Taxi giant ComfortDelGro says it wants to simplify cab fares. That can only be good news. There are close to 10 different flag-down rates, three different metered-fare structures, over 10 kinds of surcharges and eight types of phone-booking fees in Singapore.
The Government has tried to unravel the cab charge complexity that has in part driven commuters into the arms of private-hire operators like Uber and Grab. But it has made no headway. The ball, the Government decided, is in the court of operators.
ComfortDelGro, the largest of them, holds the key to a new fare structure. The others are too small to make an impact. But ComfortDelGro has never seen the need to change. It has enjoyed a dominance only recently threatened by the rise of private-hire firms.
A new survey commissioned by the Public Transport Council shows commuters are more satisfied with private-hire providers than traditional taxis. If the sampling is truly reflective of ground sentiment, it is damning. It means that in just over three years since Uber and Grab came onto the scene, they have garnered more satisfaction than taxis, which have been around for nearly a century.
As a country with the largest taxi population per capita among its peers, Singapore should not have room for a private-hire boom. Yet, the private-hire fleet has trebled in size since 2013 to rival that of cabs.
A seemingly unending source of funding and a knack for identifying gaps in taxi services have allowed private-hire firms to grow their presence.
A simpler fare system can help taxis turn the tide. First to go should be surcharges, which have led to yield-maximising behaviour. Taxis vanishing before midnight is a classic example. We cannot blame cabbies for behaving as any businessman would.
In Hong Kong, where cab fares are devoid of surcharges, cabbies are driven by only one goal: to be where customers are. In Singapore, their whereabouts are greatly influenced by surcharges.
ComfortDelGro, and indeed the authorities, must recognise this as a shortcoming, and fix it.
The following article is written by Christopher Tan, a Senior Transport Correspondent with The Straits Times.