Monday, October 5, 2015

May the best taxi service win

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan would like to evaluate upstarts GrabTaxi and Uber to ensure that there is a level playing field. I suppose that means that GrabTaxi and Uber (G&U) should not have an unfair advantage over the incumbent taxi companies. In my opinion, what it really means is that the government, through regulations, wants to up the costs of G&U. That, or it wants to banish, or at least suppress, this innovative transport solution. Once this is done, the taxi companies will deem the competition to be fair.

This is ridiculous. For as long as there has been taxi companies such as ComfortDelgro, SMRT, etc. operating their fleets of taxis, there has really been no real competition. The taxi prices are really collusive, dressed up as free-market competition, never mind that the hop-on fare differs from one taxi company to another. You really don't get to choose which company's taxi you hop onto in a taxi queue. You are expected to take the next one that comes. It is expected of you. Of course you can refuse the next taxi which, in your view, charges more, but that means that you are left to rue whether you should have passed it up because it seems to take forever for the next taxi to appear, and you are beginning to run late. It is an absolutely unsatisfactory state of affairs, to say the least. Of course you can call for a cab, but you have to pay for the service. The problem is, part of the booking fee go to the taxi company (I suppose for providing the calling service). The net effect is the increase in the cost of taking a taxi. Now what if you can get a taxi to come to you by using your phone? That's the value proposition of G&U. Hop-on fee starts at S$8 and the total cost you incur may come out to lower or higher than if you had taken a conventional cab. It doesn't matter. The important thing is, G&U will estimate the price of the trip and you can either go ahead with the booking or not. That's real competition for you, not the wayang competition that the authorities are so fond of dressing up as competition. You get to choose. Sounds familiar?

I say, let things be. If G&U get a bad reputation because of reports of mis-conduct, people will hear about it and it will spell the doom of their business. I don't think you really need the government to come in to play the referee. It will be a total waste of tax-payers' money. What existing taxi companies should do is engage G&U in real competition. Offer the value proposition that has made U&G so popular, or better them with something more innovative. Not hide behind Minister Khaw's apron in the name of fairness.

You say there is a mobile apps from ComfortDelgro taxis? When I last check, it wasn't available on my Windows Phone. Uber is and has thus acquired me as a customer.

Here's how to become a Uber driver in Singapore.

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