Manpower Minister Josephine Teo urged taxi drivers to pick up digital skills to take advantage of technological improvements.
Call to taxi firms and drivers to embrace change Drivers were urged to pick up digital skills to take advantage of technological improvements. PHOTO: ST FILE

Cab companies and taxi drivers facing pressure from growing competition posed by ride-hailing operators received a dose of advice from Manpower Minister Josephine Teo. Embrace change, she said, urging the drivers to pick up digital skills to take advantage of technological improvements.

Meanwhile, companies can enhance their apps to make them more user-friendly, she added at a meeting with drivers of ComfortDelGro Taxi, Singapore's biggest cab company. These changes would help the companies as well as the drivers make the most of the growing number of commuters nowadays who are more willing to spend on taxi services, she said.

The lower take-home income of the drivers, since the ride-hailing operators entered the market in 2013, was a key issue at the one-hour session at the firm's office in Sin Ming Avenue. Another is the retirement age of 75, when a cabby has to put away his vocational licence. But competition dominated the meeting.

Mrs Teo noted that "the way people call a cab has changed, therefore, you must also change". One way to woo back passengers lost to ride-hailing operators is to not only make the app more user-friendly, but also expand payment options to make it easier for commuters to use.

ComfortDelGro has enhanced its taxi app to offer a fixed-fare option similar to that of ride-hailing companies, and more payment choices. But compared with Grab, the dominant ride-hailing operator here, ComfortDelGro's app still lacks functions such as a payment wallet and a wide-ranging rewards system.

Changes are afoot, however. ComfortDelGro Taxi Chief Executive Ang Wei Neng told The Straits Times yesterday that commuters can expect improvements to the app "every fortnight". He did not give details.

In the past two years, Singapore's taxi fleet has shrunk by about 3,600 to stand at 19,478 in the month of June 2019. At the same time, the pool of private-hire cars, including self-drive and chauffeured cars, has swelled by about 3,100 to 71,180.

The cabbies' predicament was not lost on Mrs Teo even as she said that innovation was necessary to create opportunities. She assured the drivers that the authorities will look into measures, like training, to help them adapt to the changes. She also praised ComfortDelGro's efforts to improve, such as its one-day programme aimed at training 10,000 workers on how to better use technology in their jobs.

The programme started about two months ago and is scheduled to end in January 2021. It teaches skills like how to deal with cashless payments and advanced bookings. On the retirement age, Mrs Teo agreed that drivers could continue to drive as long as their eyesight and health permit. "I will find the right occasion to lend support to your cause," she said.

Taxi Driver Ramasamy Kupusamy, 72, told ST later that some fellow drivers in their 70s are still healthy. "A lot of them have no work after stopping as a taxi driver, and I pity some of them because their children don't look after them."