Who were the OG Uber and Grab?

Did you know that Singapore’s pre-independence was riddled with many illegal or “pirate” taxis?

These illegal taxis looked something like this:  

Credit: National Archives Singapore 

The first licenced taxis appeared on our streets in the 1940s. By the 1950s, taxi fares were determined by metered rates. At the same time, because of deteriorating bus services, pirate taxis came in to fill the void – getting one from point A to point B via taxi, based on a competitive negotiated rate.  

There were even cases of swindlers using pirate taxis to create a false impression on their victims.

Credit: NewspaperSG 

Frequent labour and union strikes in the 50s created a problem for transport 

In the 50s and 60s, many labour and union strikes happened, affecting the transportation system in Singapore (think the Hock Lee bus riots). This was when pirate taxis flourished. According to a report by transport company STC in 1966, there were an estimated 12,000 pirate taxis plying the roads illegally. 

To combat this problem, NTUC then announced that it was going to form its second co-operative in 1970. Called Comfort, it was also established to reduce the number of illegal or ‘pirate’ taxis and to increase the number of taxis on the roads. Taxi licenses became non-transferable in 1973; the new taxi licenses were only issued to NTUC-Comfort.  

NTUC Comfort

This was a taxi co-operative that made it affordable for the more than 14,000 holders of taxi licence to rent and drive taxis. This created jobs and allowed Singaporean workers to afford taxi rides.  

The creation of NTUC Comfort helped regulate the number of taxis on the road, increase credibility of taxi drivers so the commonfolk didn’t have to face the risk of meeting unscrupulous drivers or swindlers. The co-operative also helped create more jobs!  

Fast forward to today, ComfortDelGro is now known as one of the largest land transport companies in the world with a global workforce. Apart from taxis, the co-operative also owns 75% of SBS Transit, the largest scheduled public bus operator in Singapore with a 4,000 strong fleet of buses.  

To think that Singapore’s amazing transportation journey started with a co-operative owned by NTUC! Check out more of Singapore’s co-operatives here.