As popular as ride-hailing and food delivery apps are, they are also exerting a heavy burden on our roads in terms of safety and congestion.
HAVE you noticed that it is much easier to flag down a cab these days?
On four separate occasions in the past several weeks, I managed to flag down a taxi within three minutes. That is shorter than the average time it takes for a train to arrive.
One time, I walked past someone who was trying to hail a ride on his phone, and hopped into a cab while he was still busy tracking the progress of his ride.
There is of course, good reason for this. According to Land Transport Authority statistics, average taxi ridership plunged to 647,000 a day last year (2018) – down from about one million before private-hire operators arrived in 2013.
So, despite the taxi population having fallen from a high of 28,000 to 20,000 in the same timeframe, taxi availability is high (seeing how ridership has fallen by a lot more).
That explains why I have had no problem getting a cab on those four occasions, granted all of them were not during the peak hours.
Then again, it is a recognised fact that during peak demand – say, the morning rush hour, when it rains, when the MRT breaks down, on Friday or Saturday evenings – there are never enough rides available.
Even today, when there are 66,000 vehicles (20,000 cabs and the rest private-hire cars) providing point-to-point transport services, there is not enough supply during the peaks.
Which is why there are surcharges and surge pricing during those times mentioned above.
Granted the 46,000 private-hire drivers are probably not all full-timers.
But we also have to take into account car-pooling services such as GrabHitch, whose population of drivers is estimated to be as many as registered private-hire drivers, if not more.
The LTA is now reviewing regulations governing point-to- point transport providers, with the intention of narrowing the wide discrepancies between regulations governing taxi operators and those governing private-hire operators.
It is something which should have been done a long time ago, and not six years after the arrival of private-hire players.
But better late than never, as they say.
Various parties, including MP Ang Hin Kee, who is advisor to the National Taxi Association as well as the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, have called for capping the population of these vehicles.
This is sound, as a trebling of for-hire cars on the road in just six years is a ridiculous state of affairs, to put it mildly.
Not only has this contributed to worsening traffic congestion, it has also led to higher accident rates.
Due to lower ridership, it is now easier to hail a cab today than it was in 2013.
These vehicles clock three to five times more kilometres than the average family car, and as motor insurers have reported, are far more prone to accidents.
Is it worth it then, to have 66,000 cars leading to a marginal increase in service from the days when we had 28,000 cabs?
The numbers speak for themselves. Both taxis and private-hire operators now cater to an estimated daily ridership of 1.2 million – just 20% more than pre-2013.
Yet, during the peak, a commuter has to pay fares which are three to 10 times the normal rate.
There is no regulation which caps the fare quantum of private-hire players, which is completely different from how taxis are regulated.
There is also no one to track the service standards of these newcomers. Rides which are cancelled, or those which take a lot longer to arrive than promised on the app, are common complaints.
THE NUMBER OF FOR-HIRE CARS HAS TREBLED IN SIX YEARS, WORSENING TRAFFIC CONGESTION AND LEADING TO HIGHER ACCIDENT RATES.
Personally, I have never had a problem getting a taxi.
If I have to be somewhere urgently, I just phone-book one. My booking has never been cancelled, although there were a couple of occasions when I could not get through.
But now, with taxi operators having their own phone apps, that is no longer an issue.
So, I really do not see the fascination with private-hire. Colleagues have told me that it is probably a generational thing – a polite way of saying I am old and uncomfortable with new technology.
That is true to a certain extent. I have various other apps on my phone, but I really do not see a need for a ride-hailing one.
Now that more than half of Singapore is using ride- hailing apps to get a ride, I am finding it even easier to get a taxi when I need one.
Granted, I have not had to get one during the peak, but I am pretty sure that if I had to, I would have no problem booking one.
Definitely, on those four occasions I mentioned, it would have been tough for ride-hailing apps to match the swiftness with which my cabs pulled up.
The other thing I do not understand is the sudden demand for food delivery.
A few weeks ago, my family and I went for dinner at a restaurant in the east.
Just as we sat down, we noticed a food delivery guy arriving on his motorbike.
When we had finished, he was still waiting for his orders. The folks who placed an order with the delivery service were probably starving that night.
So, unless you are homebound because of mobility challenges, I do not see why people would prefer ordering food on their phone, and eating out of disposables – when the alternative is a proper dining experience with table cloth, proper cutlery, wine glasses and wait staff.
Even eating at McDonald’s is preferable to eating out of a bag.
Again, the proliferation of food delivery services has contributed to a lot of more bikes zipping in and out of traffic, and mobility devices contributing to more congestion and danger on walkways.
Is this worth it, even if you discount the environmental impact of such a culture? Many will say that we should not hamper technological advancement, and that we should not stifle innovation.
But we should remind ourselves that not all technological innovations are desirable. Think of porn sites and online gambling, for instance.
While ride-hailing and food delivery are not social evils, they are far from rocket science or cancer cures.
From a transport perspective, they certainly exert more cost than benefit, especially for a country which is trying to go “car-lite”.
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