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ComfortDelGro’s taxi fleet down to seven-month low

SINGAPORE — ComfortDelGro, which is facing an exodus of drivers jumping ship to its rivals, has seen the size of its taxi fleet fall sharply in recent months in line with the industry trend, based on latest Land Transport Authority (LTA) figures.

SINGAPORE — ComfortDelGro, which is facing an exodus of drivers jumping ship to its rivals, has seen the size of its taxi fleet fall sharply in recent months in line with the industry trend, based on latest Land Transport Authority (LTA) figures.

As of July, there were 15,472 Comfort and CityCab taxis on the books of Singapore’s largest taxi operator — including those sitting idle — compared with 16,495 in January. The figure for July — which was the seventh consecutive month of decline — was about 10 per cent lower than the peak of 17,143 in April last year.

Last Friday, TODAY broke the news that more than 2,000 ComfortDelGro cabbies could jump ship and join other taxi operators partnering Grab or switch to become drivers of Grab’s private-hire car service, after the ride-hailing company dangled heavily discounted rentals to entice them. These drivers have signed up for a Grab driver account as part of the recruitment drive.

On the whole, Singapore’s taxi population has fallen by almost 7 per cent since the start of the year to hit the lowest in more than seven years, LTA’s figures showed.

In total, there were 25,325 taxis in Singapore as of July, compared with 27,202 at the start of the year, and 28,054 in July last year.

In terms of absolute numbers, ComfortDelGro shed the most taxis among the cab operators since January — losing 1,023 taxis amid a 6.2 per cent drop. Except for Premier, whose fleet size increased from 1,907 to 1,925 over the first seven months of this year, the number of taxis on the books of the other operators fell by between 3.3 per cent and 13.8 per cent. The number of individual drivers under the yellow-top scheme fell from 114 to 87 — a decline of almost 24 per cent — over the same period.

Meanwhile, the number of Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licences issued by the LTA in July fell to a low of 95, a 43 per cent dive from 166 in January.

On average, there were 299 licences issued monthly last year. In the first seven months of this year, the average has almost halved to 151 each month.

Transport analysts said they expect the taxi population to continue to shrink.

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) transport analyst Park Byung Joon reiterated that ride-hailing firms such as Grab are “not particularly concerned” about losing money by offering large discounts to woo drivers.

Amid stiff competition, Dr Park said ComfortDelGro — whose position as market leader is under threat — cannot focus only on the taxi business, and should look to diversify its commercial activities.

Nevertheless, SUSS transport economist Walter Theseira said the pool of taxis and private-hire vehicles here was likely “significantly in excess of what is really needed to serve the market”. Therefore, it was a “logical business response” for taxi firms like ComfortDelGro, which are not supported by venture-capital financing, to cut their fleet, he said.

“ComfortDelGro’s decision basically is to look at the numbers and say ‘it’s better for us to try to improve our margins and get rid of vehicles that we cannot profitably rent out, rather than increase our rental numbers (by) reducing rental rates,” Dr Theseira noted. Unlike the taxi operators, Grab and Uber can afford to price their services possibly below “their real costs of doing business” to build a commanding market position — even at the expense of short-term losses, he reiterated.

Yesterday, ComfortDelGro’s shares continued to slide, tumbling below the S$2-mark for the first time in almost 3.5 years to close at S$1.985. This came as investors deserted the stock in droves after two blows to its business last week. On the same day that the TODAY report was published, the LTA announced that SMRT Trains beat SBS Transit — a ComfortDelGro subsidiary — to clinch the tender to run and maintain the upcoming Thomson-East Coast Line.

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