SINGAPORE – 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 on Monday (July 29).

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 for good.

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 not only to 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.

But compared to Grab, the dominant ride-hailing operator here, ComfortDelgro’s app still lacks functions such as a payment wallet and a wide-ranging rewards system.

Changes are afoot, however.

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

In the last two 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, have swelled by about 3,100 to 71,180.

Before the entry of Grab and Uber in 2013, there were fewer than 500 private-hire cars plying the roads. They were mainly operated by limousine companies.

But the cabbies’ predicament was not lost on Mrs Teo even as she said that innovation was necessary to create opportunities.

She assured the drivers the authorities will look into measures, like training, to help them adapt to the changes.

She praised ComfortDelGro’s efforts to improve, like its new one-day programme to train 10,000 workers on how to better use technology in their jobs.

It started about two months ago and is scheduled to end in January 2021.

Cabby Frankie Chew, 51, who attended the course, said in Mandarin: “It is very helpful, especially for older drivers who may not know how to deal with cashless payment options and/or use the app to get an advanced booking.”

On the retirement age of 75, Mrs Teo agreed that drivers could continue to drive as long as their eyesight and health permit. She added:”I will find the right occasion to lend support to your cause.”

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.”