TL;DR – We want to be a smart nation, right?
I remembered trying UberPOOL once. The driver told me he had to go another place to pick someone up. When the driver got to the next pick-up point, someone passed something to the driver. And that was it. It turned out that the other “person” was a pack of flu medicine. When the driver reached the “destination”, there was someone there waiting to receive the flu medicine.
That was quite some time ago. I thought it was quite a brilliant idea. It expands the market of private hire cars. In the times of the day when there is lower demand, instead of wasting time, sitting around doing nothing, these drivers have an opportunity to do something productive.
I thought that is a great way of raising productivity. I wondered whether there was anyway of expanding this. And apparently there was.
Recently, Amazon’s Prime Now service has resorted to booking taxis — on top of tapping on freelance drivers — to make deliveries. This was to deal with a deluge of orders. That must have been great news to taxi drivers who have seen worsening business because of private hire cars. Cabby Henry Tan said:
“The taxi business is getting slow, so cabbies need to do something to supplement their earnings.”
Prime Taxi chairman Neo Nam Heng said the courier business helps drivers optimise capacity during the off-peak hours between 10am and 4pm.
Here comes the wet blanket
Unfortunately, this party may not last. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said that taxi drivers and private-hire drivers are not allowed to be couriers or deliverymen for goods if there is no passenger on board. A spokesperson for LTA said:
“Under our regulations, taxis and private-hire cars are meant to carry passengers for hire and reward, and cannot be used solely for the conveyance of goods. However, passengers who hire a taxi or a private-hire car are allowed to carry goods with them.”
But that additional person in the taxi isn’t really adding any value. You end up having two people doing what should have been one person’s work. In other words, that productivity is lowered.
And here we are, thinking that Singapore is on a relentless push to improve productivity.
LTA should explain why
Perhaps LTA has good reasons why taxis and private hire cars aren’t supposed to perform courier services. If that’s the case, they should explain the rationale and justification of the regulations rather than just state the regulations and say ‘No no no no no’.
Hey, gone are the days where Singaporeans would just accept anything and everything that government agencies say. Now, we expect government agencies to explain and defend their position.
While that probably translates to more work for the government agencies, this is actually important for nation-building. It means that Singaporeans can get more involved in the discussions that shape national policies. It keeps government agencies on their toes, challenging their assumptions, thereby improving the policy making process. Besides, reviews are always necessary as what used to work or make sense before may not now. Welcome to the era of disruption.
So, in this instance, LTA should consider if the regulations have outlived their usefulness. Have the context that those regulations were originally formulated changed? If so, is it then time to update those regulations to keep up with the times?
That’s also the view of the National Taxi Association (NTA) adviser Ang Hin Kee, who is also a Labour MP with NTUC. He pointed out that delivery services would be a complementary business, which would not adversely affect taxi availability. He said:
“As it is, there is excess capacity during off peak hours. This will reduce empty cruising.”
In response to NTA’s lobby, LTA has now said that the rules may change. A spokesman said:
“LTA will monitor recent trends to see if these regulations need to be reviewed”
Let’s see how this pans out
We hope that LTA will indeed review their regulations to keep up with the times. After all, it’s just as important to do the right things than to do things right. Unless there are safety concerns, we hope LTA will take a light touch and let the market sort itself out.