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More Singaporeans booking limos on rainy days

Limo Cars general manager Lo Kai Jie said his company rarely received last-minute requests for one-way transfers four years ago, when it started. Now it gets as many as 20 of them during bad weather. (ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG)

Publication Date : 15-10-2012


More commuters are booking limousine services on rainy days and during peak hours, when the taxi crunch is at its worst.

But some operators of these limousine services say they are not in a big rush to meet such demand, because of the disruption and strain it can put on their fleet.

Most of the 15 commuters interviewed by The Straits Times said they were willing to pay for a limousine ride when cabs are scarce.

Andy Williams, 34, said he and his wife took one when they had to get home from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal after a holiday in Bintan.

"The place was packed and we couldn't get a taxi at all," the sales director said. "We couldn't even phone for one."

He paid a flat rate of S$50 (US$41) for the limousine, which was waiting at a designated counter of the terminal.

"It wasn't quite worth it, but at the time I really wanted to get home," said the British citizen, who has lived in Singapore for four years.

There are generally two types of limousine services in Singapore - those run by taxi companies such as ComfortDelGro, whose limos carry the "taxi" sign, and those run by about 10 major companies that operate privately.

Most private limousine companies charge a flat rate for a one-way ride. The cheapest ones cost about S$5 more than what a taxi company might charge, though their vehicles may differ.

However, commuters can also ask that the taxi limousine charge by the meter, although there is a more expensive booking fee involved.

For example, when a commuter calls for an SMRT SsangYong Space Wagon through its limousine hotline, there is a booking fee of S$10 - almost S$7 more than the peak-hour booking fee of S$3.30 for regular taxis.

Despite the higher cost for a ride, limousine operators said they have noted a rise in requests.

Limo Cars, which gets as many as 20 last-minute requests a day for one-way transfers during bad weather, said these were rare when it started four years ago.

"When it's raining and customers are desperate for transport, they Google and find out about us," said the company's general manager Lo Kai Jie.

Taxi operator ComfortDelGro, which has 850 Mercedes limousine cabs and Maxi Cabs, has also seen more bookings, but declined to give figures, citing competition as a reason.

SMRT also declined to provide figures.

While most private limousine companies say they can meet last-minute requests, they face operational constraints.

With much smaller fleets than taxi companies, and with most of their vehicles slotted into advance bookings, these last-minute requests can be highly disruptive and make scheduling difficult, said Vincent Tan, general manager of RMG Rent-A-Car, which owns 30 limousines.

Joseph Poh, general manager of DownTown Travel Services, said a smaller fleet means that his limousine drivers may sometimes take from 45 minutes to an hour to pick up a passenger, depending on the location.

Another problem for limo operators is the fear of passengers not showing up.

"We are worried that by the time we send the car, they may have gotten a taxi and disappeared," said Tan of RMG.

Unlike limousines run by taxi companies, private limousines are not allowed to take up street jobs when there is a no-show.

Not all commuters turn to limousines only in desperate times. Some have found such services to be as economical as regular cabs.

Hakimah Nur Diniyah, 23, said she has used a limousine cab when her group of five friends could not fit into a regular cab.

"It cost us more or less the same as using a regular taxi if we split the cost. It worked out to be about $10 each," said the university teaching assistant.

Private limousine companies said the bulk of their business still comes from corporate clients and tourists. But there are also benefits from fulfilling last-minute requests, said Lo.

"Customers remember us, so the next time when they need it for their clients, or they want to recommend it to somebody, it helps us. That's why we're still doing it."


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