Uber and Grabtaxi drivers requiring a vocational licence

From ‘Uber, Grabtaxi drivers may need vocational licence’, 10 June 15, article by Zachary Soh, My Paper

DRIVERS who run chauffeur services under ride-booking apps such as Uber could be required to obtain a vocational licence in the future.  While they are currently free from this requirement, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that it is looking into removing this exemption, as a way to ensure the safety of passengers taking private-hire rides.

In a forum letter published in The Straits Times, LTA noted that chauffeured vehicle services have become more accessible to the public with technology and given the industry’s recent growth, it is studying possible measures to safeguard commuter interest. The cab community has cried foul recently, following news of ride-matching apps and rental companies working together to run their own fleet of “taxis”.

The rental firms lease out cars to drivers at a rate cheaper than taxis. The drivers then use the vehicles to fulfil bookings from apps like Uber and GrabTaxi. These companies and drivers, however, do not have to meet the stringent requirements imposed on the taxi industry, such as vocational training.

…Meanwhile, Uber drivers have told The Straits Times that the time and money required to take a vocational course will be an extra burden for them. One driver, Yu Kim Reed, 30, asked why vocational licences have to be implemented now, given that chauffeur services have been around for so long. “The only difference is that a (car hire) call centre has been replaced by the Internet,” Mr Yu said.

According to the Sunday Times (Are ride-matching apps an UBER problem, 14 June 2015, ST), some Uber drivers do in fact ply their trade like ‘chauffeurs’. One subscriber known as ‘Marcus’ supplies mints, newspapers, water, even a socket for phone charging for his customers. Uber also has a strict rating system whereby any score below an average of 4.3 (out of 5) warrants a suspension or total ban, so drivers are forced to go the extra mile, sometimes literally.

Other requirements before becoming a full-fledged Uber driver include a 2 hour training session, online lessons, up to $5000 commercial insurance, and setting up your own company and registering your car for commercial use should you choose to drive your own vehicle. All that, however, doesn’t ensure passenger ‘safety’ as what LTA is hung up about. Then again, your safety isn’t guaranteed even if you’re in the backseat of a ‘proper’ taxi anyway, especially if you’re drunk and vulnerable.

One ride-sharing/matching app supporter explained in a letter to the ST that the business model satisfies a genuine need among frustrated passengers who have tried calling call centres and forced to ‘listen to their holding music’ (Ensure licensing doesn’t stifle progress, 12 June 2015, ST Forum). He also hinted at an element of ‘protectionism’ given that main players like Comfort Delgro, having tremendous ‘economies of scale’, still reap profits despite their high rental costs. As the occasional app-user myself, I tend to agree that there is a market for such services, more so if my Uber ride includes complementary perks like an iPhone charger or a bottle of champagne.  It is also a wake up call for regular cabbies not to disappear just before midnight charges kick in, not to rely on the customer for directions, or drive like demented road warriors in Mad Max.

Financial factors like app companies taking a cut from your earnings aside, 3rd party booking apps have their share of problems too. Grab Taxi requires you to exchange handphone numbers with cabbies, for instance. Passengers could screw you over by cancelling last minute or not appearing at the designated pick-up spot. You still risk having someone puke all over your backseat, or rob you with a box-cutter. Someone got duped into paying $97 to a fake Uber driver. But that is how ‘market forces’ work. If you want your privacy, or if you don’t trust private cars, take the train, but bear with the crowd and breakdowns, or fight with other flag-down passengers.

Ride-sharing/matching is still, at the very least, more reassuring than the ‘pirate taxis’ that once roamed the streets.  These flourished as early as the mid fifties, when entrepreneurial drivers capitalised on the bus strikes to perform a public service when people could no longer rely on the main form of public transport. Business was so competitive in fact, pirates were willing to charge 5 CENTS per mile and provide ‘doorstep’ escorting services.  It’s a misuse of the traditional use of the word ‘pirate’, though. These drivers aren’t plundering from anyone. They’re pirates like how people operate ‘pirate radio’ before the Internet. Comfort DelGro is your ‘Top Hits’ station, with the same old songs played to death, while Uber/Grab Taxi is where you get to hear the ‘cool stuff’ without ‘royalties’.

Of course, the Government had to clamp down on these guys and declare all out war, not so much that passengers were harmed by it, but because they had to protect the interests of our taxi-drivers, who were partly the reason why pirates had their supporters in the first place. Taxi drivers then tend to ‘choose’ tourists over locals, and people complained about their ‘attitude’ after an evening at the cinema. Today, taxis choose to wait in queue outside our casinos rather than pick you up when you’re stranded in some godforsaken ulu place past midnight. By the time you get an actual human voice on the Comfort Cab booking line, you would have been assaulted and left to die pants-down by the road.

In 1970, the Government coerced drivers into ‘job conversion’ in a bid to phase out pirate operations, and anyone who continued to go pirate would be fined and have their ride confiscated. In 1971, a man who depended on pirating as his livelihood was driven to suicide by traffic offences slapped by the police, among other debt woes. By 1975, the pirates returned to the new towns, because the waiting time for the only bus on the road was probably longer than that needed to set up your one-man taxi business.  Even if bus frequencies have since improved, we sometimes still watch helplessly as bus after bus zooms by, the captain ignoring your flailing arms, oblivious that there’s a gaping hole in the middle because nobody wants to move in.

Today, the authorities are considering a softer approach in contrast to the ‘Operation Pirate Taxi’ blitz of the past, but the fact that we’re even discussing frameworks and legislation now despite our ‘world class’ transport system, in view of the high demand for these apps (6 companies and counting, the LTA one not included), suggests that not enough is being done to move people around an increasingly crowded city efficiently. Well yes, there are good and bad Comfort drivers, just like there are good and bad Uber/Grab Taxi drivers, but there isn’t enough evidence to say that the one without an official licence is more likely to drive you off a pier and plunge into the river. For the record, regular taxis have driven into condo pools before. At least I know which of the two is more likely to carry a float just in case the unimaginable happens.

Instead of a knee-jerk reaction of mandatory licensing, the first thing LTA should work on is figuring out what’s wrong with the current system, and consider the benefits of these apps not just in terms of moving the public, but as a form of employment, without having their judgement fudged by taxi giants with vested interest in seeing the demise of their hi-tech rivals.  In the meantime, if I want an ‘uber’ chauffeur service at a fraction of the price of an actual limousine, I know who to call.

Bible apps don’t come with hugs

From ‘Faith at your fingertips’, 7 Feb 2011, article by Yen Feng, ST Home

…Over the past year, faith-based smartphone applications – or apps – have emerged as the latest worship tools for people on the go.

(Pia Yan Beng Sin, buddhist minister): …Mobile phones are not conducive to the kind of ‘refined thinking’ needed for religious study. The attention-diverting nature of phones – SMS alerts, for example – may prevent followers from fully engaging in quiet meditation. You can’t answer the questions of life with just a few lines – you need knowledge – but you also need wisdom…On a smartphone there is no structure, no discipline, no assessment to know how much you’ve learnt. It is a mutitasking tool – good for religious people with busy lifestyles, but it is not a perfect replacement.

(Mrs Tan): …The apps are useful but unlikely to replace the real thing – going to church and praying with other Christians…The hugs – that’s what I miss most when I’m away (on weekends). I don’t think there’s an app for that. Is there?


No place like Om

Having a pocket bible or Quran in the form of an iPhone app is probably a nifty idea, not just for Christians and Muslims who need some discreet daily inspiration while on the train without being labelled as fanatics by people who associate the Good books with electric chairs and kamikaze airplanes, but also useful at cocktail parties where people trade quirky Judgement Day trivia like which passage in the bible has the most people slain by the hand of God. Not sure what ‘refined thinking’ means, if there’s any ‘thinking’ in the usual sense involved in meditation at all. In the first place, deeply religious people would refrain from downloading such apps,  or even own a smartphone at all, preferring instead the tranquility of a remote enclave relying only on the natural ebb and flow of their bodies to empty their mental recycle bins. So these apps, specifically those paid ones, are really intended for people with an already piqued interest in religion, and want to sample some ‘Religion Lite’ before embarking on serious study. They’re not surrogates for the real emotional rush of religious ecstasy that can only be experienced alone in rags under a Bodhi tree or with a whole bunch of whirly-eyed, teary congregates who  channel lost languages that our ancestors probably spoke while they were straddling the evolutionary gap between chimpanzee and Neanderthal.

Still, it’s interesting how Buddhists and Christians differ in what they deem optimal environments for religious experience. The former involves some form of tutelage, regime and personal training, even some suffering along the way. Christians like Mrs Tan above, on the other hand, go to church for hugs and other touchy-feelies typical of any charismatic flock, which is sort of irrelevant here as the apps were never designed to deliver something so viscerally warm and fuzzy as a group hug Teletubby style, but merely to deliver bitesize nuggets of info like where to find the nearest synagogue, or play hip hop praise songs that go ‘Jesus is in the House, yo!’.  So yeah, Buddha would never have attained Nirvana if he had an iPhone (He would have been too busy playing Angry Birds) and Jesus would never walk on water (in fear of getting his iPhone wet), and if we were ever to invent technology to elicit any form of physical affection be it a hug or a handshake, we would be applying them first to apps along the lines of boob wobblers. We are not merely creatures of habit, but of technology as well, and really, there’s no point fighting something that will permeate everything we hold sacred in life, be it sex, marriage, religion, or burning hell notes for dead people.

Wobble boobs on iPhone

From ‘家长投诉:iPhone情色软件任下载’ 1 Oct 2010, article in omy.sg (Sin Ming Daily)




iPhone apps killed the porn video star

Translation: A mother complains about her 14 year old son downloading porno iPhone apps, whch include 3D Kamasutra apps, and numerous boobie apps where one can make boobs wobble just by shaking the iphone.

Silly mum, probably persuaded to get the iPhone for her kid because he told her he needs a handy organiser to download his school timetable, or so that he won’t get lost when he goes boyscout camping, or so that he can send coordinates of his whereabouts via Facebook or Twitter. Well, perks of technology aside, you can’t keep out porn no matter how many filters you install on your OS. No one can stop you for downloading lewd stuff, but you do it at your own risk, knowing jolly well that unlike the security of saving your favourite bookmarks and vids in ‘sub-to-the-power-of-n ‘ folders on your home desktop, having portable porn at the flick of a wrist on your iPhone is like walking around a fertilizer factory with a lighter in your pocket. Perhaps Phillip Yeo was right when he stated bluntly that the iPhone is for dummies, for it seems that for every second that people spend using the calculator, currency converter, or God forbid, read the latest news in the world today, at least 10 seconds are wasted on apps that exploit the tactile, empowering, God-like  telekinetic concept of making things of all imaginable dimensions (from boobs to angry birds to clouds) move just by twitching their fingers. With such easy access to porn, why would heartland kids need to pay money and sneak into R21 movies, when they can shake to their heart’s content in toilet cubicles after school?

iPhone for dummies

From ‘Philip in a flap over ‘dummies’ remark’, 13 May 2010, article in Fit to Post website

Apple fans are furious about his  (Philip Yeo, SPRING chairman) claims that people who buy applications for Apple products are “gullible customers” and that they were wasting their money on “all sorts of useless applications”.

Mr. Yeo made the comments last week when he was the guest speaker at the Fullerton-St. Joseph’s institution leadership.

“I always tell my daughter, make products and services to sell to the dummies”, he added.

He may not be totally off the mark, if you’re talking about apps that burn virtual Hell notes. Otherwise, our egotistical humanity and insistence that our intellect is still intact is blinding us to the ugly truth of technology gradually dumbing everyone down, where we no longer rely on human contact or our innate sense of direction to do mundane things like finding the nearest ATM. All successful businesses bank on some level of idiocy, in fact Wikipedia thrives on it.  Yes we are gullible, but in the land of the App store, there is no room for people with phones which still have, gasp, buttons,and actually talk with them. The man had something less smart to say about Singaporean male scholars though (whining, immature wimps) (New Paper, May 8 2005)