Taxi-hailing apps GrabTaxi and Hailo are now legit with the Singapore government. Well, not that they weren’t before, but now they have been granted a certificate of registration to operate a third-party taxi-booking mobile app in the city state.
According to a press release by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA), the certificates are valid from today (December 1, 2015) and for three years. At the end of that period, the law provides renewal options.
The certificates are issued in accordance with Singapore’s Third-Party Taxi Booking Service Providers Act, enacted recently as a means to regulate taxi-booking apps. According to the legislation, in order for an app operator/provider to qualify for registration, they have to use only LTA-licensed taxis which are driven by professional taxi drivers. They also have to work with a fleet of over 20 cars.
This could raise some doubts about the fate of GrabTaxi’s private car ridesharing service GrabCar. Luckily, it’s specified that non-taxi booking options are fine as long as they are clearly differentiated from regular taxis and the user has the option to refuse them when they are suggested by the app. GrabTaxi has confirmed to Tech in Asia that both GrabCar and GrabHitch, its carpooling service, will continue operating normally.
The app cannot require users to specify their destinations either, in order to avoid taxi drivers cherry-picking passengers according to where they’re going. While it’s arguably a lot more helpful for both the driver and the passenger to specify that information, it’s equally good to have the option to not share that information up front.
Finally, users must be able to specify special needs like wheelchair transport or heavy luggage, and the services must offer basic customer support – which, arguably, is something all services should have.
Companies that operate taxi-booking services without a certificate of registration face fines of up to S$10,000 (US$7,100), imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
A level playing field
The LTA says it is also reviewing applications for the certificate by UberTaxi, Uber’s regular taxi-hailing feature, and services MoobiTaxi, Karhoo, and ConnexTaxi. The application of new service PairTaxi was rejected, as its “fare model did not meet the fare charging conditions stipulated in the regulatory framework.”
Crucially, the scheme as well as the legislation seem to leave out services like Uber’s. As Uber doesn’t work with licensed taxis and drivers (except for UberTaxi, for which the company has applied to register), it’s not within the purview of the Act.
Taxi companies and drivers in Singapore have previously complained about Uber, but the government has been reluctant to regulate the ridesharing service in the same way. And there have been some good arguments about why it shouldn’t.
Good news all around
There’s no doubt this is a win for GrabTaxi and Hailo in Singapore – a clear regulatory framework allows the companies to continue working on their products and services without having to worry about sudden shutdowns by authorities.
“[GrabTaxi] is proud to be one of only two taxi-booking applications to be officially recognised by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore,” Jerry Lim, head of GrabTaxi Singapore, says in a statement issued to Tech in Asia.
“We believe that this certification is a mark of confidence and is grounded on our past and on-going efforts to understanding what regulators, drivers, and commuters need from a experiential and safety standpoint. We look forward to continuing our contribution towards building a world class transport industry, a shared goal with the LTA,” he adds.
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