MORE drivers are using their own cars to provide illegal taxi services - a situation reminiscent of Singapore's pre-1970s pirate taxi days.
In the first nine months of this year, 39 motorists were arrested for using their cars as taxis. Only 12 were arrested last year, while in 2012, there were no arrests.
The Land Transport Authority, which provided these figures, said that arrests were made after feedback was received from various sources. It receives an average of 70 complaints a year about such illegal taxi services.
Such services can be found on online classified sites such as Gumtree, 88DB and Locanto.
Drivers who offer such a service said they know it is illegal but did not think they would get caught. They usually offer an hourly rate, day rate or per-trip rate. One such driver is a former sales executive who is currently unemployed. She charges an hourly rate of $40 and makes about $400 a week chauffeuring passengers in her Toyota Altis.
"It's not enough to pay for the monthly car instalments but it helps," said the 25-year-old, who asked not to be named.
Luxury cars like BMWs and Audis are also being hawked as taxis. One Audi A5 driver said he could make as much as $4,000 a month. "I do everything; I can pick up kids, take you to work, and then take you home in the evening," he said, adding that he sometimes doubles as a babysitter.
"My customers like that I am good with kids; I have to entertain them sometimes in the car," said the 32-year-old, who is also a property speculator.
Drivers said that while their prices are higher than taxis', their passengers prefer the familiarity and personalised service, adding that passengers tend to be well-to-do executives. They said most bookings were pre-arranged and they generally did not get calls from people who needed a taxi on the spot because they could not get one outside.
National Taxi Association adviser Ang Hin Kee points out that there are safety concerns with such an arrangement.
"You don't know whether the insurance covers the passengers involved (in case of accidents)," he said, noting that in the case of licensed taxi drivers, both the vehicles and drivers have to meet standards and benchmarks.
Under the Road Traffic Act, it is illegal to use, rent or hire out a private car to convey passengers for reward. Offenders could face up to six months in jail, be fined up to $3,000 and have their vehicles forfeited. For not having valid insurance, drivers would be disqualified from driving for a year, and could be jailed for up to three months and fined a maximum of $1,000.
Mr Ang, an Ang Mo Kio GRC MP, raised this issue in Parliament recently. He told The Straits Times the Government should find a way to legitimise such services.
"My purpose is not to advocate (enforcement); these people need to make a living too. The Government should find a way to legitimise them so they would be able to operate on a level playing field (with taxis)," he said.
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