March 23, 2017

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by Ryan Ong

WHY do venture capitalists (VCs) need such big offices? It’s a common question, but if you know any, the answer is obvious. It takes about 1,500 square feet, minimum, to house the ego of one VC.

But VCs have some right to that kind of arrogance. They’re the ones who drive innovation, at huge risks to themselves. They’re the cowboys of the financial world, who take extreme risks to advance society. And now, we’re likely to see more people participating in venture capital, with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) simplifying the rules:

ONE legend of Valentine’s Day says that Valentine was a Christian priest who lived around 300 AD in Rome. Marriage for young men was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men unencumbered by a wife and family would make better soldiers. Thinking the edict unjust, Valentine defied the emperor to continue secretly performing marriages for young couples. He was found out and executed in the end.

Leaving aside the question of how true the story is, it seems that opposition have always played a part in the Valentine’s Day narrative; not necessarily out of romance. For the people of these countries, they had cause to protest in the name of some other love:

 

1. Islamabad, Pakistan – court banned Valentine’s Day celebration

Pakistan

Image from Facebook user Sam Mugabe.

Pakistani florists and restauranteurs aren’t too happy. The Islamabad High Court banned all celebrations of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces, with immediate effect. For the first time, flowers and heart-shaped balloons could not be sold on the streets of Islamabad. This came in response to a private petition arguing that Valentine’s Day was un-Islamic, as it promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the guise of spreading love.

While conservative Pakistanis cheered the court order, younger and more liberal residents voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceived as state interference in a non-issue. Many Pakistanis managed to circumvent this law, by celebrating the occasion in groups or holding private parties indoors.

At least one person was happy with the ban. USA Today reported that Ms Mehak Haque, 23, a communications student in Lahore, found Valentine’s Day to be “a dreadful day for all the single people out there… There is unwarranted pressure on those who don’t have a Valentine date or aren’t seeing anyone.”

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2. Surabaya, Indonesia – students protested against Valentine’s Day

Indonesia

Image from Facebook user Surabaya Kita.

“Say No to Valentine!”

Students from one Muslim school in the city of Surabaya held a protest against Valentine’s Day on Monday (Feb 13). Protestors ranged from 13 to 15-year olds and included many girls wearing the hijab, or headscarf. They denounced Valentine’s Day as a Western occasion that encourages casual sex; something incompatible with Indonesian values.

Such sentiment is not new. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has often seen Islamic clerics and religious leaders deride Valentine’s Day as a celebration of sexual immorality. In 2015, Indonesia’s Islamic clerical body even threatened to issue a fatwa, or a ruling under the Islamic law, against the sale of condoms, following reports they were sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Despite these objections, many in Indonesia still enjoy the occasion, particularly in major cities such as Jakarta where cards and chocolates are widely available.

 

3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – no longer so disapproving of Valentine’s Day

Saudi arabia

Image from Facebook user Sujit Pal.

While some Islamic countries are tightening regulations for Valentine’s Day, Saudi Arabia has done just the opposite. It kept to its efforts for reform under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, aimed at making Saudi Arabia more open to the world. This year for instance, flower shops throughout the Arab city, Jeddah, were selling custom-made Valentine boxes, including balloons and flowers, starting at 550 Saudi riyals (around SGD$209).

This is in stark contrast to previous years when religious police patrolled flower shops and confiscated  offending red roses they found. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested for celebrating the event. This year however, celebrations were possible after the cabinet banned the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from pursuing, questioning, requesting identification from or arresting suspects in April last year.

However, some florists in the kingdom still chose to avoid participating in the holiday to prevent controversy. “We have experienced problems in the past and I am not willing to go through the same dilemma again,” an anonymous florist in the city of Riyadh told Arab News.

 

4. New York, USA – charity drive named after a banned Valentine’s Day custom

Sofitel

Image by Facebook user Sofitel New York.

Here’s a Valentine’s Day nugget: New York Trend, a weekly news publication of New York city and Long Island, reported on 7 Feb that New York’s luxury hotel, Sofitel New York, was holding a charity drive named “Une Loterie d’Amour”, which translated to A Love Lottery. Like the legend of Valentine the priest, the hotel seemed to be making good out of a bad case. Because the charity drive, which lasted from Feb 1 till Feb 14, actually shared the same name as an old, outlawed French Valentine’s Day custom.

Hotel guests who donated to The Bowery Mission – which provided for poor and homeless New Yorkers – got to pick one of the red valentine envelopes hung from the window display at the hotel’s Gaby Brasserie Francaise restaurant. The envelopes were differentiated based on the currency denomination of the donation – USD$10, USD$25, USD$50, USD$100, USD$250 and USD$500. Prizes written inside ranged from one complimentary cocktail, a dinner or dessert for two, to a two-night Sofitel Los Angeles stay at Beverly Hills.

The historical “Une Loterie d’Amour” however, was not so loving. Singles of both sexes and all ages would enter houses opposite each other in the middle of February and shout through the windows for their desired partner. Unfortunately, should the female partner not come up to the man’s standards, the match was called off for him to continue with his search. Vengeful women left high and dry would gather before a ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities at as well as burn the belongings of the men who did the rejecting. Behaviour got so bad during the Love Lottery that the authorities felt the whole custom had to be stopped.

Though Sofitel New York’s “Une Loterie d’Amour” shared faint echoes of the banned tradition, such as approaching a window and picking a prize, it is not confirmed if it drew inspiration from the past. More likely,  thankfulness, rather than hurt feelings, rounded off the modern “Une Loterie d’Amour”.

 

5. Paris, France – say no to love locks

love lock

Image by Facebook user Briony Wemyss.

Inscribed your name and your lover’s on a padlock, clip it to the railing of a bridge and throw the key into the river. This is the love lock – 21st century’s grand gesture of romantic love.

But there are those who thought walls of love locks on monuments unsightly and structurally hazardous to boot. In June 2014, part of Paris’s iconic bridge, the Pont des Arts, collapsed due to the sheer weight of the locks.

Two Parisian residents, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, had observed how the trend got out of hand from 2008 and decided to launch a “No Love Locks” campaign in January 2014. For four years running, it declared Valentine’s Day a “No Love Locks Day”.

Its 2014 petition, which called for a ban of love locks in France gathered more than 11,000 signatures. Though no formal ban was instituted, the city cleared all 45 tonnes of padlocks from the Pont des Arts in June 2015. Later in the same year, transparent panels replaced the mesh wires to discourage love locks from being clipped to the grilles.

The campaign continued because the problem has not been isolated to Pont des Arts. The organisers counted at least “10 bridges… the entire quay along the Seine, and several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower” affected by love locks. They were convinced that “only a ban will begin to make a permanent change in Paris, and save their historic landmarks”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

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HOUSING and Development Board (HDB) households in People’s Action Party town councils will be paying more in service and conservancy charges. How much? Between $1 and $17 altogether depending on flat type. When? Not clear. But the rise will be staggered over two years. The first increase will take place from June 1 while the next increase is slated for June next year. Why? Higher pest control, cleaning charges as well as the new provision that town councils must set aside money for lift upgrading.

Before re-looking your household budget, wait for the Budget announcement on Monday. The bet is that there will be S&CC rebates that will relieve you for a couple of months or so.

Going by the news yesterday, what else can we expect from the Budget? Motor industry people are wondering what will be announced for vehicles given that next week’s COE tender exercise had been postponed by two days pending “an upcoming announcement”. It usually starts on Monday but it will start on Wednesday next week. Since no details were given, people are speculating like crazy.

Is it to stop private hire car companies from bidding and jacking up the price of COEs? After all, taxi companies were taken out of the public process and given a new scheme. Is it about announcing a lower car ownership rate for the future? Then again, do you need to suspend the bidding exercise for this? Or has it got to do with re-calibrating rebates on vehicles with lower carbon emissions? But the current scheme is supposed to run till June this year…

Before rushing to the showrooms this weekend, maybe we should just wait till Monday.

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Digging into the fine print of news reports, we’ve unearthed a couple of nuggets that you might have missed:

a) Senior Counsel Hri Kumar is no longer a member of the People’s Action Party, reported TODAY. It was announced two days ago that the former PAP MP will be appointed Deputy Attorney-General, sparking talk about what this does for the impartial image of G lawyers. The PAP, however, didn’t say when he quit the party. Was it the year before when he decided not to go for a third term? Or yesterday? Or does that matter?

b) Remember former tour guide Yang Yin, the Chinese national who scammed his way into getting Singapore permanent residency? Well, his PR papers have been revoked, ST reported the Immigration and Customs Authority as saying. This was done on November 1 last year, after he was convicted of cheating a rich Singaporean widow.

c) Complaints about motor vehicles have been going up, from 844 in 2014 to 1,477 last year, mainly about defects in cars. So, too, are complaints about pressure selling tactics in spas and beauty salons. TODAY reported the consumer watchdog, Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), as saying that one tactic was to withhold a customer’s credit or debit card unless he or she said okay to a sale. It’s an unethical practice, but isn’t it also illegal?

d) Muslims will be glad to know that the number of haj places will go up from 680 to 800 a year. Saudi Arabia uses a 1987 formula which sets the quota at 0.1 per cent of the Muslim population. The Muslim population has grown by 20 per cent since then, to 800,000 now, reported TODAY. Now, how did that increase come about? Has the proportion of Muslims in the country increased as well?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Bertha Henson

I WAS about to write about the much-condemned Syonan Gallery when news broke that the G had changed its mind about the name. I was going to say that my father would turn in his urn if he knew about the name.

First, he would have said it was really Syonan-to, not Syonan. Then, he would have said it was not the Light of the South but the Dark of the Night. Finally, he would curse and swear at the historians and members of the advisory panel which the National Library Board (NLB) said it had consulted before alighting on the name.

Seriously, the NLB’s rationale for the name is no rationale at all. It merely reiterated the importance of remembering that period. It did not say that it had considered alternatives and discarded them. It merely stated that “no other name captured the time and all that it stood for”.

Nor was the public outcry about burying or erasing the past, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong alluded to when he weighed in on the matter. What people were asking for is some sensitivity to those who would rather not remember how they had to use banana money and watch kith and kin die while Singapore was so grandly named Syonan-to. No one would object if the gallery was called simply Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

What people were asking for is some sensitivity to those who would rather not remember how they had to use banana money and watch kith and kin die while Singapore was so grandly named Syonan-to.

Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim had defended the name when he opened the exhibition on Wednesday: “Some among older Singaporeans who lived through that dark period feel that the name legitimises the Occupation. Others among them say that Syonan was a painful fact of history, and we should call it what it was.” It was not, he said, about glorifying or legitimising those years.

He repeated this in his statement last night but there were also these lines: “Over the past two days, I have read the comments made on this issue, and received many letters from Singaporeans of all races. While they agreed that we need to teach Singaporeans about the Japanese Occupation, they also shared that the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ had evoked deep hurt in them, as well as their parents and grandparents. This was never our intention, and I am sorry for the pain the name has caused.”

He said the Syonan term had been used before in an exhibition called When Singapore was Syonan-to. There was no problem then. I can’t think why anyone would object to the phrase – it is accurate and factual. But sticking Syonan onto the word Gallery simply makes it too glamorous-sounding.

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I read reports in mainstream media (MSM) which quoted old-timers saying that it was fine to name the gallery Syonan and I wished my father was alive to say something different. I have also heard others who say that it was a good way to enthuse young people because it sounded so intriguing. Far better than Memories of Old Ford Factory. If so, then we aren’t quite honouring our forefathers, are we? We’re just interested in getting young people on board.

I had thought about how easy it would have been simply to bow to public opinion and rework the name instead of coming to its defence. After all, this was not about reversing policies or opposing fundamental tenets.

In fact, we even have the politicians and NLB saying that they had expected the public outcry. Why do it then?

In a nod to the public outcry, the signs were tweaked before the grand opening. The new signs now reflect its full name, Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies and include the phrase, An Exhibition at Former Ford Factory.

And it will be changed again.

No one would object if the gallery was called simply Japanese Occupation of Singapore.

Said Dr Yaacob: “I have reflected deeply on what I heard. We must honour and respect the feelings of those who suffered terribly and lost family members during the Japanese Occupation. I have therefore decided to remove the words ‘Syonan Gallery’ from the name of the exhibition, and name it ‘Surviving the Japanese Occupation: War and its Legacies’.

“The contents of the exhibition remain unchanged. They capture a painful and tragic period in our history which we must never forget, and which we must educate our young about. It is vital for us to learn the lessons of history, and reaffirm our commitment never to let this happen to Singapore again.”

Yes, the exhibition is a lesson of history and for the G, this episode is a lesson on communication. I can only think that the NLB, historians, advisory panel and whoever else was involved in picking the name simply didn’t have the pulse of the people. It is distressing.

I applaud the G for making the change. It takes courage to admit and rectify mistakes, especially right after putting up a defence. My father would applaud this too.

 

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Black clock showing 8.30.

A GRAINY picture of an alleged Kim Jong Nam assassin has emerged. She sports a top that says “LOL” and was caught on camera at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

Malaysian authorities say that they have arrested a 28-year-old woman with a Vietnamese passport over the assassination of North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, and are still looking for four men and one woman. It is unclear if the woman arrested is the one on the camera footage.

Then North Korean officials tried to block the autopsy of the late Mr Kim. They wanted to claim the body to be repatriated to North Korea but Malaysia would have none of it, although they did not say whether they would send the body to Mr Kim’s family, who are in Macau.

Fatal accidents have fallen in 2016 in all categories except those involving the elderly, says the annual Road Traffic Situation report. Accidents involving elderly pedestrians shot up by 19.6 per cent, and elderly pedestrian fatalities were up by 21.7 per cent, with 16 of the 28 deaths happening while they were jaywalking.

Speeding violations fell by 7.8 per cent to 172,192 last year and speed-related accidents fell 10.4 per cent to 1,081. But the Traffic Police want to do more: New Average Speed Cameras that track a vehicle’s speed over a stretch of up to 5km will be deployed on Singapore’s roads to “shape” driver behaviour.

PM Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in on the Syonan Gallery naming spat, saying that “we cannot erase our history or bury the past” and that the gallery was a “reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”

Signs in front of the building have been modified to show the full name of the exhibit, which is Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies.

Does the name ruffle feathers? Sure it does. That’s the point, isn’t it? To be constantly reminded and constantly uncomfortable with a dark spot in our past so that we take pains to avoid it in the future. Does it honour or commemorate the Japanese Occupation? Hardly.

Perhaps critics of the gallery name should go to hell, by which we mean another in-your-face exhibit – at Haw Par Villa. That exhibit, though also “offensively” named is certainly not a tribute to hell, but a warning against reckless behaviour and a pointer to good living. Don’t believe? Just ask your grandmother.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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NORTH Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s half-brother has been assassinated at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, apparently by North Korean agents. Mr Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong Il, was estranged from the reclusive leader and spent much of his time outside the hermit kingdom. He had spoken out against his brother’s regime.

Reports vary. South Korean TV Chosun said that the elder Mr Kim had been attacked by two women with poisoned needles. ST’s online version said that a woman covered his face with a cloth laced with some liquid. And Today reported that he had been splashed in the face with a liquid. By the time he got to the airport clinic, he had a headache and felt dizzy. He then experienced a seizure and died on the way to the hospital. Police are searching for the killers.

The high-profile killing comes as North Korea is embroiled in an international incident for its latest ballistic missile test. Pyongyang rejected criticism by the United Nations, saying that the test was part of its development of self-defence capabilities.

Over here in Singapore, it is Total Defence Day and to mark the occasion, air raid sirens island-wide will sound at 6:20pm in memory of the fall of Singapore 75 years ago.

Some upbeat news about airports is that tourist numbers in 2016 are a new record for Singapore. Tourist arrivals grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million and tourist spending rose 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion, according to Singapore Tourism Board’s initial estimates.

Indonesian arrivals pipped Chinese visitors, although the Chinese spent more. Accommodation, food and beverage and shopping spending grew the most, while entertainment, sightseeing and gaming spending shrank by 16 per cent in the first nine months of 2016.

With tourism and manufacturing on a rise, is the economy expected to perform better in 2017?

We know for sure, though, that none of these tourist dollars will be going to the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market after July 10. The iconic landmark – Singapore’s last free hawking zone – will be shut down to make way for high-rise residential developments.

The market had already been halved in 2011 to build an MRT station, and hawkers will likewise be left out in the cold this time, with no alternative arrangements made for them to ply their trade.

What else is cold? This morning’s temperatures hit as low as 22.6 degrees celsius in the eastern part of Singapore, in keeping with an earlier National Environment Agency forecast of a possible 22-degree low. Temperature in the central area was about 23 degrees celsius.

Twenty-two Singaporeans who won’t mind the cold are the athletes going to represent our country at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. The games start on Sunday and Singapore will compete in short-track speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey.

What we want to know is how we can watch the action! Will it be on TV?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Ryan Ong

SENTOSA Cove is becoming a ghost town, with vacancies estimated at 9.6 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016. On top of that, more than half of Sentosa Cove’s property sales last year (15 out of 21) were losses. Not the kind of $10,000 loss that a retiree complains about at the coffee shop either; at The Turquoise, one of the more prominent Sentosa Cove projects, a unit that was bought for $7.16 million was resold at $3.8 million.

Now in 2015, when Sentosa Cove properties fell 36 per cent from their last peak (2011), it was thought that prices there were “bottoming out”. But if anything, the downward trend seems to be accelerating. Here’s why Sentosa Cove may be locked in a policy-created tailspin:

CAN we tell when a tree will fall? The National Parks Board (Nparks) was quick to say that all trees in the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Palm Valley had been inspected and were safe, after a woman was killed and four others were injured by a falling heritage tree on Saturday (Feb 11).

But at the same time, authorities were quick to point out that the fallen 270-year old tree had been inspected in September 2016 and was healthy. So, is the announcement about healthy trees supposed to reassure the public, or is it that any tree could fall, even a seemingly healthy one?

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A North Korean ballistic missile test was testing US President Donald Trump’s reaction to the hermit kingdom. Mr Trump said that the US is “behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent”, and issued a joint statement rebuking North Korea for the launch.

White House adviser Stephen Miller also said that the US would “reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we’ve seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.”

The reaction hints at Mr Trump’s willingness to get tougher on Pyongyang than previous administrations did. Which policy levers he will use to put pressure on the North, however, are not yet clear.

Mr Trump also said he will bring down the cost of the wall he wants to build along the Mexican border. The initial cost estimated was for US$21.6 million, much higher than the US$12 million figure that Mr Trump had floated during his presidential campaign trail. He pointed to how the cost of the F-35 and Air Force One projects dropped after he got involved, tweeting that for the wall, the “price will come WAY DOWN!”

Another wall to come down is the one between Singapore’s Jobs Bank website and the Individual Learning Portfolio ran by SkillsFuture Singapore. The new site will integrate training, learning and landing a job, and could provide data on training and job matching, helping to guide individual choices and pathways as well as policy-level decisions. The Jobs Bank will also be enhanced this year based on feedback from users.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Morning Call, 0830, clock

THE toppling of a tembusu heritage tree in the Botanic Gardens last afternoon – 35 minutes before the start of a concert celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary – killed an Indian national. Her husband and their two children were also injured, and right after the incident many rushed to heave the tree off the victim. More than 270 years old, the tembusu heritage tree was found to be healthy when it was last inspected in September 2016. The National Parks Board (NParks) said it is now investigating the cause of the tree fall, though according to a botany expert interviewed by ST, the recent heavy rains and the “gusty winds” yesterday could have been contributing factors too.

In another unfortunate case in Singapore, the death of an auxiliary police officer at Tuas Checkpoint on Friday (Feb 10) – who died when he was knocked down by a car while diverting traffic – is believed to be the first on-duty Certis Cisco officer killed in an accident by a member of the public. The Malaysian driver is said to have been drink driving, when he made a sudden swerve into another lane and made contact with the police officer. In addition to the assurance of safety measures in place and the conducting of a review by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, financial assistance will be provided by Certis Cisco to the family

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Other cases of deaths and casualties around the world have left many stunned:

  • Following a rush-hour arson attack on a Hong Kong subway train on Friday (Feb 10) – suspected to be the work of a man with a history of mental illness – three people remained in critical condition. 18 people in total were injured.
    .
  • An earthquake yesterday in the southern Philippines has killed at least six people, and rescue workers are now looking for more survivors. At least 126 were injured, and thousands were forced to flee their homes. Power and water services were knocked out.
    .
  • In Iceland – which has an annual murder rate of two – the murder of a young woman has shocked the country. The body of the department store sales assistant was found after a search operation involving 775 rescue workers, and the suspect has been arrested.

And finally, for apparently flouting immigration rules, a Singaporean grandmother who has been married to a British man for the past 27 years faces the prospect of deportation back to Singapore. She was first granted an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – issued to foreign spouses of British citizens – in 1990, but the ILR lapsed when the couple moved to Singapore in 1992 and subsequent applications have since failed. Her family and she moved back to Britain, in 1998 and in 1999 respectively. Britain’s Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, has said that she has no legal basis to remain in the country.

 

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by Vanessa Wu

NEITHER is ComfortDelGro for that matter.

Singapore’s biggest taxi company is hoping to introduce surge pricing, which is an Uber innovation, reported The Straits Times (ST) today. It is also proposing to flatten its complicated fare structure, said its new CEO, Mr Yang Ban Seng.

Commuters would probably appreciate a simpler system given that there are close to 10 different flag-down rates, three different metered-fare structures and more than 10 kinds of surcharges, as well as eight types of phone-booking charges in Singapore. This, however, is provided that a flatter fare is not levelled up, going by what the Land Transport Authority (LTA) found out in 2015.

But surge pricing where fares rise according to real-time demand? Such fares can exceed $140 at crunch times, such as during rail breakdowns.

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Mr Yang said that the proposals would be made to the Public Transport Council (PTC), although he doesn’t seem to hold out much hope: “We would love to do surge pricing, but I don’t think we’re allowed to.”

If ComfortDelGro, the biggest player with more than 16,800 taxis in its fleet gets its way, you can bet the other smaller taxi companies will follow suit.

Uber as well as other ride-hailing companies like Grab are probably watching developments closely, even as others put their operations and strategies under a microscope.

Uber Singapore’s general manager Mr Warren Tseng came out hammer and tongs to rebut a newspaper report that close to 1,000 of its cars were idling in carpark. He said this in an interview with The Business Times (BT) on Feb 8, even though the article appeared in The Straits Times and was based on the newspapers’ checks.

Mr Tseng said that cars that have been “deemed idling in carpark lots” were either new cars that were still under inspection and needed to have the In-Vehicle Unit (IU) installed or cars that were being cleaned after their rental owners returned them.

“With such flexibility, you see cars coming in and out daily. Sometimes they are parked for servicing; other times for cleaning after the driver is done using the vehicle. As an outsider, if you look at the lots, it is easy to assume they are not being hired,” said Mr Tseng. He refused to reveal the total number of vehicles in Uber’s fleet “for strategic reasons”.

Mr Tseng also defended Uber from industry watchers who felt that it had been creating pressure on prices of Certificates of Entitlement (COE), saying that “it is unfair and misdirected to assume so.”

“If you look at LTA’s (Land Transport Authority) data, COE prices have actually dropped from April 2015, which was a month after LCR [Lion City Rental] started, to the current rates,” said Mr Tseng. Lion City Rental is a Uber-owned car rental company that rents out private cars to Uber drivers and the general public.

COE prices have definitely fallen since nearly two years ago as a general trend. But last year, industry watchers said that Uber kept COE prices up when “aggressive” bidding was observed in one of Uber’s exercise to obtain fresh COEs in 2016.

According to an ST report in April last year as well as figures from LTA, the COE prices for cars in all three categories increased in April 2016.

If there was any decrease, it was the Prevailing Quota Premium (PQP). For instance, PQP fell from $49,541 for Mar to $46,077 for April for Category A cars in 2016. PQP is the amount required for a COE extension or renewal for a vehicle already in use.

The COE prices began to fall in the second bidding in May 2016, but an ST report said that “they would have fallen more dramatically if not for strong bidding from Uber”.

In the same report, ST said that Lion City Rental had secured about 1,700 COEs for cars in three separate bids in just two months of bidding.

From this comparison, Mr Tseng’s rebuttal is mostly in conflict with other reports and LTA’s figures. But since Uber doesn’t want to talk about numbers, the actual situation is unclear and left to further speculation.

Another newspaper report today is also not helping Uber’s reputation. Saddam Hussein Norazman, 23, was yesterday jailed for six weeks and banned from driving for five years for causing the death of one of his rear seat passengers and injuring a van driver in an accident on Sept 25 last year. This is the first case of an Uber driver involved in a fatal accident.

 

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