DRIVERS of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and GrabCar will need a licence to ply their trade by the first half of next year, and their private-hire cars will have to be registered with the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Under these changes designed to better protect commuters' interests and in particular, their safety, drivers who wish to provide chauffeured services will have to apply for and obtain a Private-Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL). Both the PDVL and a tamper-evident decal, showing that the car has been registered with the authorities, will have to be displayed prominently.
The changes were announced in Parliament on Tuesday by Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng.
Regulations for private-hire car drivers and vehicles come after a review of the chauffeured-services industry comprising players such as Uber and GrabCar, and engagement with stakeholders such as commuters, taxi drivers, private-hire car drivers, taxi companies, car-rental companies and chauffeured-services booking providers.
The LTA will take action against unregistered cars providing chauffeured services and private-hire cars which engage in unpermitted activities, such as picking up passengers via street-hail.
Anyone with a Class 3/3A driving licence and at least two years' experience may apply for a PDVL after a medical examination and background screening.
A private-hire car driver must either be employed as a driver in a limousine company, or be the registered owner of a chauffeured-services company.
As is the policy for self-employed taxi drivers, only Singaporeans can be registered owners of a chauffeured services company; non-citizens have to be employed by a limousine company.
Applicants must attend a 10-hour-long PDVL course and pass the requisite tests, after which there is a three-refresher course every six years.
They will be subject to a demerit point system called the Vocational Licence Points System (VLPS).
Taxi drivers holding a Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL) who want to convert this licence to a PDVL require only a two-hour briefing on the regulations for chauffeured services.
The National Taxi Association (NTA), responding to the changes, said it is glad that the Ministry of Transport acknowledges the safety and security concerns of commuters with regard to private-hire services.
But it added that bolder steps are needed to review the taxi regulations to ensure fair competition, especially those pertaining to cost structures and pricing flexibility.
The association said in a statement that this is "to level the playing field between taxi services and private hire services", and added: "There is a need to evolve with technology to promote greater efficiency and encourage optimal usage of our taxi and private-hire fleets."
NTA executive advisor Ang Hin Kee, in the association's proposal on the review of private-hire services submitted to the Ministry of Transport last November, had said that commuters should be protected with a clear and transparent accountability system provided by the private-hire services, so that there is proper recourse in accidents and disputes.
Mr Ang suggested that the 250 km daily minimum mileage required of taxi vehicles, for example, be removed, and new tools and technology such as third-party apps adopted to improve on availability-management and price monitoring.
"The NTA believes that the service quality standards for taxis and private-hire services should be harmonised," said the proposal.
Meanwhile, the ride-hailing service Grab said it is aligned with the government's efforts "to create a sustainable transportation ecosystem in which private-hire vehicles are a trusted and reliable transport option and co-exist with taxis, benefiting and protecting both passengers and drivers' interests".
Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore, said: "We view these regulations as an endorsement of private-hire cars and a positive development for the industry as a whole."
He added that Grab currently has a "robust driver registration, training and ratings and vehicle-inspection framework in place, and is in favour of any regulations that complement these".
- For more of our Budget 2016 coverage, visit bt.sg/budget_16