SINGAPORE: The implementation of a new regulatory framework for the taxi and private-hire car sectors will be delayed again to October, as operators have asked for more time to prepare their applications, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Friday (May 29).
This comes after the implementation of the framework - which will apply to all taxi and private-hire operators with a fleet of more than 800 vehicles - was delayed from June to September this year to allow operators to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the taxi and private-hire car industries, with some drivers noting that their income had dropped by more than 70 per cent as a result.
Applications for both the Ride-hail Service Operator Licence and the Car-Pool Service Operator Licence opened on Friday, and will close on Jul 13, the LTA said in a media release.
Firms will have to submit a non-refundable application fee of S$2,500 for each application.
The Ride-Hail Service Operator Licence will apply to companies such as Grab and Gojek, which run private-hire car services.
Meanwhile the Car-Pool Service Operator Licence will apply to operators such as Grab and Ryde, which operate carpooling services GrabHitch and RydePool respectively.
Results will be announced in October, said LTA.
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Both Singapore-based Grab and Indonesian firm Gojek will be applying for the Ride-Hail Service Operator Licence, with Grab noting it will also be applying for the Car-Pool Service Operator Licence.
"We believe there is a role for regulation to ensure higher safety standards in the industry, while facilitating a fair, open and contestable market that encourages innovation among the different players in order to better serve the needs of the Singapore public," said a Grab spokesperson.
"We will evaluate the application requirements closely, and look forward to closely engaging LTA on the process."
Taxi operators - who currently operate under the Taxi Service Operator Licence, introduced in 2003 - will however not have to apply for a new licence.
"Existing taxi operators will be automatically transitioned to the new Street-hail Service Operator Licence (SSOL) under the new regulatory framework," LTA said, adding that it would directly inform taxi operators about the details of the transition.
Of Singapore's seven taxi operators, five have fleets of more than 800 taxis - Comfort, CityCab, Trans-Cab, SMRT and Premier.
All three new licences fall under the Point-to-Point (P2P) Transport Industry Act, which was passed in August last year.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said in Parliament then that the framework is aimed at facilitating "an open market to support the development of responsive P2P services, while also providing sufficient regulatory oversight to protect the safety and interests of commuters and drivers".
In a Facebook post on Friday, Dr Puthucheary said the new framework will make rides safer for passengers, as vehicle and driver safety standards currently imposed on taxi operators will also apply to ride-hailing firms.
"Existing regulations against overcharging will also be extended from the street-hail sector to trips provided by licensed ride-hail operators," he said.
"The new regulatory regime will also allow the prosecution of passengers who evade fares for ride-hail trips provided by licensed operators. This adds another level of deterrence for the benefit of drivers," Dr Puthucheary added.
READ: From taxi driver to transport ambassador: How Singapore’s cabbies are navigating the COVID-19 downturn
LTA also announced that existing taxi availability standards - which require that taxi operators have at least 80 per cent of their fleet on the roads during peak hours - will be lifted next month, ahead of the introduction of the regulatory framework.
"The COVID-19 situation and circuit breaker measures have reduced taxi demand," the authority said.
"LTA assesses that with ride-hail vehicles gaining a wider market share, the demand for street-hail taxis is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels immediately even after the circuit breaker measures are lifted. Hence, LTA will remove the (taxi availability) standards from June 2020," it added.
Singapore's taxi population has fallen from more than 28,000 in 2016 to just under 18,000 as of March this year, following the emergence of ride-hailing apps such as Grab and Uber.
LTA noted however that taxi operators will still have to meet safety quality of service standards relating to accident rates, offence rates and vehicle first inspection passing rates.
Discounts on renewals of taxi driver vocational licences - initially introduced to help operators meet the availability standards - will be granted until the end of the year "in light of the challenging economic conditions", said LTA.