ST’s puzzlingly one-sided reports on Uber and GrabCars

There were two articles in ST over the last few days that are related to taxi booking apps. One talks about how the GrabCar and Uber have resulted in a surge in car rentals. The other talks about how GrabCar and Uber have resulted in taxis laying idle.

The article about how apps like GrabCar and Uber has resulted in taxis laying idle makes it sound like it is a very bad thing that taxis are left idle in the yards. The article chose to focus on how this is adversely affecting the cab companies, reporting that cab companies are finding it more difficult to find good drivers.

The article then quotes Dr Lee Der-Horng, a transport researcher in the National University of Singapore, “Having experienced the benefits of those taxi apps as compared to their own dispatch system, they switch… In future, nobody will want to be a taxi driver… The Government must do something.”

The article mentioned nothing about whether more cabs lying idle has resulted in it being more difficult for consumers to get the transportation that they require. It also makes no mention of the impact of more cabs lying idle has affected the livelihoods of people who might have been cab drivers.

Which begs the question, why is this such a terrible thing? Why MUST the government do something to help cab companies find drivers?

As the good Dr Lee has pointed out, the reason why a lot of cab drivers are switching to GrabCar and Uber is because they have experienced certain benefits. So, if apps like GrabCar and Uber are better for people who could have become cab drivers, then what’s the problem with having more people switch to GrabCar and Uber and not hiring cabs from the cab companies? And instead of government doing “something”, shouldn’t the cab companies reflect about what they are doing, improve their value proposition and come up with ways to be more attractive to drivers?

Are there justified concerns to the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of people using GrabCar and Uber cars for their transportation? If not, and if apps like GrabCar and Uber have made it easier for people to get the transportation they need without causing any more problems other than hurting the profitability of the established cab companies, then shouldn’t the government be encouraging GrabCar and Uber instead?

Dr Lee, in another article did allude to the reason why the government is justified in being concern with companies like GrabCar and Uber. Many of the cars used by drivers of GrabCar and Uber are rented. They may be old and not as well maintained as those of cab companies. Thus Dr Lee cautioned that given their age, these cars may not be as well-maintained as those of a taxi company’s fleet, leading to safety issues for passengers. Which is a valid point. If that is the issue, then shouldn’t the government focus on how to resolve that issue rather than doing something to help the cab companies?

There is no doubt that cab companies are adversely affected by GrabCar and Uber. But to exhort the government to do something simply because of this is bewildering. For ST to have two reports that raise alarm that cab companies are being adversely affected is also bewildering. Instead, I would hope to see a more balanced article/report about the impact of GrabCar and Uber on the following issues:

  • Does having GrabCar and Uber really make it easier for the public to get a ride to where they want to go to?
  • Are there any (real, not imagined) serious negative impact on users of GrabCar and Uber and how these negative impacts compare to people who take cabs?
  • How does switching to GrabCar/Uber impact the income and welfare of the taxi drivers who have switched over to GrabCar and Uber?
  • How does having more cars on GrabCar and Uber platforms with less cabs plying the roads impact the number of vehicles on the road? Does it help to reduce congestion?

So rather than having articles that seem to be biased in favour of cab companies, I hope that ST and/or our mainstream media will have articles that look at the issue more holistically. Of course, that will take a lot more work and research. Which, given the journalistic standards of our mainstream media,  probably should not be holding our breaths…

[Featured Image: Reuters photo]

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