Will Private Hire Vehicles Replace All Taxis In Future?

GrabCar Singapore

I met two guy pals for tea recently and both were effusive in their praise for Uber and GrabCar drivers. They told me that it is near impossible to meet a driver who remotely resembles a “grumpy taxi uncle”. The experience is almost always pleasant. And it’s for one good reason…

Passengers have to rate the drivers after each trip. And the companies place a lot of emphasis on these ratings.

And yes, it now makes me wish that customer feedback is mandatory for all taxi rides.

My pals had also chatted with the drivers to find out why they do what they do. Some of them actually started out driving taxis, and experimented with the GrabTaxi application. Then they moved on to renting their own vehicles and moved on to GrabCar. Apparently, car rental rates are (much) lower than taxi rentals, and these drivers can use the car as a ‘family car’ on weekends. I was told that the difference in the price of diesel vs. petrol is “not that much anyway”.

I avoid taking taxis unless absolutely necessary, preferring the cost savings of taking a train or bus, and the satisfaction from reducing my carbon footprint. So I haven’t actually booked a ride using those applications, beyond hopping into a cab with an Uber-loving friend. I’ve been told there are many advantages, such as getting to know the fare upfront, so you don’t get a bill shock.

~ The Future? ~

When asked which app I should try using first, my pal Howard told me that GrabCar is a “tiny bit cheaper” than Uber. Grabcar economy indicates a fixed rate upfront so there is no bill shock when you reach your destination. Do add $5 per location if you have multiple drop off points though.

Howard also shared with me that he has been an Uber fan since 2014. And interestingly enough, the company sent him a hamper when his wife gave birth. It was because he had sent feedback to their General Manager that he couldn’t get UberX (economy) to send his wife to the hospital for the delivery and so he was forced to choose the luxury option (Mercedes) instead, and that ride cost him over 60 dollars.

Singaporeans are likely to vote with their wallets. If we pay roughly the same fare but get better service riding with these private hire vehicles, there would be little reason why we would remain loyal to the conventional cab companies.

And I do think that the future of this “taxi industry” will involve more of these ‘private vehicles’ and fewer conventional taxis. Of course, this will not please everyone. I was told this story recently…


“You know what that (private hire) driver told the female passenger? He told her that there’s no need to pay him the fare! And, of course, she was puzzled. Because he’s driving a nice car! How can the ride be free?!”

“He’s a hunter. And he’s out hunting for prey lah!” said my taxi uncle, as he told me what a female passenger recently shared with him.

This wasn’t something I was expecting to hear when I just casually asked the taxi driver whether he used the Uber or GrabCar applications. He actually shared with me some risks of hiring the drivers of private cars, one of which involved ulterior motives as I’ve shared above. *wink*

I have no way of determining the veracity of his ‘story’ but it does remind me of two things: that not all taxi drivers are happy about the ‘competition’ and that it pays to be more careful when hopping into a stranger’s vehicle, whether it be a conventional taxi or a private hire ride.

I’m definitely of the opinion that all private hire drivers, like their taxi-driving counterparts, should go for fitness tests and also undergo medical and criminal background checks before they are allowed to pick up (paying) passengers. Uber and GrabCar do perform some checks, but I think more needs to be done to protect the interests and even the personal safety of commuters.


It seems that news about regulating companies like Uber and GrabCar have been hogging the headlines for a while now. Recently, Uber was fined 150,000 euros for alleged “deceptive advertising” and about three months ago, angry cab drivers in Kuala Lumpur were supposedly targeting Uber and GrabCar drivers.

What about in Singapore?

As usual, the cab companies are looking towards the Government for solutions, and perhaps more regulations? But it appears that the Government is taking a more careful and collaborative approach, preferring to solicit feedback from drivers themselves and through the National Taxi Association, which wants to “level the playing field“.

Taxi costs

Who is driving taxi rental prices up? (Source: Passportchop)

As a commuter, I’m all for the idea of being able to get a taxi when I need it, but I AM concerned about how more companies are jumping onto this lucrative bandwagon. Besides the popular Uber and GrabTaxi apps, there are other third-party taxi-booking providers all eager to get themselves registered. GrabHitch and Ryde are looking to encourage carpooling. Will we even have a private hire motorcycle, van, pick-up or motorized scooter app one day?

As more and more private hire drivers serve the transport market, the ugly side of the relatively unregulated private hire industry is starting to emerge.

In the event of an accident, Passportchop highlights that, “the taxi driver pays an excess of around $1,000 while the taxi operator’s insurance will foot the rest of the bill. However, if this passenger were to ride in a PHV (private hire vehicle), the PHV driver (as a sole proprietor) will have to fork out $12,000 to $15,000 before the commercial insurance will pay out.”

Besides being saddled with high insurance liabilities, private hire drivers also face bans from Uber and GrabCar should they chalk up too many negative ratings, some of whom still have long term leases with car rental companies to service.

There will definitely be issues if most, if not all, taxi drivers decide to jump ship and work with these companies as private hire drivers. The cost savings might be attractive, but do private hire drivers need a voice to collectively represent their views and protect their livelihoods if things change unfairly for them? Even National Taxi Association advisor Ang Hin Kee seems to think to.