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.
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!