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    Feb 04, 2015

    More fare cheats got free cab rides in 2014

    MORE cases of taxi drivers being left high and dry, after passengers ran off without paying, were reported last year.

    There were 121 cases referred by cab companies to the Public Transport Council (PTC) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) - a 50 per cent jump from 80 cases in 2013.

    In 2012, there were 68 cases.

    The numbers, however, may represent just a fraction of the problem, as cab companies will try to recover the unpaid fares for their drivers first. Only after being unable to do so will they refer the cases to the authorities.

    SMRT, the island's fourth-biggest operator with 3,600 taxis, had 180 reported cases of fare evasion from its drivers last year, about twice that in 2012.

    "This continues to be an area of concern to SMRT," said Patrick Nathan, vice-president of corporate information and communications.

    Both TransCab and Premier Taxis said their drivers reported about 20 cases last year.

    But TransCab general manager Jasmine Tan believed many cases go unreported and estimated that there is at least one case a day.

    "Most times, taxi drivers are not able to catch hold of the passenger. When the taxi reaches the destination, they will just run off. Without any (personal) details, the driver will just drop the case," Ms Tan said.

    Of the 339 reports handled by PTC and LTA in the past four years, about 30 per cent or 98 cases were unresolved because of insufficient details about the passenger, or because the taxi driver decided not to pursue the matter.

    Still, PTC and LTA managed to recover fares in 188, or 55 per cent, of the cases.

    In another 29 cases, the passengers were taken to court or issued a notice of offence, while 24 cases are still undergoing investigations.

    Under the PTC Act, a passenger found guilty of fare evasion can be fined up to $1,000. Repeat offenders can be fined $2,000, and jailed for up to six months.

    PTC and LTA said last year's increase in cases could be because more drivers now know how to lodge complaints against fare cheats.

    Despite the rise in reported cases overall, ComfortDelGro, the largest operator here with 16,000 cabs, has seen an improvement.

    ComfortDelGro's group corporate communications officer Tammy Tan said fare-cheat cases fell by 16 per cent last year, compared with 2013.

    She said its cabbies are advised to file non-payment reports with the police, and the company then looks into each case. Decals warning people against fare evasion are displayed in its cabs.

    To deter fare evaders, Mr Nathan said SMRT will blacklist their phone numbers from the booking system.

    In his three years of driving a taxi, Derrick Phua, 38, has already encountered two fare cheats.

    In an incident in September, Mr Phua said the passenger told him outright that she was not going to pay as they were reaching their destination in Jurong West.

    He said this could be because he did not allow her to eat in his cab. He later drove her to a police station and made a report, but has yet to claim the fare of more than $20.

    "I'm disappointed with the outcome. There's no point putting the sticker warning passengers of fare evasion when they can get away with it," he added.