Yet again Malaysia is moving ahead where Singapore dares not tread.
According to the Malaysian Insider, PM Najib will abolish taxi licences for corporates and and instead allow individual taxi drivers to own their taxi licences. In his words, “The leasing of taxis is a form of modern-day slavery which I do not like.”
Isn’t it amazing what the fear of losing power will do to politicians? None of the recent moves in Malaysia— such as the abolishment of ISA and the Printing Presses and Publications Act— would have happened if BN was not facing a strong opposition led by Anwar and PKR.
But in my view— apart from the political necessity of winning the votes of taxi drivers— the move to award allow individuals to own taxis is a just and long overdue move which Singapore should reinstate.
The vast majority of taxi drivers in Singapore do not own their own taxis. Out of over 25,000 taxis in Singapore, less than 400 are Yellow-Top taxis individually owned by the drivers. The rest of the taxi drivers hire taxis from the taxi companies, usually paying $70-120 per day excluding fuel charges.
The number of yellow-tops keep dropping every year because the Govt requires the owners to surrender their taxi licence once they turn 73, and it will not issue new yellow-top licences. Since the 1980’s, Govt policy has been to turn over taxi ownership to corporates while phasing out individual ownership.
The policy has its good and bad points. On the plus side, it allows those with little cash up-front to drive taxis; they don’t have to pay the huge upfront costs of buying their own vehicles. With sky-high COE prices these days, the cost of taxi-ownership can be a significant barrier to entry.
On the minus side, the ownership of taxis by corporates gives them huge control over the livelihoods of taxi drivers. It allows corporates to dictate the terms and conditions of the business. It also adds a layer of costs to the business that may reduce the earnings of taxi drivers.
I can appreciate that even if taxi drivers owned their own horses, they still need a plethora of services, such as a nationwide call booking infrastructure, which only corporates can provide. Thus in my view it’s inevitable that drivers have to work with corporates, even if they owned their own taxis.
However, I disagree with the govt policy to phase out individual taxi ownership. I believe drivers should have the choice of owning their own taxis instead of being hirers for life. It gives them a sense of safety and security to own their own asset, and may put them in a stronger bargaining position vis a vis corporates. For those who can afford it, a taxi can be an asset they can will to their children or sell when they retire, as the case may be.
Unfortunately Singapore has no strong political opposition that can make the Govt backtrack on this policy, unlike Malaysia.