James Lin might look like a typical ComfortDelGro taxi uncle to many, and few know that he also pens down his thoughts sometimes on his personal blog. The 67-year-old became a taxi driver in his late fifties to support his family.
And while we have written a lot about the rise of taxi booking apps such as GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi and Uber in Singapore, along with various points of view from passengers, we have yet to come across the point of view of a driver.
Until we came across James’ recent article.
App Usage Poses Danger To Driver And Passengers
For passengers, taxi booking apps allow us to easily book taxis to take us to our desired locations. Taxi booking apps usually provide us with real-time tracking of our cabs, so we know when our taxis are reaching. Drivers, on the other hand, get notified whenever there are job requests, and should they choose to accept them, they simply hit a button on the app and proceed to pick up the passengers.
While convenient, James pointed out some real concerns about taxi booking apps: the use of cellphones to access jobs via these taxi booking apps is a dangerous act, and could land taxi drivers with hefty fines or even have their licenses revoked.
“… as a taxi driver, I think the need to use a handphone to work on these apps while driving has the most dangerous impact on me and my passengers. If an increase in regulation is required, scholars at LTA should focus more on the safety impact of these apps rather than the economic impact,” wrote James in his personal blog.
“The dangers of using a handphone while driving is well understood and yet it is an incorrigible habit of many drivers worldwide.”
As James pointed out, while it is an offence under existing laws for drivers to hold a phone and use it to communicate with someone else through calls or text messages, it is not against the law to use the phone or other mobile devices if it is mounted on a holder. Therefore, for safety purposes, taxi booking apps should be “legislated to compulsorily provide a strong, adjustable and detachable holder to their drivers”.
Taxi Booking A Hassle With Comfort Call Centre
James explained that during peak hours, many passengers still prefer to call in to book taxis through Comfort. This is because they perceive Comfort to have more taxis on the road, giving them a higher chance of getting a taxi. The reality is that because of the overwhelming call bookings during peak hour, passengers usually get a recorded message saying that there are no taxis available.
In actual fact, there are tens of taxis in their surrounding area waiting for call bookings, except that they are not COMFORT taxis. Rather, they are taxis from other operators such as SMRT, TransCab, Premier or Prime taxis — most of which tend to get ignored. James also called out Comfort for being “selfish”, as the company warned its drivers against using third party taxi booking apps.
Apps Recruitment — War For Drivers
James recounted that there was a huge “war” to recruit drivers to use taxi booking apps late last year:
Two weeks ago, I went to the popular Bukit Merah View hawker center for my lunch break. As soon as I got out from my cab in the car park, a young lady approached me with a EasyTaxi leaflet and started her sweet sales talk to persuade me to sign up as a EasyTaxi driver. I happily joined EasyTaxi without hesitation and in seconds, she downloaded and activated the system application of EasyTaxi available in the Google Store of my cheap Samsung ACE android smartphone. Instantly, I could accept call booking.
The other three App companies (GrabTaxi, Hailo and Uber) were also present inside the hawker center, with hundreds of eager taxi drivers queuing to sign up. With four huge billboards flagging on that windy day, the “makan” place was turned into a busy exhibition hall of App companies.
Many GrabTaxi drivers came to top-up their credit to use for paying the 30 cents tax for every job received through the GrabTaxi App. In less than an hour, I observed at least twenty drivers who came to top-up their credit in cash of between $20 to $50, through Mr JingWei’s mobile device. I understand that in the future, GrabTaxi will allow their drivers to do this top-up at any AXS machine. On that day, it seemed that GrabTaxi was the most popular App company in the hawker center because of these top-up visitors.
But most drivers were crowding around the Uber table and joining them because Uber was providing a free dedicated iPhone solely for the use of their application, and a holder to mount the iPhone onto the taxi windscreen. This iPhone cannot be used as an ordinary smartphone.
Uber is also unique because they accept non-taxi drivers to join their ranks. As long as you own an acceptable car and are their approved driver, they will provide you with taxi booking jobs and you can use your private car to ferry your assigned passengers like a chauffeur. But you certainly cannot ply the street with your private car to ferry passengers like normal taxi drivers.
The enterprising Prime Taxi company is collaborating with Uber to lease out their fleet of private cars at $55.50 per day, to anyone who is interested in the taxi business but does not hold a taxi vocational license. When your rented car is not used for ferrying Uber passengers, you may use it to drive up to Malaysia for a holiday.
During their promotional period, each Techno company offers different monetary incentives to both drivers and commuters to attract them to use their Apps. Like most businesses, when the promotional period is over or their business becomes established, the initial rewards will give way to normal charges as these companies are not charitable organisations. They need to make a profit to stay alive and they also try hard to find a niche in this competitive business.
For example, EasyTaxi and Hailo give confirmed jobs to drivers while Grabtaxi offers more jobs but through competitive bidding. When using Hailo Apps, it is not like a Western shootout where the fastest trigger gets the job, because sometimes, the fastest finger could be a lot further away — which means the customer has to wait longer for the cab.
I prefer Hailo or EasyTaxi as my reflexes are slower than younger drivers. I avoid Uber as payment is too slow for my liking. Uber also competes with normal taxi drivers for jobs through their use of private cars. In any case, working with more than two Apps creates confusion and distraction while I am driving.
Verdict? GrabTaxi seems to be the most popular taxi booking app, while Easy Taxi wins the heart of some drivers because of the instant confirmation of taxi rides.
Challenges And Benefits Of Using Taxi Booking Apps
For taxi drivers like James, taxi booking apps provide undeniable benefits: they bring in more jobs to drivers, and as a result of that, fuel costs are lower.
“In the last two weeks, I did about 10 call booking jobs a day with an additional income of about $25 per day from booking fee alone.”
The challenges? There are often inaccurate and brief addresses of pick-up points, and drivers have to call up passengers to confirm the locations.
“When I do that I inevitably commit a serious traffic offence for using my handphone. I hope my app partners will resolve these teething problems soon.”