Laws to regulate third-party cab-booking apps were proposed in Parliament today (April 13), which if passed will confer wide-ranging powers on the authorities to, for instance, amend, add to, or revoke codes of practice for specific providers, or across the industry.
The Bill introduced by the Transport Ministry will also require third-party apps to register with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) before operating here, failing which they will be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed up to six months.
The authorities can also impose sanctions of up to S$100,000 on providers that have failed to, among other things, comply with “any condition of registration (or) any direction given by the Authority”, and in severe cases, revoke the companies’ registrations.
The proposed framework, first announced by the LTA last November, will also spell out the conditions registered providers must comply with, such as dispatching only licensed taxis and drivers and providing information on fare rates upfront to commuters.
While app companies and transport experts whom TODAY spoke to welcomed the regulatory framework, they felt that it should not stifle innovation, which is critical to this industry.
Hailo Singapore’s general manager Wong Yu Hsiang said web-based third-party booking firms thrive on constantly designing new practices that allow them to “better latch on demand and supply in the market”.
One existing practice, which will be affected under the proposed framework, is to require prospective passengers to specify their destinations before they can make bookings.
“While we understand concerns that taxi drivers may avoid taking bookings to certain destinations, having that requirement would allow better optimisation of the fleet and reduce downtime,” he said.
He added that the current technology does enable third-party taxi providers to sieve out the cabbies who “constantly pick and choose”, and educate them.
Mr Li Jianggan, co-founder and managing director of Easy Taxi Singapore, said the framework will give drivers and commuters more predictability.
Echoing Mr Wong’s calls for room to innovate, Mr Li said: “Among the countries that Easy Taxi operates in, Singapore has been one of those more supportive of innovation, so we really hope that remains, even after regulations have been implemented.”
Both men felt that the proposed laws give the authority more powers because theirs is a “fairly new industry”.
“It makes sense (for the authority) to have flexibility to change the laws down the road…we don’t want them to over-regulate now and have to back-paddle later,” Mr Li said.
National University of Singapore transport researcher Professor Lee Der Horng said the new framework may offer some reassurance for traditional taxi operators, but it may be difficult for the Government to accurately evaluate the performance of third-party apps.
“You need a very sound basis to penalise people, but this becomes quite grey now because commuters’ booking behaviour is changing. At any one instance, commuters may use several apps to call for taxis but will eventually get on one, so it is hard to determine the matching rate and response time for each provider,” he said.