(Delivered in Parliament on 6 August 2019)
Mr Speaker, point-to-point passenger transport acts as a key complement to our public rail and bus infrastructure. In times where speed, comfort, convenience or connectivity is desired, such point-to-point transportation helps to fill in the gaps that our rail and bus infrastructure may not be able to. However, the industry was not always able to bridge that gap, and has led to ride-hailing, working on the principles of the sharing economy, to disrupt the market.
Yet, all disruptions to the market, given time, will become part of the new normal. Ride-hail, while bringing much-needed competition and innovation to the P2P transport space, has been regulated initially as a technology disruption, rather than a transportation alternative. The bill before us today is not the first time MOT and LTA has sought to regulate such services, but this bill is finally a proper recognition of the fact that ride-hail providers do play a big role in our transport ecosystem and deserves to be regulated as such. I support the bill, but I do have concerns surrounding the P2P transport landscape that I wish the minister can give clarity to.
Concerns on ride-hail industry regulation
Mr Speaker, currently, Grab is the dominant operator in the ride-hail transport industry, with upward to 80% of the market share at the time of the Infringement Decision by the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) in 2018. Since then, it has had to operate under the terms set forth by the CCCS judgment. However, the CCCS judgment hinged on defining the provision of ride-hailing platforms, and crucially excluded street-hail providers.
Should this bill pass, would the CCCS directions continue to be in force? Noting that the regulatory framework set forth is one of harmonizing regulations between street-hail and ride-hail operators, will the bill loosen the current restraints via redefining the market that Grab operates in as a P2P transport operator, rather than just a ride-hail platform? MOT and LTA should ensure that the constraints currently on Grab do not just loosen overnight as the potential for abusing its market position is still there. What measures will the Government be taking to prevent this?
On a related note, clauses 58, 59 and 60 of the bill will allow PTC to regulate ride-hail service providers, notably on the issue of fares as well. However, it is not clear in the bill whether the regulation of such fares and its related standards will be determined. Will it be one aimed to make transparent the algorithms that power the fare structures, or will it be one that will institute hard rules such as surge pricing caps or standardising the fare per kilometre travelled? Ultimately, any fare regime must balance the needs of allowing drivers to earn a meaningful living, while the commuters themselves do not need to pay exorbitant prices especially during peak hours and times of stress in our public transport infrastructure.
Safety and Welfare issues related to P2P Transport
Mr Speaker, the bill also seeks to address various safety, welfare and privacy concerns by allowing LTA to issue Codes of Practices that will contain various requirements. This potentially includes, among others, the matters on the condition of vehicles, conduct of drivers, and measures to deal with customer complaints. While it may be reasonable to expect street-hail operators to follow existing taxi regulations, it is not clear how such Codes of Practices will look like for ride-hail operators. I hope the minister will provide some clarity to the House on this issue.
In the meantime, I would like to touch on three topics related to P2P transport that I hope the minister can clarify on how they will tackle in the industry moving forward.
(a) Safety on the road
First, safety on the roads. Research by researchers from University of Chicago and Rice University on US transport data has shown that the arrival of ride-hailing services have led to an increase in motor vehicle and fatal accidents. Preliminary data in Singapore from motor insurers indicate an increase in road accident rates since the debut of ride-hailing firms. I would like to ask some questions relating to safety.
One, I would like to ask the minister whether the Government is satisfied with the overall quality of private hire car drivers in respect of safe driving, knowledge competency, driving skills and considerateness while driving. Does the minister think that more can be done to improve the standards in these respects?
Two, I would like to ask the minister what measures will be taken to mitigate against the continuing risk of more accidents arising from private hire cars?
Next, a related issue or concern is that of child seats. Even as taxis do not need to carry child seats currently, private hire cars do need to have child seats for use when they have young children as passengers. In the consultation phase of the regulations, more than half support having child seats in all P2P vehicles including taxis. While I can appreciate that there may not be easy answers for the Government, there has to be some consistency in its policy-making. If child seats are deemed to be a safety necessity for children travelling in private hire cars, young children travelling in taxis without child seats are surely subject to the same hazardous risks.
(b) Driver welfare
Secondly, driver welfare. In other parts of the world, Uber drivers have gone on strike demanding better pay at the same time Uber went public. Even as companies here seem to be able to give drivers meaningful income, only the ride-hailing operators are clear whether their drivers are able to earn a liveable income while driving reasonable hours so as not to result in tired drivers endangering the lives of commuters and the public.
Crucially, drivers should also be able to earn a liveable and meaningful wage driving for ride-hail operators but with reasonable working hours.
Does the Government have any comparative statistics of the average working hours and average income of our private hire car drivers vis-à-vis their counterparts in other first world cities? In other words, are both the average hours they work each day as well as their daily income comparable with those of their counterparts in other first world cities? Are the incentives set by the operators causing drivers to work an unhealthy number of hours e.g. more than 8 hours? And if so, should be we concerned with the impact on the drivers’ health and families? Would this issue be regulated in the Code of Practices or other regulations?
(c) Privacy concerns for passengers
Finally, privacy concerns for passengers. Negative behavior by passengers and drivers alike have made for regular headlines in recent times, spurred by the proliferation of smart devices both handheld and in-car. However, even as LTA allows for in-car video recording in 2018 and audio recording just last month, privacy concerns still remain. PDPA guidelines are still vague on the retention of such data, only noting that the data be no longer retained when it is no longer necessary for business or legal purposes. Will the minister clarify whether the proposed Code of Practices will be specifying a time limit for video and audio recordings to be deleted so that the privacy of individuals can be safeguarded and what will such time limit be?
(d) Issue with younger private hire drivers
There may also be a need to assess whether too many young adults may be lured by the promise of flexibility and wages they can gain from private car hire driving as opposed to finding other employment.
Does the minister have the data for private hire car drivers broken down by age? The concern here is that, career training wise, such young adult drivers, particularly those who do private hire driving as a full time occupation, may risk becoming obsolete with the possible advent of autonomous vehicles in perhaps the not too distant future.
If so, younger private hire car drivers may find themselves unemployable earlier in their working life and would need to retrain. The Government may really need to encourage more pathways to skill up private hire car drivers as well.
Impact of ride-hail operator fleet size
I also want to speak on the impact that the operator-owned or run private hire cars has on the value on COE premiums. Mr Speaker, COE prices saw an upsurge a few years ago when private hire cars were first introduced with Uber and Grab. With the departure of Uber, we saw the sharp drop in COE prices. With Gojek entering the market, the COE prices have picked up again earlier this year.
To be fair, such big players buying or leasing a big fleet of cars having a distortionary effect on the value of COE premiums is not new to private car hire cars. Taxi operators were once bidding for COEs and they too had an undesirable impact on the COE prices.
When Uber departed, the end result was not pretty as well, as industry experts place the number of unused cars in the private-hire fleet at over 2,000. For our stated zero-car growth policy, having idle cars is a market failure.
This is also all rather unfair to individual car owners.
There has also been media reports of news or speculation that taxis companies may be allowed to bid for COEs again. I seriously hope that the Government is not entertaining this thought. It will certainly lead to an unwelcomed spike in COE prices.
With such big players having the uneven power to distort COE prices, vehicles owned by or leased to all P2P passenger transport operators should be subject to a new category of COE so that these vehicles will not affect or drive COE pricing for current categories to the detriment of private car owners. Alternatively, LTA should limit the fleet size of taxi and private-hire cars and ensure that all P2P passenger transport operators are not able to bid for COEs with other cars under COE categories A or B.
Mr Speaker, may I speak briefly in Mandarin?
首先，我想询问部长, 和其他 第一世界 城市的 私家车司机 相比，我国的 全职 私家车 司机 在每日的平均工作时间 和收入方面是否 相近？再者，运营商 所设定的奖励措施 是否导致 司机的工作时间过长？比如说，一天超过 8 小时的工作时间。如果情况的确如此，那我们是否应该关注这些奖励措施对司机的健康和家庭的影响呢？
除此之外，司机的收入又是否有保障，并且合理 和 富有意义？我想知道以上的 令人担忧的问题 是否会在 业务守则 或 其他法规中 受到规范？
第二，私家车 召车服务 是否会对拥车证价格 造成影响？ 几年前，私人召车服务 首次推出，优步(Uber) 和Grab 相继面世，当时我们看到汽车的拥车证价格飙升。拥车证价格 之后 连续几年 也持续 大幅上涨。当优步离开市场时，拥车证 价格 则暴跌。而当Gojek在今年加入 私人 召车市场 时，拥车证价格再次上涨。这样的价格 波动 不受 私家车拥有者 的欢迎。我呼吁政府考虑以下的建议:
(1)为提供 私家召车服务 的企业 设立另一个类别的拥车证;
(2)限制 私家 召车业者 的车辆数目;
(3)考虑不容许 私家召车 运营商 直接 竞投 私家车的拥车证.
Mr Speaker, in closing, I look forward to the Minister’s clarifications. Notwithstanding my concerns, I support the bill.