As the public transport industry sees taxi and app-based private hire companies signing more business partnerships, Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee is insisting on the need to have a collective voice to protect the interests of drivers from both services.
With effect from 1 February 2018, Mr Ang will take over Mr S Thiagarajan as the executive advisor of the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA). Mr Ang is also the executive advisor of the National Taxi Association (NTA).
Both associations are affiliated to the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). NTA was formed in 2010 to represent the interests of taxi drivers, while NPHVA was formed 2016 to be the voice of private-hire drivers.
“We used to see taxis and private hire vehicles under different operators, different owners. One operated with third-party apps, and the other was your traditional taxi operator. Now the lines of the two are being blurred,” said Mr Ang.
He gave the example of how private hire service providers, Grab and Uber, are partnering most of the taxi operators in Singapore.
Mr Ang also said the two business models would further merge as taxi operators start acquiring the fleets of private hire vehicles.
It was reported in December last year that taxi giant ComfortDelGro plans to acquire a 51 per cent stake in the Uber-owned rental car company Lion City Holdings.
“Now, there are similar issues that drivers [both taxi and private hire] face on the road when it comes to policies, regulations, medical coverage, saving for retirement and the like. Therefore, there is a need for these drivers to articulate their issues and concerns collectively, so that their interests are protected,” said Mr Ang.
He also urged both parties not to focus on the differences between taxi and private hire drivers.
“Soon, the people who rent the vehicle to them will be the same. The people who offer the booking system to them will be the same. The consumers they serve will be the same. Now as the operators [from both sides] start to work together, the entire working environment will change,” he said.
Mr Ang also predicted that issues concerning vehicle rental rates might come about should one operator profit from renting out both taxi and private hire vehicle fleets.
“When there is a clear difference between taxi and private hire operators, they will compete to offer the best rental rates. But when they merge, there would probably be less incentive for operators to compete based on rental prices,” he said.
Other common issues include road safety and fair taxation of drivers, which Mr Ang said that NTUC will champion for both parties.
“Drivers from both sides must respond. They might not be able to achieve that kind of bargaining power to negotiate with the operators separately,” said Mr Ang.