This amazing country has a powerful tool to control almost every profession in every industry from the lowest food chain to the highest. Yup, I’m referring to the issue of “license” by the relevant authority. If you are a professional e.g. Doctor or Lawyer you will need a license to practice. If you swindle your client’s monies entrusted to you or prescribe medicine indiscriminately, your license may be revoked. Without a valid license, you will not be able to earn a living in your chosen profession.
Before you start selling cooked food, you will need to go for medical check-up and apply for a license. If you do not maintain a minimum standard of hygiene as a hawker selling cooked food, NEA may revoke your license thus forcing you to close shop. Even selling tobacco products to the under-age will have your license taken away. From these few cases, you will agree that licensing is an effective way to control and regulate almost every profession in the country.
In those good old days, there was not much control or regulations as far as illegal hawkers or pirate taxis were concerned leading to chaotic situations. Anyone could just set up a stall selling cooked food any where as they like then. This is still being practiced in some 3rd world countries. Not any more in our highly regulated country where everything needs a valid license from the proper authority. Without proper health checks, hygiene was an issue not to mention the indiscriminate setting-up of stalls along the streets and back lanes. We have more or less eradicated illegal street hawkers. But pirate taxis or “pa wong chia” have resurfaced and mutated in new form under the cover of new technology in our new economy!
Whatever mutations the modern pirate taxis evolve in the so-called new economy, certain things can never and should not be changed. The interests of the consumers (passengers) and those existing taxi drivers holding valid taxi vocational license must be safe guarded. Let’s look at the rationale of taxi vocational license.
Like I mentioned earlier, licensing is a powerful tool to control and regulate a profession. There are one hundred and one rules and regulations in the rule book to discipline errant taxi drivers. If there is a complaint by passenger to LTA, the taxi driver will be investigated. If the complaint is substantiated, the taxi driver may have his license suspended or revoked affecting his livelihood. Even if the passenger directs his complaint to the taxi company, the taxi driver may be sacked. He will have to look for another taxi company to ply his trade earning a decent honest living.
Every 3 years, taxi driver will have to go for a refresher course and a complete medical check-up before his taxi vocational license is renewed. If he does not pay his medisave voluntarily, his taxi vocational license may not be renewed. When I drive my taxi, I have to be careful not to invite unnecessary complaints from passengers. I’ll not do nonsensical things to jeopardize my rice bowl. On few occasions, I was offered extra cash to fetch more than the legal limit of 4 passengers. I declined. I told my passengers it’s against the law. I do not want to take unnecessary risks for getting caught by enforcement officers.
Taxi vocational license is indeed an effective means of control to regulate and discipline taxi drivers. Almost all foreigners and tourists are impressed by our local taxi drivers. We follow strictly to the taxi meter fare, do not over-charge and are courteous to them. They have been to many countries in the region and they all agree that our taxi drivers are reliable and trust worthy – the best in the world! Mind you, it does not happen by chance.
Just to illustrate the importance of taxi vocational license. Whenever I send pax to Jurong Island – a vital installation with tons of oil and gas, I was asked to surrender my taxi vocational license. Not my NRIC! Security is so tight that they snap a picture of me with my fingerprints taken all under the watchful eyes of anti-terrorist security personnel in army green camouflage!
The same thing happens whenever I enter Changi Airport cargo complex. They demand for my taxi vocational license even though I need not change pass. Obviously, my taxi vocational license (with valid date cuz they check) carries more weight than my NRIC.
Imagine without the fear of having your taxi vocational license revoked, do you think that the reputation of our taxi drivers could be so impressive? If I were to operate under UberX, taxi vocational license becomes irrelevant. If the passenger complains to LTA, there is nothing the latter could do to me. Unless, I commit a criminal offense, the police will not prosecute me. As such, I will operate my taxi business under UberX outside LTA’s taxi rules and regulations. It is as simple as that. Yet, many policy makers do not understand this simple rule of the thumb.
I would like to highlight some salient points of taxi vocational license. Before a citizen (only citizens could apply for taxi vocational license) could apply for the taxi crash course, he will need to write in to LTA for approval first. The applicant will be screened by LTA for any criminal records or past serious traffic offenses. Only after getting the LTA approval letter, the applicant can go for the taxi course. As such, before the Singaporean could go for the taxi course, he will need to go for a complete medical check-up and get approval from LTA first.
If you drive under UberX, you need not go through all these procedures. In fact, any body, not necessary citizens could drive UberX. The difference between a qualified taxi vocational driver and UberX driver is that the latter could not do street jobs – meaning they could not pick up pax by the road side. But with 3rd party taxi apps, unlike in pre-internet days it is no longer an issue. UberX drivers have become a major player in the taxi industry albeit without any form of control on them unlike those orthodox taxi drivers holding LTA taxi vocational license. That’s why existing taxi drivers complain about different levels of playing field in the same industry.
On the first day i.e. 1/10/15 the newly minted MOT visited train depots and crew stations. He uploaded some pictures taken during his visits on his FB. That tremendously boosted the morale of frontline staff. On the 2nd day i.e. 2/10/15, he wrote a blog about the taxi industry. From there, we could see his priorities in his new job. At least, he is humble enough to admit that he did not know that UberX drivers need not go for the taxi course to get qualified for taxi vocational license. He’s trying to put things right by highlighting this salient point on his blog. His subordinates had better take note of his thinking.
All these while, taxi drivers have been trying to highlight this vital point to the relevant authority i.e. taxi vocational license but to no avail. Even our PM publicly endorsed Uber and other 3rd party apps saying that it’s just sending pax from point A to point B. Is it so simple as that? Just like one smart alec ever mentioned driving trains is just “pressing buttons” only. If it is so simple, then just train a monkey to sit in the train driving cabin to “press buttons”. No need to spend months training someone to operate trains with yearly refresher courses and endless circular updates!
PM Lee has endorsed Grabtaxi and Uber. Watch 11:11 min of the video http://youtu.be/36-AxLUlkrQ
At last, we have an enlightened MOT brave enough to change course and change tact by publicly declaring that something need to be done to address this anomaly in the taxi industry! In the newly sworn in cabinet, there are 3 co-ordinating Ministers with 2 of them holding DPM rank. If there is another DPM post, the newly minted MOT could be the 3rd DPM! After all, he has already cleared up much of the HDB mess with enough flats for all and the housing prices are more or less stabilized. He has earned his dues and proved indispensable to the new team. PM made a wise move by appointing him as MOT!
My only worry is his health. I read somewhere just before the last GE that our MOT felt uncomfortable and giddy when he was attending to his constituents’ needs. He had to lay down to rest a while. He also publicly mentioned about taking frequent walks at Sembawang park to de-stress. Let’s hope that he could last the term and make some significant changes for the benefits of all before he calls it a day!
I was quite reluctant to include this part on my blog for fear of losing a fren. For the sake of our taxi industry, I’ll let the truth prevail. I’ll just say that my fren who was an experienced skilful taxi driver all his life in a moment of folly chose to work for a credit card syndicate.
My good fren committed credit card offences by cloning passenger’s credit card when the latter paid at the Point of Sale Terminal in his taxi. After some time, he was caught red handed. Convicted in court for the said offence and went in for more than a year. LTA revoked his taxi vocational license and he could no longer ply taxi as before. He’s gone over to UberX. The dark side accepted him with no questions asked. They welcomed him with open hands!
I’m quoting one known living example. What about others with different criminal convictions? Nobody knows cuz there’s no proper screening done on those crossing over to the dark side! It’s a nightmare and a time bomb waiting only to explode.