Looks like a car, feels like a taxi
TECHNOLOGY company Uber has launched a private car service rivalling taxis in terms of pricing and fleet, but the authorities do not plan to regulate it for now.
Two weeks ago, the company - known for its mobile app which allows users to book high-end private limousines - launched a service called UberX.
UberX users can now book mid-range cars such as Mitsubishi Lancers and Toyota Corollas using the service.
These cars are driven by people who sign up with UberX to be drivers using their own cars, or rental vehicles. They do not need to possess taxi driver licences to do so.
This service follows the model rolled out in several cities globally, including New York, Los Angeles and London.
UberX's pricing in Singapore is similar to what local taxi companies charge.
UberX charges $3.50 as a base fare and a per-kilometre charge that works out to be about 28 cents per 400m.
This is similar to what ComfortDelGro's Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai i-40 taxis charge - $3.20 and $3.70, respectively, for the first kilometre or less.
SMRT charges $3.60 and $3.80 for its Chevrolet Epica and Toyota Prius, respectively.
Both taxi companies charge 22 cents for every 400m thereafter or less, up to 10km, and 22 cents for every 350m after that.
The introduction of UberX in Singapore comes as the taxi industry faces increased regulation and higher service standards.
But despite UberX's similarity to taxis, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will not be regulating it for now.
In response to MyPaper queries, an LTA spokesman said that Uber is not a taxi company but rather a "technology company providing a matching service leveraging on technology".
"These are private-hire cars. Such cars, unlike taxis, do not ply for hire on any road. Neither do such cars take in passengers at taxi stands/stops," the spokesman said.
Mr Mike Brown, regional general manager for Uber in Southeast Asia, said the company is "fully compliant with the law in Singapore".
He said that UberX is "priced at a premium to a taxi and UberX does not accept street hails like a taxi".
To ensure passenger safety, the company conducts criminal background checks and inspects the driving licences of all drivers, before they can join.
UberX hires only Singapore citizens and permanent residents. All cars must be commercially registered and have commercial auto insurance.
Those who do not own cars rent vehicles through Uber.
A MyPaper check with seven UberX drivers found they were a mix of former lorry drivers and former taxi drivers.
One said he pays about $1,600 for the monthly vehicle rental, which works out to around $50 a day - half of what taxi drivers pay for their daily rental.
Uber takes 20 per cent of every UberX fare. But drivers said they still find it a good deal. With the lower rental, "it's better than driving a taxi because we can potentially earn more money with the same amount of work", said one driver, who declined to be named.