “Through the Medisave programme, we will be contributing up to S$200 for our most active drivers and up to S$100 per month for the other active drivers who drive more than 80 trips a week."
By “most active drivers”, Grab means drivers who clock more than 80 trips per week and who "provide exceptional service". Channel NewsAsia understands that driver ratings are part of the criteria.
Asked if Uber would do the same and contribute to Medisave, Mr Tseng said that “it's something we'll look at”.
“We're constantly thinking of different ways to help driver partners ensure they continue to get really solid earnings opportunities,” he added. “And different types of medical arrangements are something we're exploring as well."
But one concern is whether the new rules will deter part-time drivers. Channel NewsAsia understands that about 43 per cent of Uber’s drivers are part-timers, and for Grab, they make up a minority of its pool. Both companies were tight-lipped on actual figures, but they acknowledged that numbers may dip following the regulations.
"With the PDVL regulations coming into force, we do expect some drop-off particularly on the infrequent drivers,” Mr Lim said. He added that the company’s social car-pooling service GrabHitch was an alternative for casual drivers.
"As we move on from this, we will continue to monitor the situation,” Mr Lim said. “And we will invest if we need to."
“We're still working very closely with the LTA (Land Transport Authority) to modernise the requirements and the regulations,” Mr Tseng said.” For instance, how do we apply e-learning to the curriculum? Do drivers really need to go to the classroom to get this training?”
The National Taxi Association, which has previously lobbied for equal requirements for both private hire and taxi drivers, also welcomed the regulations.
NTA executive advisor Ang Hin Kee told Channel NewsAsia that the PDVL “levels the playing field, and also continues to send the signal that we are a safe and very positive environment”.
But he asked if more could be done for the taxi industry - for example, doing away with certain quality standards for taxi operators, like meeting a certain call rate.
“They have to respond to certain accident rates, certain telephone calls - how many rings before you pick up … so some of these rules may have to be reviewed, they seem a bit obsolete," he said.
Mr Ang added that a minimum age for private hire drivers could be explored. Currently, the minimum age for taxi drivers is 30.