Recently, it was reported that Singapore taxi drivers are up in arms against Uber for their “overly aggressive marketing efforts”. Uber’s actions were likened to touting by taxi drivers, who had complained that it was “unfair”.

Further, cab drivers mentioned that they felt constrained by laws governing the taxi industry, and resent the fact that Uber drivers are “stealing their rice bowls”. Some even went on to berate the Government for not doing enough to help them. In light of all this, it is apt to ask: Are taxi drivers being short-sighted, close-minded and change-averse by refusing to co-exist with technology?

Uber’s Legality in Singapore

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Uber’s legality has long been questioned, and in fact, is currently being challenged by numerous courts worldwide. Questions have been raised about its business model, its perceived competition with the existing taxi industry, the lack of regulation and consequently, concerns about safety.

In Singapore, Uber’s legality was never questioned. In fact, from the start, authorities have largely welcomed the presence of Uber as a viable method for resolving the current problem of the peak hour taxi crunch, and have described it as a “technology company providing a matching service leveraging on technology” in Singapore.

With the Government’s vision of Singapore as a Smart Nation, it would be ironic for the Government to be seen as advocating technology and yet denouncing the use of apps such as Uber, just because taxi drivers – and the taxi industry – are unable to adapt to the ever-changing landscape and increased competition.

Yet, troubling signs are emerging that the Government is starting to give in to pressure from the taxi drivers and taxi associations, and are looking to “level the playing field”. Newly elected Transport Minister Mr Khaw Boon Wan said in a recent blog post that the Ministry is seeking to “be fair to players, whether incumbent or insurgents, and strike a balanced approach”.

Should the Government seek to regulate the industry further, and run the risk of being seen as technology-averse and overly protective of incumbent firms, instead of supporting competition and consumer choice?

Regulating an unregulated industry

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While there were concerns about safety due to a lack of regulation in Singapore, these fears have now been allayed with new laws recently passed in Parliament. After surveying all the feedback that were given, the Government decided on a “light-touch approach” in order to allow enough space for the market to innovate and thrive.

Under the Third-Party Taxi Booking Service Providers Act, which came in force in September this year, companies such as Uber, GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi, who have more than 20 participating taxis, now need to register with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to operate in Singapore.

In view of unscrupulous people attempting to disguise themselves as Uber drivers to cheat Singaporeans, rules are now in place to prosecute anyone found providing an unregistered service. Those found doing so are now liable to a fine not exceeding S$10,000, or imprisonment for a term up to six months, or both.

In addition, registered drivers will need to disclose adequate and timely information on fees. Drivers can now only operate licensed taxis and must hold valid Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licences. Bidding and pre-trip tipping for taxi services are strictly disallowed.

With these rules in place, taxi drivers can be rest assured that the Government is not just letting anyone who holds a driving license have the option to go into the trade without first meeting a certain standard and passing the required training. More importantly, the regulations are an affirmation that taxi drivers who already have the necessary training and qualifications have the option to join companies such as Uber in order to enjoy a higher income.

The future of taxis

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. A Frankfurt high court will hold a hearing on a recent lawsuit brought against Uberpop by Taxi Deutschland on Tuesday. San Francisco-based Uber, which allows users to summon taxi-like services on their smartphones, offers two main services, Uber, its classic low-cost, limousine pick-up service, and Uberpop, a newer ride-sharing service, which connects private drivers to passengers - an established practice in Germany that nonetheless operates in a legal grey area of rules governing commercial transportation. The company has faced regulatory scrutiny and court injunctions from its early days, even as it has expanded rapidly into roughly 150 cities around the world. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT CRIME LAW TRANSPORT)

With the rising popularity of apps such as Uber, and even with the current controversies surrounding it, one thing is clear: Companies such as Uber and Grab Taxi are here to stay, and the sooner taxi drivers and the taxi industry accept that fact – and more importantly, adapt to it – the sooner we as a country will be able to move forward and stay ahead of the curve. This way, we can position ourselves as a truly Smart Nation, where people are not resistant to change and truly embracing technology as a part of their lives, instead of being stuck in the mindset of the past.

(Disclaimer: This is an article independent of any affiliations between Popspoken and Uber. The article represents the views of the author.)

Featured Image Photo Credit: Uber Facebook
Photo Credits: Uber Facebook, Taxi Singapore, Newswatch33

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