All new private-hire drivers will now have to be at least 30 years old and be Singapore citizens, in a move that could reduce the industry's current glut of drivers.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday announced the changes, which bring the requirements for private-hire car drivers in line with those of taxi drivers.
Previously, both Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) were eligible to apply for a Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL), as long as they had held a driving licence for two years. This meant drivers could be as young as 20.
The changes will not affect existing private-hire drivers, and the LTA said all PDVL applications received before 5.30pm yesterday will still be processed under the previous eligibility criteria.
Observers described the changes as a victory for industry players who have been lobbying for a level playing field between cabbies and private-hire drivers.
"The oversupply of taxis and private-hire cars preceded Covid-19," said Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive adviser to the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA).
"With private companies offering incentives, and barrier-to-entry for firms like Uber and Grab low, the number of drivers on the scene has exploded over the years. We do not need more drivers. This development levels the playing field."
There are now about 40,000 active drivers, comprising 15,000 cabbies and 25,000 private-hire drivers.
With demand for rides currently about 30 per cent lower than during pre-pandemic levels, observers said the stricter requirements could protect existing and older drivers, given that private-hire companies have more people applying during the economic downturn.
Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said: "If younger drivers were coming onto the market during peak periods, where demand exceeds supply, they are not really affecting full-time older drivers' income. But now, demand has changed."
Both Grab and Gojek said they will work closely with the authorities on the changes, but declined to give a detailed breakdown of the demography of their fleets.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor said there are now about 7,500 PDVL holders below 30, which make up about 15 per cent of all PDVL holders.
In the first six months of this year, there were about 150 new PDVL holders per month below the age of 30 - slightly less than 30 per cent of total new PDVL holders in the same period, she added.
Dr Khor also noted that nearly 90 per cent of PDVL holders under 30 drive part time.
The oversupply of taxis and private-hire cars preceded Covid-19. With private companies offering incentives, and barrier-to-entry for firms like Uber and Grab low, the number of drivers on the scene has exploded over the years. We do not need more drivers. This development levels the playing field.
MR ANG HIN KEE, executive adviser to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association.
The NTA and NPHVA said the increased minimum age will encourage young drivers "to gain outside work experience which will enlarge their skill sets and provide them with long-term job prospects".
For 39-year-old Gojek driver Lawrence Quek, the reduced competition - with PRs and younger drivers - would be a welcome reprieve.
He has been earning less despite driving more than 70 hours a week, a full 10 hours more each week than what he clocked last year.
"It is important to protect the rice bowl of those who are 30 to 40 as we often have families," he said. "This also protects Singaporean drivers, with many of the PRs only doing it part time."
Grab driver C.T. Chen, 57, said there is still further scope to protect existing drivers.
He estimated that GrabHitch drivers - who are regular drivers offering carpooling and do not have a PDVL or commercial insurance - have "taken away at least 20 per cent of our business".
"(GrabHitch) has been abused. There are full-time Hitch drivers now. If the Government can do something about this, we won't need the $10," he said, referring to the $300 payout per vehicle per month under the Special Relief Fund, which works out to $10 a day.