But observers say that doesn't mean there will be more cabs on the roads

DRIVING a taxi here has become more of a draw, going by the surge in the number of taxi driving licences.

The number of taxi vocational licences issued by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) swelled from 95,800 in 2012 to 99,800 last year.

With about 400 new taxi driving licences issued a month, The Straits Times estimates that the 100,000 mark was probably crossed last month, although official figures are not yet available.

Although the number of licence holders dipped in 2008 and 2011, the overall trend is that of a steady rise from 74,800 in 2005, when the LTA first started publishing taxi industry data.

"Taxi driving is attractive to those who like the independence of being their own boss," said Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive secretary of the National Taxi Association (NTA), which represents more than 13,000 taxi drivers here. "Some of them also take the licence as a form of backup."

Newly minted cab drivers tell The Straits Times that they were drawn to the job for its promise of earnings and flexibility.

"It is a respectable job and earns a decent living," said former cosmetic sales employee Karin Chua, 30, who is single.

Former marine mechanic Norizal Mohamed Hassan, 37, said the flexible hours of driving allow him to spend more time with his wife and three-year-old child.

For veteran taxi drivers, the swelling ranks of new drivers is not a worry. "We have our regular passengers and we know the roads better," said Ms Mary Yap, 54, a cabby of 12 years.

But even if there are 100,000 taxi licence holders, that does not mean there will be more taxis on the roads, say observers.

There are far fewer taxis here - about 27,700 - than taxi licence holders. The annual increase in the number of taxis is capped at 2 per cent for cab firms that meet the LTA's operating standards.

Taxi companies declined to reveal how many of their hirers are new licence holders.

Also, not all who are licensed to drive taxis end up driving them, said the NTA's Mr Ang. Indeed, it has been estimated that as many as half of these taxi licence holders are not active drivers.

Several former cabbies told The Straits Times that they stopped driving because the job was physically and mentally demanding. "I found it hectic and stressful," said former taxi driver Lee Qian Yi, 52, who drove for four years but stopped in 2011 after an accident. The single mother is looking for part-time work.

But for every taxi driver who gives up, more are looking to take over. As former real estate agent K. Rani, 47, who switched to driving cabs last November as it provides a more regular income, said: "There are always people who want to take taxis, and I am limited only by how hard I want to work."