Singapore: Getting Around with Technology

November 9, 2015

Singapore: Getting Around with Technology

by Surekha A. Yadav


Not everyone has noticed but Singaporeans are living through a revolution right now. An old and arbitrary tyranny is falling around us for a new, better order driven by technology.

Taxi apps are revolutinising our transport space and that’s a pretty big deal.Taxis and the weakness of the Singapore cab system have long been a personal bugbear.And I am not alone.

Often you had to wait more than an hour to get a cab at many points in the city and getting a taxi in the suburbs was well near impossible every weekday morning — crippling facts of daily life for many Singaporeans.

Yet now just months after I last penned my lament on the state of taxi affairs, the situation has turned on its head. Waiting for a cab to get to work in the morning, I’m honestly spoiled for choice. I could use Grab taxi, Hailo or of course, Uber.

At one glance (and a few swipes) I can see what my options are, know which cabs are in the vicinity, get an idea of how much my journey will cost and manage the whole process while scrolling my Facebook feed. I don’t need to make so much as a phone call, let alone walk out onto the street and stand at the corner soliciting stony-faced taxi uncles.

This brave new world is an amazing demonstration of how technology really can change lives and alter the fabric of daily life. Thousands of vehicle owners and drivers are clearly using the technology to such an extent that the triumvirate of traditional taxi companies Trans-Cab, Comfort and SMRT appear to be struggling to find drivers and maintain fleet levels.

Taxi Service in Singapore

These days, you don’t have to fret about not being able to get a taxi in Singapore… taxi apps to the rescue! So far (traditional cab companies aside) it seems to be a clear win-win with drivers getting better terms such as higher revenues or lower overheads and app users getting a faster and more reliable service.

What’s even more striking is that regulators have stepped in broadly to support the city’s taxi transformation. Government legislation is often the bane of innovation. And as taxi apps moved from being a novelty to becoming a regular means of transportation, legislation became inevitable.

There were cries by taxi companies and drivers affiliated with them to outlaw or severely restrict the scope of app-driven hire services. Their argument being that the low overheads and limited legal restrictions in the online space give these apps an unfair competitive advantage.

Basically, the old operators wanted to freeze the taxi eco system and preserve their market share. However, the Bill passed this week does not lock us into the ancient regime. Rather it broadly empowers what it terms Third-Party Taxi Booking Service Providers while ensuring they stick to basic legal parameters.

Uber cars cannot pick customers off the street like regular cabs, and the apps can’t compel you to provide your final destination in advance — lest drivers begin adopting the behaviour of regular taxi drivers and reject customers for going somewhere out of the way.

With a few safeguards in place, it’s really a positive piece of legislation and it’s clear in this case that the government is moving with technology and not impeding it. What this means is the taxi revolution has succeeded and become the new status quo with legislation, users and providers all lined up behind a new world.

Viva la revolution!

8 thoughts on “Singapore: Getting Around with Technology

  1. Singaporeans have always to think ahead and act fast. Necessity is the mother of new ideas for solving problems and paving the way to deal with practical matters like getting to work on time, improving productivity, or about moving around for shopping and so on. Taxi drivers there are punctual, friendly and honest. They do not accept tips. Pay according what the meter he said to, when I thought he deserved a tip for his courteous service.

    Try that in Malaysia. With few exceptions, taxi drivers wants to fleece us, especially tourists. We can’t change the system since our Cabinet ministers own taxi licenses and operate taxi services by proxy. They will not move to legislate and regulate our taxi system if the use of technology affects their interest. Ask Minister Nazri Aziz and others in UMNO.–Din Merican

  2. Actually there is an opportunity to leap ahead in terms of Taxi regulation and performance. Rather than fight the tech, the govt should invest in it.. What it needs to do is add mobile tech to management of taxi cabs and get rid of large taxi fleets and award the licenses directly individual. Each taxi driver and taxi cab should be installed with mobile tech that monitors their vehicle and performance and help improve their livelihood..Weed out the poor performer, improve performance.. Regulators can be the arbiter of performance and demand with new tech but unfortunately, they lack the imagination..

  3. Before this post I wasn’t really sure how global Uber actually was and I’m glad to know that it is based in a lot of other countries other than just the United States! It’ll make my travels easier knowing that I will have Uber as a car service option, especially when I plan to visit Singapore next year!

  4. /// bigjoe99 November 9, 2015 at 8:35 am
    Actually there is an opportunity to leap ahead in terms of Taxi regulation and performance. Rather than fight the tech, the govt should invest in it. ///

    bigjoe – yes and no. Yes, new technology used wisely can leap-frog the existing infrastructure. Take telephone land lines for example. Before the advent of mobile phones, poor country with big land mass or massive archipelago are not able to bring its people together because of poor communications due to lack of infrastructure as it is very expensive for such investment in vast areas. With the mobile phones, Indonesia and many parts of Africa are able to leap-frog its telecom infrastructure. In fact, some of the poor countries in Africa has mobile app and mobile payment systems that would put ours to shame.

    Government investing in new tech – yes. But in Malaysia’s case, it is likely to be abused with the need for licences which will be given to cronies and relatives. This will all add up to unnecessary costs.

  5. The,
    Mobile Communication ain’t that cheap.It’s just more feasible to implement as compared to land line. Furthermore, mobile comm require upgrades on capacity. Why is that so? I can tell you for a fee…….Hahahaha………Kidding

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