Taxi! Taxi! The Evolution of Singapore’s Taxi-Cabs

It was the end of road for the Toyota Crown taxis in Singapore, when its last batch officially walked into history in September 2014. Debuted since 1982, the Toyota Crown taxis were once one of the most common taxi-cabs on the Singapore roads in the nineties and 2000s, along with the models of Toyota Corona and Nissan Cedric.

The last batch of Toyota Corona taxis was scrapped in 2006. Today, the new taxis come in almost 30 different types of models, ranging from Toyota (Axio, Camry, Wish, Allion, Prius) and Honda (Fit, Airwave, Partner, Fielder, Stream) to Hyundai (Sonata, i30, Avante), Kia (Magentis, Optima, Carnival) and Chevrolet (Epica).

toyota crown taxi 1988

Other than the models, how have Singapore’s taxi-cabs evolved in the past 100 years?

1920s – Early Taxi-cabs in Singapore

Prior to the 1920s, rickshaws were widely used in Singapore. Imported from Japan since 1880, the hand-drawn taxi-cabs provided a major form of public transport to both the upper and lower class. Although rickshaws were eventually banned in 1947, the Municipal Commissioners were already aiming to replace the rickshaws with small taxis in the 1920s.

rickshaws 1920s

Engine-driven type of taxi-cabs started to appear in 1920, when Ford touring cars, painted in light yellow with black fenders, became available at Raffles Place, charging passengers at a rate of 40 cents a mile with an additional 10 cents for every quarter mile. The first true taxi-cab, designed and fitted with a Ford chassis, an economic carburetor and ample seating accommodation, was brought into Singapore only nine years later.

The Borneo Motors Limited imported the taximeter in 1930 as an experimental device for taxis in Singapore. The meter had been used in other countries such as Rangoon and Calcutta for many years. Fitted at the running board of the taxi, the driver would pull down the “For Hire” flag whenever a passenger boarded the vehicle, and the mechanism in the meter would start registering the fare. The taximeters, however, did not become a compulsory device for taxis until years after the Second World War.

1930s – Rise of the Yellow Top Taxis

The first yellow top taxis were brought into Singapore in 1933 by the Wearne Brothers, founded in 1906 and later became the sole agent of the Ford cars in the Straits Settlements, to primarily serve in the city area. The response was generally positive; a year later, Wearne Brothers established a subsidiary named General Transport Company to launch taxi services in other Malayan cities such as Malacca, Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

1940s – The First London-type Taxi

Just after the end of the Second World War, the Singapore Hire Car Association (SHCA) and Singapore Taxi Transport Association (STTA) were formed with the approval of the Registrar of Vehicles to protect the interests of their members plying the trade of taxi drivers. The associations would also step in to provide legal services to the drivers in times of conflicts.

In 1946, the official basis of charges for taxis in Singapore was set at 30-cents-a-mile by the Road Transport Department.

first london-type taxi in singapore 1949

An Austin 1949 model arrived in Singapore in November 1949 as the colony’s first ever London-type taxi, causing quite a stir as pedestrians and passengers gazed at the vehicle with interest. Designed with a capacity to carry five passengers, the new taxi, however, was out of reach for most drivers due to its high cost of $7,000.

1950s – Taximeters A Must

In order to provide a fairer service to the public, taximeters were finally introduced on a wider scale in Singapore by the City Council in the early fifties. The new scheme was not well-received, as the taxi drivers felt that it was a practice for passengers to bargain and pay fares below the authorised rates, and the introduction of taxi meters would disrupt their business. Nevertheless, the Singapore Taxi-Owners Co-operative Motor Garage and Stores Society Limited, a major taxi company in Singapore, became one of the first taxi companies to adopt the meters. By the end of 1953, all taxis in Singapore were required to install the taximeters.

Other new measures also generated negative responses. In 1954, a plan to install radio telephones in the 1,500 taxis in Singapore was met with protests and objections due to the high installation fees that cost as much as $800.

taximeters 1950s

In 1957, the City Council wanted to add more taxis on the road, and this, too, was met with objections as it would increase the competition and reduce the taxi drivers’ and owners’ earnings. Moreover, pirate taxis were running rampant in Singapore, taking away a large share of the legal drivers’ business. The same year also saw the restriction of taxis travelling freely between Singapore and the Federation of Malaya. Prior to 1957, vehicles could travel in both territories without restriction.

The number of taxis in Singapore, by the end of the fifties, had ballooned to 11,500. Most of them were under the Singapore Taxi Transport Association, Singapore Hire Car Association, Singapore Taxi Drivers’ Union and Singapore Hock Poh Sang Taxi Drivers’ Union. The increasing number of taxis indirectly led to a higher number of accidents on the road, averaging 2,000 per month. While the accidents were not entirely due to the taxi drivers, their eagerness to pick up passengers and road manners often put them in unfavourable situations with the Traffic Police.

1960s – Fighting the Pirate Taxis

By the sixties, there were more than 36,000 licensed taxi drivers in Singapore, where 90% of them belonged to three major taxi companies in the Singapore Taxi-Owners Co-operative Motor Garage and Stores Society Limited, STTA and Sharikat Sir Kemajuan. STTA is the only one still existing today, providing coverage for the private taxi owners identified by their yellow top vehicles.

Pirate taxis continued to be a source of issues in the sixties. Anyone could register their private cars as taxis, and used them to ferry passengers at arbitrary rates. Some, known as “Ali Baba”, were controlled by rogue operators that owned fleets of poorly-maintained vehicles at their territories. Taxi licenses were often traded by them at exorbitant values. In the mid-sixties, as many as 4,000 pirate taxis were running on the roads everyday.

taxis at collyer quay 1970s

change alley 1970s

1970s – Radio Taxi Services Launched

In 1970, the NTUC Workers’ Co-operative Commonwealth for Transport was established with a fleet of 1,000 taxis. It would later become NTUC-Comfort, the largest player in the local taxi-cab industry for decades. Taxi licenses became non-transferable in 1973; the new taxi licenses were only issued to NTUC-Comfort.

ntuc comfort taxis 1970s

The total number of taxis in Singapore in 1970 numbered about 10,500, but most of them were still pirate taxis. It led to the introduction of diesel tax, one of several measures by the government to wipe out pirate taxis. Facing uncertainty and unemployment, many pirate taxi drivers decide to switch to licensed taxis with NTUC-Comfort, or became bus drivers or conductors. By July 1971, pirate taxis in Singapore were officially “eradicated”.

The radio taxi service had been present since the fifties, but it was never popular with the public due to its unreliability. The pirate taxis also played a part then, as the commuters could easily booked one instead of calling the legitimate taxis.

yellow top taxis 1975

In 1976, the radio taxi service started by the Singapore Taxi Owners and Drivers Co-operative Store Society, which had 190 taxis under its charge, finally proved to be a success with the public with easy-to-memorise dial-in numbers such as 363636 and 363333. In just the first eight months of service, the organisation had received 50,000 booking calls.

Soon, other taxi companies also followed suit; the Singapore Taxi Drivers Association started their radio taxi service a year later, and NTUC-Comfort launched theirs in 1979.

sembawang hill estate radio taxi service

By the late eighties, there was more than a dozen private radiophone taxi organisations spread all over Singapore in Singapore. Most had ceased operations by today, such as the Beach Road Radio Taxi Service (at Jalan Selaseh), Chip Bee Radio Taxi Service (at Upper Bukit Timah) and Upper Thomson Radio Taxi Service (at the long-demolished Lake View Shopping Centre).

boon lay garden radio taxi service

singapore radio taxi service ulu pandan

Only a handful still exists till this day. They are the Sembawang Hill Estate Taxi Service (at Jalan Leban), Boon Lay Garden Radio Taxi Service (at Boon Lay Place) and Singapore Radio Taxi Service (at Ulu Pandan Road).

ntuc comfort taxi at changi airport 1980s

1980s – Expanding Market

Air-conditioned taxis were introduced in 1977, a move welcomed by the public. More measures for taxis were rolled out in the eighties. In 1982, radios were allowed to be installed in the taxis. In the same year, front-seat seat belts were made compulsory. In the early eighties, NTUC-Comfort made a step ahead of others by changing all their taxis’ mechanical taximeters to electronics ones. By 1984, all taxis in Singapore were required to be fitted with the electronic meters.

singapore taxis 1980s

There were 11,668 taxis running on Singapore roads by 1985, shared by the Singapore Commuters, NTUC-Comfort, Singapore Airport Bus Services (SABS) and SBS Taxi. NTUC-Comfort continued to own the largest taxi fleet, with almost 6,300 cars, whereas there were only 300 taxis under SABS.

SBS Taxi, a new player joining the market just two years earlier, launched their Toyota Corona taxis in white and red colours, the same signature colours used for their SBS buses.

sbs taxis 1990s

1990s – The Big Merger

In 1995, CityCab was formed by the merging of SABS, SBS Taxi and Singapore Commuters. A year later, it became the first taxi company in Singapore to launch a luxurious fleet of Mercedes E300 taxis. A 7-seater named MaxiCab was also introduced by CityCab in the late nineties.

toyota corona comfort taxi 1990s

Today, there are six taxi companies in Singapore, namely Comfort, CityCab, SMRT, TransCab, Premier and Prime. The green SMART Cab, established in 1991, was the latest taxi operator to exit the industry after failing to meet the Quality of Service requirement set by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in 2013.

Other than the six taxi operators, there are around 500 yellow top taxis in Singapore driven by their individual owners. The licenses of these yellow top taxis allow their owners to drive the vehicles until the age of 73, which means the yellow top taxis, running on the roads since the 1930s, will probably vanish in the next decade or so.

Published: 02 October 2014

This entry was posted in General, Historic and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Taxi! Taxi! The Evolution of Singapore’s Taxi-Cabs

  1. aaynoor says:

    Informational blog. On the other hand, if you are an expat and plan on moving to Singapore, do check out I found it to be very useful in finding a place.

  2. figtree23 says:

    I used to love the Toyota Crown Taxis. So spacious. I remember hugging my girlfriend close as the driver used to come off the PIE to Jurong at too fast a speed. Sigh!!!
    I really love this serious you are writing. It brings back so many memories for me.
    Thank you.

  3. zzzisle says:

    regarding radio taxi service station, i remember there was one near king albert mcdonald and ngee ann polytechnic. not sure if it is still in operation though.

  4. teabie says:

    Man, as a 1980 baby, these pictures bring back way too many memories! Please keep this blog up! I’m a very faithful fan. 🙂

  5. More old photos of Singapore taxis at Asiaone

    Taxi drivers who did not purchase the Area Licence in 1975 plied along the fringes of the restricted area or spent hours of restriction in coffee-shops or petrol kiosks.

    A taxi stand along Cecil Street was affected by demolition works in the area. Passengers who wait at the stand, especially tourists, found that taxis seldom picked them up from there.

    Traffic at various parts of Singapore on the first day of the Area Licencing for taxis in 1975.

    Taxis at Bencoolen Street on the 1st day of Area Licencing for taxis in 1975.

    A taxi stand with railings at Fullerton Building.

    A policeman directs a commuter back into the queue after he jumped queue at at a taxi stand in Fullerton Square in 1974.

    Taxi drivers were hit by oil quotas imposed by oil companies in 1975. The oil companies based supply on basis of average monthly fuel sales.

    Taxis took part in national campaigns like the ‘Taxi driving for National Defence Fund’, where passengers donated $20 for a book of coupons, and a coupon took them on a drive around the city.

    Taxi driver Mohamed Ismail sent 700 Christmas cards to tourists who travelled in his taxi when they were here.

    A hand-painted sign in a taxi offers to take older, cheaper fare as drivers’ earnings were hit by a April 1 fare hike in 1985.

    Taxis queue up for passengers at Far East Plaza in Scotts Road in 1985.

    A passenger boards a taxi at the junction of Orchard Road and Emerald Hill Road in 1983.

    Commuters take a cab on the first day of the modified Share-a-cab scheme at Ang Mo Kio assembly point.

    The scheme allows haggling over fares – between 50 cents and $1.50 – and allows cabbies to pick up and drop passengers along the way.

    Commuters wait for taxis at the taxi stand in Plaza Singapura.

    A Registry of Vehicles official handing out assessment cards for a ‘courteous taxi drivers’ contest. The month-long courtesy contest was jointly organised by the Registry of Vehicles, NTUC Comfort, Singapore Taxi Drivers’ Association, Singapore Taxi Transport Association and the Singapore Airport Bus Services in conjunction with the National Courtesy Campaign.


  6. Reblogged this on old world underground and commented:
    I live near where Singapore Radio Taxi Service at Ulu Pandan Road is, and always wonder when it will go. I hope it won’t.

  7. The drivers and their green SABS taxis ready for business. 1979

    (Source: Facebook Group “Nostalgic Singapore”)

  8. Gomosh says:

    I remember when I was a kid in early 80s, my parents had brought me to East Coast chalet (with red bricks colour), we hailed a yellow top model Morris Marina. Also remembered had few rides in yellow top model Peugeot 504 and Volga Gaz-24. 🙂

  9. Jeffery says:

    Hi, your blog is very interesting with full details of history. I really enjoyed reading it
    I am doing a personal project regarding about taxis in the 1960’s. I have a question to ask, back in the 60’s there were private cars that had the “H” sign printed next to the rear passenger door. Just above the “H” signs there were some other words printed as well. Do you happens to know what are the exact wording? Perhaps you can drop me an email at
    Thank you.


  10. Easy Taxi Leaves Singapore Without Saying Goodbye

    Yahoo Singapore
    18 September 2015

    After months of silence from the company, Easy Taxi has quietly left Singapore.

    According to The Straits Times, the Brazil-based startup has wound up its operations here. They obtained a statement from an Easy Taxi spokesman from Brazil that would only confirm that the company was “scaling down operations in the region”. The national paper even visited their company’s listed address at CT Hub to find the premises locked up. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has also told The Straits Times about Easy Taxi’s decision to stop operating in the country.

    Easy Taxi first entered Asia two years ago, and came to Singapore in December 2013. However, it faced stiff competition from the start, with players like GrabTaxi and MoobiTaxi in the mix. The market for taxi-booking apps is currently led by GrabTaxi — which recently launched a multimillion dollar research facility in Singapore’s Central Business District — and Uber, the American-based transportation company that specialises in private car bookings.

    Back in July, Easy Taxi seemed to be exploring new opportunities in food delivery, as they sent a telling mailer to their customers asking for feedback towards a healthy-food delivery service. Vulcan Post also reached out to learn about their current activities in Singapore, but did not receive comment.

    “They left without a sound and many drivers are not aware,” said Mr Ho, a taxi driver interviewed by The Straits Times. Another taxi driver who declined to be named told Vulcan Post that EasyTaxi’s UX paled in comparison to GrabTaxi, and most cab drivers chose to use both services together.

    The Oligopoly Of Taxi-Booking Services Left

    In the face of the growth of GrabTaxi and Uber, other independent cab services in the market seem to have been pushed out of Singapore. As we previously reported, Hailo has been radio-silent in its online activities, with their last Facebook update dating back to June (one that wasn’t even about their services). We needn’t even mention MoobiTaxi, which seems to have stopped all promotional efforts since early 2014.

    The next best contender is ComfortDelGro, which released a redesigned booking app early this year, and surprised everyone with 2.5 million downloads in 2014 alone.

    While we’re left with just a handful of taxi-booking services here in Singapore, competition remains stiff. GrabTaxi and Uber seem to be going head to head, most recently with their introduction of free supercar bookings available via their app in celebration of Singapore’s F1 kickoff. While GrabTaxi started offering their services from September 15, Uber will offer their free supercar services from September 19-20.

  11. roikpc says:

    Well written article. Brings good memories and insight of Singapore early years of transportation systems. I was the Radio Control Room supervisor at NTUC Comfort in 1979.

  12. I am glad for Singapour, great technology and advances. One of best countries in the world.

  13. End of road for last Toyota Crown taxis

    05 November 2018
    The Straits Times

    Toyota Crown taxis were once the kings of the road here and ruled the streets in terms of numbers.

    In 2006, there were about 19,000 Crowns – or 80 per cent of all taxis – on the roads at the time.

    However, in 2014, the model was retired after 32 years as it did not meet the Euro IV diesel emission standards at the time.

    This meant that most of the 349 Crown taxis at the time were scrapped, but some survived and were put to uses other than picking up passengers.

    ComfortDelGro group corporate communications officer Tammy Tan said: “We started decommissioning our Crown taxis as early as 1999, and donated them to hospitals, voluntary welfare organisations and schools for rehabilitation and education purposes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s