TRANSPORT touts are taking advantage of Singapore's bustling tourism industry.
And these illegal touts are usually found at popular tourist spots, making taxi drivers unhappy over the competition.
Cabbies said that the touts have been around for at least five years, but have been more active in recent months.
This is especially after the opening of new attractions, such as the integrated resorts, Marina Bay Cruise Centre and River Safari, reported Lianhe Zaobao on Monday.
When Zaobao reporters visited the zoo recently, they saw four men soliciting passengers at the entrance.
The men worked in teams of two - one would look for passengers, while the other would wait in his vehicle.
Once a price is negotiated, they would drive to the taxi stand to pick up the passengers.
The touts usually charged a fixed price or by the number of passengers.
For instance, a ride could cost $30, compared to less than $60 for a Maxicab, or $55 for a limousine.
Or the touts would charge $10 per person.
In less than an hour, at least three groups of passengers were seen leaving in a private mini-van. Each group had more than four adults and would have had to take two taxis. A mini-van can take more than 10 people.
A tourist from Kuwait, Mr Nawaf, 35, and his family of four were waiting for a taxi when he was approached by a tout, who asked: "Do you want a faster mode of transport?"
The tout set a price of $50 and lowered it to $30 later. But Mr Nawaf did not agree to it.
"We just wanted to get to a hotel in the city and felt that the price was a bit too steep. We didn't know if this service is safe and didn't want to take the risk," he said.
A British tourist, Mr Tristan, 36, was also approached by three men. He said that the touts were friendly when soliciting for passengers. Mr Tristan joked that he should have taken their offer as his family had waited more than an hour for a taxi.
A spokesman for Wildlife Reserves Singapore said that they rarely received complaints from visitors about the touts, but there had been a few incidents.
In such cases, they would warn the tout, take his particulars and inform the authorities.
Cabbies are understandably disgruntled over the unlicensed competition.
Relief taxi driver Lim Qiao Ying, 43, said: "A taxi driver will have to face serious punishment if he breaks the rules, but a private operator is not subjected to the rules of the taxi company and the authorities. It is unfair."
Maxicab driver Zheng Chun Quan, 43, said he once picked up a group of six Indian tourists from the ECP because they were thrown out of a mini-van after they could not agree on a price with the tout.
He also felt that touts spoil the image of Singapore because their service standards are not consistent.
In the past two years, Mustafa Centre, Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Sentosa's Beach Station and Changi Airport have seen the most cases of touts.
A spokesman for the Land Transport Authority of Singapore said there are few cases of touting, and the situation is being closely monitored.
During the peak travelling period, the Marina Bay Cruise Centre is a hot spot for touts.
To solicit business, the touts hold up fake signs to look like they are picking up passengers at the arrival hall.
A Maxicab driver said that most taxi drivers would not go to the cruise centre because it is out of the way, which makes it attractive to the touts.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Changi Airport Group said that six touts had received warnings over the past year. Airport officers will continue their checks.
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