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Minister urges taxi drivers to embrace change, pick up digital skills

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Manpower Minister Josephine Teo says cabbies should pick up digital skills

Cab companies and taxi drivers facing pressure from the growing competition posed by ride-hailing operators received a dose of advice from Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

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 company'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 the passengers lost to ride-hailing operators is to not only make the app more user-friendly, but also to 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.

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.

But changes are afoot.

The chief executive of the company's taxi business, Mr Ang Wei Neng, told The Straits Times yesterday that commuters can expect improvements to the booking app "every fortnight". He did not give details.

In the last three years, Singapore's taxi fleet has shrunk by about 3,600 to stand at 19,478 last month.

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.

On the retirement age of 75, 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, who asked the question, 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," he said.