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  Straits Times 15 Sep 07
New fleet of 20 gas-run 'green' cabs next week
The CNG-fuelled, copper-tone Prime Taxis' flagdown fare will be $2.50
By Christopher Tan

Today Online 2 Aug 07
Lower fares with new cab firm
Leong Wee Keat

Straits Times 2 Jul 07
Motor trader plans to run 'green' taxi fleet
Low rentals for drivers, cheaper fares and CNG cabs promised
By Christopher Tan

HAWKER-turned-motor trader Neo Nam Heng is likely to become the next new taxi operator in Singapore.

Mr Neo, 51, managing director of Cheng Yong Credit, one of the first parallel importers here, has applied to the Land Transport Authority for a taxi operating licence. If the LTA awards him the licence, the newest player - in a market cabbies insist is overcrowded but commuters say suffers from a shortage of cabs - will be unlike any other taxi operator in Singapore.

This is because Mr Neo plans to operate an environmentally friendly fleet of taxis and charge drivers the lowest daily rental in town. He is confident of securing the licence, and plans to start operating next month.

The business will be run by Prime Leasing, a unit of Cheng Yong, which also operates a vehicle leasing and export business.

Prime Leasing plans to import petrol-driven cars such as the Honda Airwave, Honda Stream, Toyota Wish and Toyota Corolla station wagon, and modify them to run on compressed natural gas (CNG).

CNG cars are accorded a 40 per cent discount on additional registration fees (the main car tax) because they are deemed environmentally friendly. The tax break was to end this year, but the Government recently extended it to the end of 2009.

Hence, these 'green' taxis will cost $49,000 to $55,000 each (plus another $3,500 to modify it to run on CNG), compared with $65,000 to $90,000 for equivalent diesel cabs on the road.

This will enable Prime Leasing to set taxi rentals at just $69 per day, versus the current industry average of $90.

He also said fares will be 'slightly cheaper', but gave no details. 'One thing is for sure, we will be a pro-driver company,' said Mr Neo, adding matter-of-factly that his father was a 'pirate taxi driver'.

'And we will have in place a scheme to make it very attractive for taxi drivers to join us.'

For instance, a cabby will get a lump sum reward equivalent to the residual tax value of the vehicle if he stays with Prime Leasing for five years continuously. That works out to about $11,000 for a Honda Airwave.

However, the cabby will have to put down a joining deposit of about $5,000.

Mr Neo will start with 500 taxis in the first year, and plans to increase this to 800 by the third.

If all goes well, Prime Leasing will be the fourth newcomer since the taxi industry was liberalised in 2003.

It will compete head to head with established giants ComfortDelGro and SMRT Corp, as well as newcomers Trans-Cab, Smart Taxis and Premier Taxi.

Asked if he is worried about getting enough drivers - a problem even the big players face - Mr Neo said: 'There are about 40,000 drivers in the market. I need only 2 per cent of that.'

He reckons his scheme will attract only good and hardworking drivers as it requires staying power and loyalty.

'Our rental is the cheapest in town,' he reiterated. 'And our cars are brand new.'

CNG is also an economically viable alternative to diesel. Said Mr Johnny Harjantho, managing director of Smart Taxis: 'A 2 litre car running on CNG can cover 22km on $1. A 1.8 litre diesel-run car manages about 14km.'

Mr Harjantho is building Singapore's second CNG refuelling station. The new station in Mandai is expected to open in January next year.

Prime Leasing has already appointed CNG conversion specialist C. Melchers to modify the first few cars. A Honda Airwave has been done, while a Honda Stream and Toyota Wish will be completed soon.

Today Online 2 Aug 07
Lower fares with new cab firm
Leong Wee Keat

COMMUTERS can expect lower flag-down fares and safer rides when the eighth taxi company Prime Car Rental and Taxi Services rolls out its fleet next month.

Prime's parent company Cheng Yong Credit Group's managing director Neo Nam Heng told Today the flag-down rates for its automatic transmission taxis would start at $2.50, instead of the usual $2.70.

Its golden brown taxis, made up of Honda Airwave and Toyota Fielder wagons, would also be fitted with airbags for drivers and passengers.

Mr Neo, 51, hopes to put about 500 taxis on the roads within a year.

All will run on compressed natural gas, which Mr Neo said is cheaper and more efficient. The cost savings will be passed on to drivers in terms of lower rentals, and lower flag-down rates.

The Land Transport Authority said, under the terms of the licence, the new entrant has four years to build up a fleet of at least 400 taxis and must have 100 on the road by the end of the first year.

Straits Times 15 Sep 07
New fleet of 20 gas-run 'green' cabs next week
The CNG-fuelled, copper-tone Prime Taxis' flagdown fare will be $2.50
By Christopher Tan

PRIME Taxis, the newest among the players in the taxi market since the industry was liberalised four years ago, is to roll out its first 20 cabs - running on compressed natural gas (CNG) - from next week.

Its copper-tone taxis will have a flagdown fare of $2.50 - 20 cents lower than other new taxis on the road.

Prime, part of home-grown motor group Cheng Yong Credit, has already found drivers for its first cabs.

The credit company's managing director Neo Nam Heng, 51, said most of his drivers came from the other companies, while the remainder were new to driving cabs.

Cheng Yong applied for a taxi-operating licence in April and got it at the end of July. In the past month, Mr Neo has been busy getting a fleet of petrol-driven Toyotas and Hondas fitted with conversion kits that will allow them to run on CNG as well as petrol.

The conversion work is being done by German group C Melchers and home-grown Scantruck Engineering. 'We are targeting to start on Tuesday, the first week of the eighth lunar month,' said Mr Neo, referring to a period considered auspicious by the Chinese.

Since the Government opened up the industry in 2003, three new players have joined incumbents ComfortDelGro and SMRT: Cooking-gas bottler Union Energy's Trans-Cab; Car-rental company Smart Automobile's Smart Taxis; and Premier Rent-A-Car's Premier Taxis.

The five players operate about 23,500 taxis on the roads here - 23 per cent more than in 2002 before the market was liberalised. Prime Taxis aims to put 500 CNG cabs on the road in its first year of operations, and 800 by the third.

'I want to have the biggest fleet of eco-friendly cabs in Singapore,' Mr Neo claimed.

By February, Prime Taxis aims to start plying eight-seater 'premium' CNG cabs with a flagdown fare of $2.80.

Mr Neo, the latest winner of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises' Entrepreneur of the Year Award, said taxi fares are too low here. 'Even school pupils take the cab. They share, and it's cheaper than taking the MRT for short distances,' he noted.

He said the flagdown fare ought to be raised, and the number of surcharges lowered, to 'discourage cabbies from hiding' during certain periods of the day.

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