Half of the 100,000 Taxi Driver Vocational Licence (TDVL) holders here are inactive drivers.
To reach out to them, SMRT Taxis yesterday announced a new taxi-sharing scheme that will allow drivers to rent its taxis for a minimum of three hours instead of paying daily rent.
The rates will start from $5.80 an hour. A promotional rate of $3.80 an hour will also be offered for about a month.
The first of its kind here, the scheme is expected to be launched on Feb 1.
Mr Tony Heng, the managing director for SMRT Taxis and Private Hire Services, told reporters this will help provide flexibility to TDVL holders who find the existing rental schemes unsuitable.
"We do see that there is this change in drivers' preferences. They want more flexibility and there is this untapped potential pool of 50 per cent. I'm not sure how much impact they will make... We sense it is definitely going to bring in a substantial impact," he said.
In the initial phase, drivers will be able to pick up and drop off taxis at 20 locations in northern and central Singapore.
Drivers can make their bookings through the Internet or via SMRT's mobile app.
They can unlock the cabs using the app.
So as not to inconvenience other drivers, those who return the taxi late will be fined $10 for every 15 minutes, said Mr Heng.
The flexibility spells good news for full-time cabby Tay Seng Hock, 58.
The cabby of nearly three decades is considering the scheme as it will give him more flexibility.
He would like more time with his grandchild once his oldest daughter gives birth, he said.
SMRT Taxis' scheme is one of the many measures taken by taxi companies to stay competitive in the disrupted industry.
Singapore's largest taxi operator ComfortDelGro recently offered its drivers some flexi-rental schemes to help those affected by the economy, Lianhe Zaobao reported yesterday.
SIM University economist Walter Theseira sees these schemes as taxi operators' attempts to break away from the prevailing model of renting out taxis for the whole day.
He told The New Paper: "Taxi operators are forced to break out of the traditional model because of the competition for these drivers."
At first blush, this model seems like good news for all - more options for commuters, more flexible options for TDVL holders.
On top of street hails, Mr Heng said those under the taxi-sharing scheme are free to use other ride-hailing apps.
But Dr Theseira wonders if such competition is healthy in the long run.
"It is good for people now. Commuters get cheaper fares, and drivers get extra money. But whether this will be sustainable is an open question," he said.
With signs of an over-capacity of rental vehicles in the market today, Dr Theseira warned of a situation where there is not enough business for the number of private-hire drivers on the roads.
It is not clear if taxi operators face the same problem of over-capacity.
"But if this is true, definitely, all parties are going to lose," he said.
This article was first published on Jan 27, 2017.
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