Pleasantly surprised by the light touch on regulations for Uber/Grab drivers

It was announced that drivers using apps such as Uber and Grab will be regulated. That was expected. What was not expected, at least by me, was the light touch approach. Under the new regulations, drivers wishing to earn money using apps such as Uber and Grab would need to:

  1. Subject to medical tests and background screenings.
  2. Attend and pass a 10-hour private hire driver’s vocational license (PDVL) course. To qualify for the course, you would need to have had a class 3 or class 3A license for at least two years. After passing the course and getting the license, the driver would need to go for a three hour refresher once every six years.
  3. Be put on a demerit point system.
  4. Display a tamper-resistant decal so that commuters and authorities can identify them
  5. Either work for a limousine company (applicable to Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners) or be registered owners of a chauffeured services company (only applicable for Singaporeans).

These regulations are fair. They are useful to help safeguard the interests and safety of commuters while not being too onerous on drivers.

That’s why I’m surprised to find that there are people who were unhappy with the regulations. In particular, there was one article that had an alarmist title: “Foreigners can now officially compete with cabbies“. The article suggested that because foreigners now can get the PDVL, they can now compete with cabbies (who are all Singaporeans).

It’s a stupid point to make. Without the current set of regulations, all foreigners who have a Class 3 or Class 3A can be Uber/Grab drivers. And many are. In other words, even before the current set of regulations,  foreigners already are competing with cabbies.

Now with the current set of regulations, it’s harder for foreigners to compete with cabbies. They need to be employed by a limousine company. The number of foreigners that a limousine company can employ is restricted by the quota they have. And a foreigner who wishes to be employed by such a company would need the proper work permit. In other words, the current set of regulations will greatly reduce the number of foreigners who will eventually be able to become Uber/Grab drivers.

The article gave a stupid example: “a transport company can hire a work permit holder for $1,000 and give him a bit more commission to work as a ‘taxi driver’. No doubt, with the right incentives and the strong S$, the work permit holder will have no qualms working 12 hours a day voluntarily.”

The person who wrote this article clearly doesn’t understand how work permits work. If a transport company does what the writer of the article suggested, and MOM finds out, that company and the work permit holder will both get punished. The “transport” company would need to convert itself into a limousine company and hires foreigners specifically to be Uber/Grab drivers. Which means that they would be restricted by quotas.

Stupid article. Government do its job also complain. Stupid.

Of course, taxi drivers aren’t happy. They think that the playing field is still titled against them. But if the taxi drivers are still only concerned about Uber/Grab drivers, then they are missing the bigger threat to their rice bowl that will soon become a reality – driverless taxis.

According to a March report in MIT News, a publication of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),  nuTonomy, a US-based startup, is developing a fleet of driverless taxis to ply the streets of Singapore. Driverless taxis could be cheaper for commuters because… no need to pay drivers (cos no drivers… duh…).

So… if driverless taxis become pervasive, we really won’t need taxi, Uber, or Grab drivers anymore. Does that mean that we should have regulation to ban this technology? No. I don’t think so. That’s like saying we shouldn’t have allowed the use of personal computers so that we can keep the whole army of professional typists employed as professional typists.

But. How long more will it take before driverless taxis become truly pervasive? We don’t know. But cabbies really should get ready for this next big change.

[Featured image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson/Files]


One thought on “Pleasantly surprised by the light touch on regulations for Uber/Grab drivers

  1. I’m glad the G is protecting Singaporean jobs by regulating taxi/uber/grab drivers. May I suggest that it also regulates PMETs so many of these retrenched drivers can return to their previous higher paying jobs? Foreigners currently take up about 1 in 4 PMET jobs in Singapore. That is easily hundreds of thousands potential jobs for uni grads and mid career locals.


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