Comfort taxis set to offer dynamic pricing alongside metered fares

ComfortDelGro may also open its taxi-booking app to private-hire drivers

If you can't beat them, join them. That is exactly what taxi giant ComfortDelGro is doing with a planned roll-out of non-metered fares.

The cab operator may also open its taxi-booking app to private-hire drivers.

The Straits Times understands that ComfortDelGro, which controls 60 per cent of Singapore's 20,000-strong taxi fleet, will soon introduce dynamic pricing - made popular by private-hire operators such as Grab and Gojek.

Unlike metered fares, which are transparent and regulated, dynamic fares fluctuate according to demand. On a rainy Saturday evening, for instance, a $10 ride could spiral to $50.

During a major rail breakdown, the same ride could exceed $100. Sources said ComfortDelGro will offer this fare option through its phone app, alongside regular metered fares. When contacted, ComfortDelGro spokesman Tammy Tan said: "We are always looking at ways to cater to different commuter and driver needs."

The transport giant has been looking to enter the private-hire space since its failed tie-up with Uber last year, when the American ride-hailing firm decided to pull out of South-east Asia.

With the taxi business battered by private-hire players - average daily taxi trips have shrunk by nearly one-third since Grab entered Singapore in 2013 - cab operators are looking at ways to claw back their market share.

Observers reckon ComfortDelGro will not only be able to turn the tide with this move, but it stands to grow a new revenue stream from ride hailing too. There are close to 100,000 licensed taxi drivers here, but fewer than half are said to be active.

With its shift, ComfortDelGro is expected to eventually open its cab-booking app to private-hire drivers, numbering about 46,500.

Observers reckon ComfortDelGro will not only be able to turn the tide with this move, but it stands to grow a new revenue stream from ride hailing too. There are close to 100,000 licensed taxi drivers in Singapore, but fewer than half of them are said to be active.

 

In a report last month, equities research house Macquarie said that it was "bearish on the taxi segment" as Grab's ambition to grow its footprint will "continue to put pressure" on ComfortDelGro's taxi business.

"We have pencilled in an 8 per cent decline for ComfortDelGro's average taxi fleet over our forecast period," the report added.

Regulations are in place for ComfortDelGro's decision to take the fight to private-hire companies.

The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore has mandated that drivers be free to use any ride-booking app they wish, and that operators cannot enforce exclusivity clauses.

The Land Transport Authority and Public Transport Council have given the green light for surge pricing by taxi operators.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, noted that some commuters are unhappy with surge pricing, but added that with ComfortDelGro's large fleet, the "ceiling of how high dynamic fare can rise may be curtailed".

"Furthermore, Grab, Gojek and ComfortDelGro may compete through better terms and incentives to attract commuters," he said, noting that waiting time for passengers may also shorten with access to a bigger fleet.

Mr Ang, who is also executive adviser to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, added: "With the various fare types, ComfortDelGro drivers will also experience less empty cruising and not depend only on street hailing or phone bookings. That is in keeping with available technology.

"Hopefully, operators will not pass on cost increases from this new offering to drivers."