SINGAPORE: Taxi giant ComfortDelGro will launch a trial of a new ride-hailing service next month, the firm announced on Thursday (Jan 28).
The new service, which will roll out on Feb 4, will involve “a small number of private hire cars” and is aimed at supplementing its taxi fleet, said ComfortDelGro in a media release.
“Upon completion of the beta trial, which is expected to run into March 2021, the company will assess the response to the service and gradually open it up to more private hire car drivers,” it added.
ComfortDelGro is Singapore’s largest taxi company, operating about 60 per cent of the cabs in the country under the Comfort and CityCab brands.
The company has seen its taxi numbers fall in recent years - from about 17,000 in 2016 to 9,551 as of November last year - in tandem with the rise in popularity of ride-hail services such as Grab.
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In October last year, ComfortDelGro was one of four firms awarded a three-year ride-hailing service operator licence under the new Point-to-Point (P2P) Passenger Transport Industry Act.
The licence allows ComfortDelGro to provide ride-hail services through both taxis and private hire cars, said a Land Transport Authority spokesperson in response to queries from CNA.
ComfortDelGro also holds a street-hail service operator licence, which allows it to continue operating metered, street-hail taxis.
The company had made an earlier foray into the ride-hail market when it partnered with ride-hailing giant Uber in late 2017, in a deal that allowed ComfortDelGro taxis to be booked through the American firm’s app.
The partnership - which would have seen ComfortDelGro take a 51 per cent stake in car rental firm Lion City Rentals, which was then an Uber subsidiary - fell through when Grab announced it was acquiring Uber’s business in Southeast Asia.
ComfortDelGro also rents out private-hire vehicles through its car rental business.
TWO OPTIONS FOR COMMUTERS
The new ride-hail service will only be available via the ComfortRide option on ComfortDelGro’s mobile app, the company said.
Passengers will have the choice of being served by taxis alone, or either a taxi or private-hire car - similar to the JustGrab option on rival Grab’s mobile app.
Only in-app cashless payments will be accepted for the ride-hailing option, ComfortDelGro said, adding that there are no administrative fees for payments via credit or debit cards, or other cashless payment modes.
Passengers who hail a taxi would usually have to pay such a fee - costing 10 per cent of the fare - when paying via credit or debit card.
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The company added that it would be recruiting a “small group” of private-hire drivers for the trial to collect feedback, adding that it would gradually invite more drivers as demand grows.
"We will be conducting the beta trial with 25 private hire car drivers and will review as we go along," said ComfortDelGro group chief corporate communications officer Tammy Tan in a reply to queries by CNA.
"The fare structure for the ride-hailing service follows that of our current ComfortRIDE fare structure now."
The taxi operator said the commission fee for such booking jobs will be “lower than the current market rate” but did not provide more details.
Private hire drivers typically pay about 20 per cent of their fares as commission to ride-hailing services such as Grab or Gojek.
ADDRESSING DRIVERS’ CONCERNS
The National Taxi Association (NTA) - which represents the interests of taxi drivers and is affiliated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) - has raised concerns about the new ride-hail service.
In a statement, NTUC director Yeo Wan Ling noted ComfortDelGro had told the NTA that the new service would help “increase the supply of rides for commuters and consequently, also expand ridership for their taxi drivers”.
“Some ComfortDelGro taxi drivers are concerned that this may adversely impact their incomes especially as demand is not back to pre-COVID-19 levels. There are also older drivers who may not be familiar with the use of mobile applications,” said Ms Yeo, who is also a Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
"To address some of these concerns, one suggestion which arose from our engagement with the ground is to reduce the rent should there be a further drop in earnings."
Most taxi drivers in Singapore rent their cabs from taxi operators, with rates varying depending on the company as well as the age and model of the car.
It can cost upwards of S$100 per day for drivers to rent their cabs, though firms have offered rental rates in light of the industry downturn due to COVID-19.
“Whilst ComfortDelGro has been supportive of Government schemes and is proactive in rolling out assistance for taxi drivers affected by the pandemic, lives and livelihoods of our drivers remain a top priority to NTA,” said Ms Yeo.
“We will work with all parties to render necessary help to our drivers."
Singapore’s taxi industry took a massive hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some drivers reporting up to a 70 per cent fall in income during the “circuit breaker” period as tourist numbers fell and many people worked from home.
In December last year, the authorities announced that taxi and private-hire car drivers would receive an additional S$133 million in support from the Government in the form of a new COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund.
The fund will provide drivers with S$600 per vehicle per month between January and March this year, and S$450 between April and June.