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Khaw Boon Wan: Taxi operators should be the ones to help taxi drivers with fare evasions

Earlier in the last Parliamentary sitting, Nominated Member of Parliament, Assoc Prof Randolph Tan asked the Minister for Transport on how often are taxi fare evasions reported, involving cases where the fare evader is not identified, and what are the existing process for taxi companies to refer taxi fare evasion cases to Public Transport Council (PTC) or Land Transport Authority (LTA) for investigations.

Prof Tan also asked if the rate of recovery of unpaid fares in taxi fare evasion cases referred to PTC/LTA for investigations is satisfactory.

Minister for Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan answered by stating that the number of taxi fare evasion cases is about 150 every month, out of about 700,000 taxi trips.

Sixty-five percent of fare evasion cases , or about 100 such cases per month, involved unidentified fare evaders. . The identity of these evaders were unknown because they are not identified, said Mr Khaw.

“LTA was able to recover fares for about half of all cases referred to it for investigation,” Mr Khaw said, “These include both identified as well as unidentified evaders, and we were able to help resolve about half of them, bearing in mind that among all fare evasion cases, two-thirds are without identity.” Meaning about 25 cases out of 150 every month, LTA manages to help the taxi drivers retrieve the fares.

Mr Mhaw noted that higher penalties for fare evaders were introduced in May this year to further discourage fare evasion. He said, “If found guilty, fare evaders are liable to a fine of up to $1,000 for first-timers, while subsequent offenders may be fined up to $2,000, or jailed up to six months, or both. It is also mandatory for offenders to make restitution payment to taxi drivers.”

Prof Tan explained that his concern is for taxi drivers and said, “Unlike other forms of public transport, they (the taxi drivers) do not have as large an infrastructure to support them in a situation like this. I think the Minister mentioned a very important point about the increase in penalties for fare evaders. But given that a large number of fare evasion cases involved unidentified fare evaders, is it possible for PTC and LTA to consider maybe helping the taxi drivers who actually suffer from such fare evasion cases directly, so that it reduces the risk that they face in the course of providing a very important public service?”

Mr Khaw responded by saying, “We are most sympathetic to the taxi drivers who experience such incidents. But if the taxi driver could not tell us the identity of the person, other than saying that the person is of a particular race, or gender, it is very hard for us to track down the person. So, I think common sense requires the taxi drivers, when they encounter such an incident, to get as much information as they can from the fare evader: basic information like name, address and so on.”

“There are instances we know of where they could not get the information, they will try to report to the Police, fetched the passenger all the way to the police station and let the Police step in,” he said.

But Mr Khaw, evading the question, said the primary duty or responsibility of helping the taxi drivers resides with the taxi operator and the operator should be the first to help out, which must also include sharing with their taxi drivers tips on how to reduce such incidents.

He tried to explain again, “As I said, some of which are common sense, which is that you must get the basic information.”

He further elaborated, “I think taxi operators can also take a look at how some of the new players in this field, for example, Uber and Grab, how do they handle such cases. And there are obviously good best practices which they can pick up from these new players. But my message to commuters who cheat on taxi drivers is this: taxi driving is tough work and they need the money, the revenue, to feed their family. Please do not cheat on them.”

Another NMP, Ms Chia Yong Yong followed with a question, asking whether the Minister would consider an in-vehicle cameras to identify passengers which would also help protect taxi drivers.

Mr Khaw answered as he did in the previous question, “As I said, the primary duty or responsibility lies with the taxi operator. Certainly, ideas like these are things that they should consider and, I think, some already do.”

He said that even if the image captured down, without other information and the fellow just runs away, it is also not easy to track down.

“Where the identity is known, our success rate in tracking down and getting the money back for the taxi driver is pretty good. Where it requires us to go all the way to the court, success rate is about 85%. But we do need to know the identity,” he rested the issue.

Bearing on Mr Khaw’s reply, perhaps there should be a regulation for passengers to show his/her identity card to the taxi driver first, so that the taxi driver can identity his/her passengers?