Finding a taxi after 10 p.m. in the capital region has become an impossible task. Social media is full of vexing overnight experiences of having to wait two hours for a taxi home or paying four times the original fare, or having to find a motel room for lack of a taxi or a designated driver to get home.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport came to intervene. The department told the president last week that it intended to allow flexible pricing for app-based hailed taxis from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. to help ease critical late-night taxi shortages. He is also considering scrapping the three-shift system for private taxi drivers to increase supply.
Taxis grounded shortly after the social distancing curfew was lifted in mid-April. Appointments for dinner and drinks have been renewed after the lifting of trade restrictions. But taxis are rare even during the day.
A solution must be approached differently if it is treated as a structural problem, and not as a temporary fallout from the consequences of Covid-19. The government is considering the idea of banning taxi drivers from rejecting short-distance calls because they prefer long-distance customers. But experts say such a measure cannot fix a structural problem, as drivers can turn off the app call service and pick up customers as they did before.
The lack of taxis stems from a chronic lack of drivers and the aging of drivers. Licensed taxi drivers in their 50s who held the largest share fell to 63,221 in 2021 from 101,055 in 2017, down 37.4%, according to the Department for Transport. Meanwhile, the number of drivers aged 70 or over has increased from 24,168 to 37,337 over the same period, a whopping 54.5%. Older drivers are unwilling to drive at night, which makes the situation worse. An increasing number of taxi drivers are also choosing to deliver food or cargo for gig work, which also makes it difficult for passengers to take a taxi.
A fundamental solution is system change. The ministry must end the centuries-old system of compulsory shifts for private taxi drivers and allow higher call charges during peak hours to allow more taxis to drive during peak demand periods. The government should also consider authorizing new mobilities such as the Tada van-hailing service to offer consumers greater choices. The taxi crisis is just one example of the inconvenience caused to consumers when innovation is halted by establishment opposition.