What’s most telling about NTA’s eight-point wish list

I had wanted to blog about what I thought about the eight-point wish list that the National Taxi Association (NTA) submitted to the government. But Daniel Yap writing for themiddleground.sg beat me to it. And he wrote a far better article than what I could ever have accomplished (grr…). If you are interested in this issue, you really should read Daniel’s article here. .

To the many great points that Daniel has mentioned in the article, I have only one more to add. And that is there may be a case to be made about making drivers for Uber/GrabCar get some form of additional insurance that is tied to them providing the private hire service. This will ensure that it is clear who to claim against in the case of an accident.

One of the most interesting points I got from Daniel’s article was that the taxi companies are making incredibly good operating profits. And those profits have been growing steadily. SMRT’s operating profits for their taxis for example, grew by 50% from 2013 to 2014! This reinforces my view that the real root causes of why taxi drivers seem so upset about Uber and GrabCar have less to do withUber and GrabCar but really more about the rent-seeking behaviour of the taxi companies and outdated regulations.

The NTA allowed themselves to allude to the frustration with these two issues in items 4 and 6 of their wish list:

4. Review of standards and cost structures for taxis should level competition between taxis and private hires.

6. The LTA should recognise and embrace the effectiveness of new tools like third-party booking apps to determine service and availability standards, without the need for statutory requirements that have become prescriptive, distorting and costly.

Clunky language aside, point 6 seem to suggest that the NTA is reflecting taxi driver’s views that some of the statutory requirements have become prescriptive, distorting and costly. I wonder whether this was further elaborated in the full report that the NTA submitted to LTA. If so, I would love to know what the key points in the elaboration are.

In any case, that the NTA has brought this up shows that it would be useful if LTA really reviewed all the statutory requirements currently in place for taxi drivers to see if the benefits justify the costs of complying with those requirements. In doing so, I hope that LTA would question every assumption and check against reality. For example, has technology made some of those requirements unnecessary?

Daniel in his article alluded to one such requirement. Do we really need 60 hours to train taxi drivers? A quick look at the taxi driver vocational license course shows that it takes 10 lessons to cover locating destinations and planning routes. Erm. Guys, there’s this thing called Google Maps.

So I hope that LTA does not frame this whole review as an exercise to bring down the service standards of Uber/GrabCar by burdening them with unnecessary regulations in the hope that this would “level” the playing field for taxi companies. Instead, I hope that LTA frames this review as an exercise in levelling up the standards for Uber/GrabCar AND taxi companies. In so doing, I hope that LTA can get rid of regulations that are outdated and where the cost of compliance outweighs whatever marginal benefits it may bring.

[Featured image: Photo of Taxis at the Lucky Plaza taxi stand by Lim Yaohui for the Straits Times. Source]

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