Having heard about the recent tragic fatal accident that involved a private-hire vehicle and all the bias against private-hires, I felt compelled to write about my personal experience of riding taxis and private-hire vehicles in Singapore as well as overseas.
Like many young Singaporeans, I do not own a personal private car to commute. Taking taxis and private-hire vehicles every week for both business and leisure, I have had my fair share of the good and the ugly. Take it with a pinch of salt if you may, as experiences may differ from commuter to commuter.
Collectively, taxi drivers around the world are up in arms over private-hire drivers as their rice bowl has been greatly threatened. Blockades and protests (peaceful and violent) have taken place around the world, but thankfully things have been pretty tame in Singapore.
The fact that anyone in Singapore can be a private-hire driver as long as you have a valid insurance, a car that is less than ten years of age and soon, a private hire car driver’s vocational license means that there are plenty of these full-time and part-time private-hire drivers plying the streets awaiting a booking on the app.
Is there a cause for concern for the onset of private-hire vehicles and is such a concern justifiable?
Firm and taxi companies’ names have been omitted from the article as I am not promoting or condoning anyone in particular. There is also further segregation between street flagged/proprietary app booked taxi rides and tech firm app booked taxi rides to highlight the difference in standards
We are an automotive media. How can we not mention this?
From the fleets of Toyota Crowns, Toyota Cedrics and Hyundai Sonatas in a not too distant past, our roads are plied by a plethora of Hyundais (Avante, Azera, Sonata, i30 and i40), Mercedes-Benz (E220 and Vito), Kia (Magentis, Optima K5, Carnival), Toyota (Camry, Corolla, Vellfire, Prius and Wish) among others.
Most private-hire vehicles are older vehicles with less than a year or two in their Certificate of Entitlement. However, there are exceptions of newer cars behind used. Expect anything to everything to show up from a BYD E6 electric car, Chery A5, Honda Civic, Mercedes-Benz C180 or Renault Fluence.
Being familiar with the roads in Singapore, this would not be as applicable as it would be for my overseas rides. Trips are usually as straightforward and I have not been taken for a ride by taxi or private-hire vehicle for as long as I can remember.
A point to take is that both technology firms offer fixed rates for commutes, so there is no incentive for drivers to go further than necessary. In fact, it would be at their loss and expense for the extra fuel burned.
This has always been an issue. Mysterious disappearance of taxis on the streets just before peak charges or midnight charges are in effect, or a lack of taxis in an industrial district.
If you managed to flag one down, there’s a chance that he may runaway like a wild Pokemon if he found that the location that you are heading to is not in his plans.
The advantage to taxis is that passengers are able to flag one down from the street, or from a taxi stand – something private-hires are not authorised to do.
Private-hires are not allowed to pick up fares from the road side, hence the only way to ride one, is to book one.
I had given up on the biggest player’s app over a year over with the onset of a certain tech firm’s app. With its primitive design, I found it hard to book a cab when it frequently freezes up.
However, given the popularity of the two tech firms’ apps these days, that particular taxi company’s redesigned app has been my fallback on rainy days, expecting a booking to be accepted almost instantaneously. Another plus point for taxis is that there is no surge pricing to compensate for a mismatch in the supply and demand of vehicles to passengers.
However, taxi drivers may -at times- cancel your booking as you are simply not heading to a place that they want to go, or they may call you with thousand and one excuses to insist that you cancel your booking on the tech firm’s app. (Just a friendly reminder that your rating in the tech firm’s app will be lowered – or even blacklisted for 24 hours- and your priority to book a taxi or car will be reduced. Do not accede to their request!)
The technology firms implemented surge pricing (price has been factored into the estimated fare) to entice drivers out where demand exceeds supply. The $8 ride may be $12 on a Friday morning or even $16 on a rainy Friday morning.
However, cars are quite easily available at most times of the day -and night-, with the exception of popular places like Clark Quay or Orchard Road where the taxi stand might be a better option.
Something that I dislike would be drivers who accept your bookings while they are not done with their previous fares. I have had occasions where the driver would call to inform you of the situation, and I have personally witnessed my drivers processing my payment (I enjoy cashless transactions) and receiving another booking while I am still a short distance from my destination.
Also similarly to taxi drivers, some drivers may insist that you cancel the booking as they are far from you or are simply not planning to drive to a certain destination.
I have experienced the nicety, the chatterbox and the quiet driver on both taxis and private-hires.
From the drivers who shows concern for your day (and your chance to pour your heart out to a stranger) and will take the effort to ensure that the air-conditioning is to your preference, to the ones who harbour a thousand and one opinions on politics to the extent that you would wonder if they should have been a newspaper columnist instead, to the plain quiet drivers who would not speak a word to you.
Of course, the most annoying would be the entrepreneurial driver who is the property agent cum courier cum direct marketing salesperson who would actively promote his services to you while he drives you to your destination – I have encountered this on both taxis and private-hires. Much to my chagrin, they seem oblivious to the lack of interest of their shenanigans from my replies to them.
Notwithstanding, I recall a private-hire driver who was pretty proud of his antics to fleece foreigners – it was pretty disgusting to hear his stories, and I wish I could remember every detail of it..
Then again, who cares about good or bad service, as long as we get to our location in one piece, right?
This was among one of the deal-breakers for me as I am often low of cold card cash in my wallet. For a long time, I often had to carry around wads of cash in my wallet or to pay the $0.30 surcharge for payments by NETS.
Certain taxi fleets are primitive to the extent that only cash payments are allowed.
Unless you have booked the taxi through a tech firm’s app where you may pay by credit card. You are imposed with a 30 cents surcharge if you pay by NETS, or a 10% surcharge on the total fare if you pay by a credit card.
While some taxis may be equipped with the appropriate machines, drivers may insist on cash payments only as some have explained that they do not want to play for a set period of time to receive their payments.
Cash or credit card payments are allowed. Note that you may be charged a currency conversion fee of 0.8% to 1% of the total fare by your bank if you pay for rides that were booked from a certain tech firm’s app (Hint: The one that does not offer booking of taxis).
The breaking point for my decision to being for private-hires. The lack of, or plain disregard for any forms of safety by some taxis. Weaving through lanes, cutting through traffic, opening up ‘new lanes’ in the middle of nowhere – I have seen it all.
Of course, I would admit that there are additional biasness as I am driver myself who have experienced the obnoxious behavior of some drivers. Having had a new near misses.
I have been fortunate to not have been involved in a road traffic accident with a taxi (whilst inside or otherwise – but if you would like, I jumped out of the way from taxi who was reversing without due care)
I cringe when the driver I have been assigned is a young chap who looks like he has not completed National Service. A tad more daring in their driving, pray hard if you get these daredevils. Thankfully, a rating system is in effect to grade drivers upon completion of trips – They need these for additional incentives or even to remain driving for the firms.
Taxis and private-hires overseas
I have travelled to various countries, and where the reaches of mass public transportation may not be that widespread or efficient, taxis have always been my first choice. That is, till private-hires became popular and I saw the pros and cons between my options. Allow me to take you through my personal experience, as a typical bilingual Singaporean.
Malaysia (Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur and Penang)
Having been to Malaysia on multiple occasions and rarely driving up from Singapore, I have always resorted to taxis and private-hires. There is little to no language barrier as most taxi drivers are able to speak a little English to get you to your destination. It would be a definite boon if you could speak Bahasa Melayu.
Mostly older Proton Sagas and Wajas that have seen way better days, but you may be lucky to get a newer car to tide you through the long drives or traffic jams. The knowledgeable drivers know the roads really well, at times so well that they may take you on an extended city tour.
They could also quote an inflated amount (twice to thrice the actual fare based on my estimate) based on multiple experiences in Georgetown, Penang and Johor Bahru Sentral (upon clearing immigration).
To be fair, I have had rides where they took the faster or shorter routes to my destination in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, but none were actually flagged from the streets. These taxis were either booked through a certain technology firm, called with the help of the hotels that I resided at, or are fixed rate airport taxis.
he vehicles ranged from the Perodua Myvi to a Toyota Hilux. Despite the uncertainty in the time they take to get to you upon booking (ranging from five minutes to forty five minutes), I have found private-hire drivers to be more honest with the routes taken. However, I have also learnt that there are ten different ways to get from Subang to Shah Alam with a fare variance of over 50%.
I am not saying that one would not be fleeced taking a private-hire, as I had an extended ride in Kuala Lumpur that cost me 200% more than the estimated price that was shown to me prior to booking. Thankfully, the app made it easy for passengers to seek recourse and compensation for such rides and I got my refund within 24 hours.
Both taxis and private-hire vehicles are mostly Toyotas and I have no complains about ride comfort. Though you just might get -un-lucky to sit in a modified taxi with a droning muffler.
Similarly to Malaysia, I have no issues with the airport taxis, taxis booked from the technology firm’s app (they would cancel on you if they called you and are unable to speak in English, which I cannot fault them for) or taxis booked by the hotels.
For taxis that I have flagged from the roadside or from taxi stands, I have also had mostly smooth (as I would monitor the route on my phone) with the exception of one who ‘missed’ the turn THRICE despite having a Thai friend on board to give directions and myself frantically pointing that he should turn, and another who demanded extra for taking us to the airport (I have searched online and checked with friends from Thailand that there is no such surcharge for rides to the airport).
Due to the notorious traffic of Bangkok, expect the taxi that you have booked from the tech firm’s app to take an extended period of time to get to you. Consider the trade-off of getting ripped off but getting to your location fast, and getting to your location at a good price.
Private-hire drivers that I experienced spoke English with ease, and I faced no difficulties conversing and getting to my destinations. Prices are pricier than taxis, but well worth it given the reduced stress you would be avoiding.
I have only taken both taxis and private-hires in Perth, so I would not be sure if this is applicable to the Eastern States and other Territories. I would recommend private-hires for the lowest cost.
Taxis – They will get you there in the shortest possible route as GPS is usually running. However, I wish they could concentrate on the road instead of being almost permanently fixated on their phone calls. The prices are very much on the high side, with a ride from the airport to the University of Western Australia going for roughly AUD 60.
Private-hire – I have only taken one ride from the University of Western Australia to the airport that cost just AUD 35. Nearly price the price of what a taxi ride would have cost me. (Tip: Make use of your new mobile number and sign up for a new user account to leverage new customer bonuses to have a slightly cheaper ride. Even better if you have travel companions with you.)
Insurance as a passenger
Something that I have heard from the ill-informed would be whether or not passengers in a private-hire vehicle are not insured. I did a little search online and found the following:
There is nary an information online, and I do not want to find this out the hard way. Greater clarity should be made known.
The two tech firms with a strong reign over ride sharing in Singapore are very public -and open- about their insurance coverage for passengers.
Excerpts of their press releases are as follows (Any indication of firm names are removed):
“While policies can vary, as a minimum, it covers the driver’s legal liability for the death of, or bodily injury to passengers and other third parties (e.g., a pedestrian) caused by driver’s negligence. It also provides cover for liability resulting from damage to property belonging to other persons such as cars, street lighting, fences, etc. Many drivers purchase optional comprehensive insurance to cover damage to their own vehicle, but note this is not a legal requirement.
There is unlimited insurance cover (no cap) for legal liability for bodily injury to passengers caused by driver’s negligence.
Cover is fault based following the same protocol as all other compulsory motor vehicle insurance in Singapore.
The passenger can make a direct claim against the driver’s compulsory insurance. We are able to provide passengers with those details if they are not readily available after an accident.”; and
“… announced free group Personal Accident Insurance coverage for passengers and drivers across the region. This is a first-of-its-kind insurance policy in the industry to be provided by a ride-hailing platform…
Passengers and drivers enjoy greater peace of mind when they take rides. The group PAI makes certain that they are covered against personal accidents, as some commercial insurance purchased individually by the drivers covers only third-party.
Any unfortunate contingency will be covered from the first dollar; passengers and drivers need not pay any deductibles.
…provides this additional insurance coverage at no charge to its users.”
The pointless conclusion
So, is the recent accident fully due to the fault of the private-hire driver? I am not here nor am I qualified to give an opinion of the accident, but based on current and publicly known facts, the private-hire vehicle was ‘collateral damage’ owing to an immature dispute between two commercial vehicles on the expressway. Any vehicle (a taxi, private car, private-hire, commercial goods vehicle or even a motorbike) could have been the unfortunate vehicle to be at the back of the two vehicles.
Do not be mistaken, I am not championing for private-hires to triumph over taxis. As an experienced user of both taxi and tech firm booking apps, I am able to work both to my favour depending on my situation. However, the taxi industry has been way too complacent, and the private-hire industry has been a good trigger point to rock this overly stable boat.