Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC at the Second Reading of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill [Bill No. 5/2017]
Madam, this Bill ensures that Singapore’s road traffic laws continue to keep up with the changing times, and continues to adapt alongside ongoing changes in the industry, and I stand in support of it.
Ensuring penalties are in line with rising affluence
I commend the harsher penalties for altering vehicles and reckless driving, raising the maximum fine from $5,000 to $10,000, in both cases.
This is only appropriate as Singapore continues to experience economic growth and rising levels of affluence, penalties should also rise concurrently. Only then will penalties bring about the right ‘pain level’, have the appropriate punity effect, and continue to be an effective deterrent.
But as always, I do hope we don’t just focus andrely on penalties to shape our behaviours and morals. I hope all of us can realise that innocent lives may be lost as a result of our reckless actions.
Penalties for driverless vehicles seem harsh
I also note that the obstruction of driverless vehicles, will for the first time, incur a penalty. As driverless vehicles are the inevitable future for the industry, and the world is moving steadily ahead with its development, it is only prudent for Singapore’s laws to facilitate the testing and use of this innovation.
As such, this inclusion is timely and necessary for Singapore to remain at the forefront of innovation for driverless vehicles. However, I would like to raise the point that the maximum penalty of $5,000 for first time offenders who obstruct driverless vehicles during trials is the same as first time offenders of reckless driving. This seems to me to be a rather harsh. I would like to ask the Minister for the rationale behind this.
Levelling the playing field between taxi companies and private car hire companies
I also commend the timely and much-anticipated move to further regulate the private car hire industry. In 2016, LTA’s statistics showed that around 27,000 regular taxis plied our roads. In comparison, the number of Grab and Uber drivers is estimated to be around 25,000. This is a sizeable number, and adding another 25,000 cars onto the road presents real competition for existing taxi drivers.
However, we have understood that the private car hire disruptor is here to stay, and that it, in fact, does provides a valuable service to the Singapore public.
I have personally experienced being a Grab driver about a year ago and can see how they are a benefit to consumers.
At the same time, I’ve met with taxi drivers and understand their concerns and know that their ricebowls are now affected by the increased competition.
Ultimately, consumers benefit from the additional options. This is a public good for Singapore. As such, the only thing that we should do in terms of government intervention, is to ensure fair competition. We must level the playing field as much as possible for both groups.
The changes presented by this Bill is a good start, by requiring Grab and Uber drivers to register with LTA, complete a vocational licensing course, and undergo background screening and medical checks.
However, I believe that even after these changes, the playing field is still not level. For example, taxi drivers are required by their Code of Conduct to be properly-attired (shirt, dark-coloured pants, covered shoes). Such requirements do not seem to be explicit for Grab or Uber drivers. A taxi driver I met just three Sundays ago brought up this point and wanted to make sure we implement the same rules for both taxi and Uber and Grab drivers.
Another example was highlighted in the media recently, when a GrabHitch driver brought his dog to pick up a passenger, and the passenger was bitten. GrabHitch responded to the media that Grab does not restrict its drivers from bringing their certified pets on board their vehicles, only encouraging them to inform their passengers beforehand. This would not happen in a taxi because rules prohibit drivers to bring their dogs in their taxis.
Lastly, we have also heard in the news recently that it is illegal for Uber and Grab private hire cars to ferry passengers under 135cm without a child seat. This, however, does not apply to taxis.
The issue here is not whether the child is in a taxi or a Uber or Grab car. At times, it might even be the same exact car model. The issue here is safety and the same rules should apply to all. Can the Minister clarify why this is not the case for the issue of the child seat?
And would the Ministry consider imposing exactly the same rules and requirements for taxi drivers to drivers of private car hires so as to achieve our intended objective of fair competition.
Madam, these comments notwithstanding, I stand in support of the Bill.