Last month, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) published the National Energy Policy Report, with inputs from other ministries such as Transport, Finance and Environment and Water Resources.
Under the land transport section, the report zeroed in on empty cruising by taxis.
'Due to the high mileage of taxis, diesel taxis contribute a significant amount to our CO2 and PM2.5 emissions,' it read, referring to carbon dioxide and ultra-fine particulate matter produced by diesel engines. 'To address this, we are exploring ways to reduce the empty cruising of taxis and increase the proportion of green taxis.'
When asked to elaborate on its plans to tackle empty cruising, MTI directed the query to the Transport Ministry which directed it to the Land Transport Authority.
An LTA spokesman said the authority will build more taxi stands. By the end of this year, it will erect 15 more taxi stands in the Central Business District. There are currently 80 taxi stands in the CBD.
The thinking is that with more taxi stands, cabbies will be less likely to wander aimlessly looking for fares.
But the LTA declined to elaborate on how it would tackle cabbies who leave their engines running while at these taxi stands. Nor did it provide details on other ways to address empty cruising.
Its spokesman, however, pointed out that cab operators are required to cater to a high percentage of call bookings.
Cabby L. S. Chew, 37, said that of the 300km he clocks a day on a 12-hour shift, he gets 20 to 25 fares. Each fare averages 10km. Which means he cruises 50 to 100km a day without a passenger.
'Every 10km we go without a passenger, it's $1 down the drain,' Mr Chew said.
On average, if the cabs are empty one-third of the time, it works out to at least $10 of wasted fuel per cabby per day.
Leading taxi company ComfortDelGro agrees that empty cruising is wasteful and detrimental to the environment.
'To minimise empty cruising, we have put in place a technologically advanced call booking system,' ComfortDelGro spokesman Tammy Tan said.
'We are constantly looking at ways to make it more efficient so that commuters will be encouraged to book a taxi instead of resorting to street hail.'
In places such as Europe and Australia, hailing a cab from the street is rare. Commuters either phone for one or go to a taxi stand.
The authorities have long sought ways to encourage the practice here.
Singapore Environment Council's executive director Howard Shaw said one way this could be done would be to drop the booking charges.
'Maybe we should reduce charges on bookings and make it more accessible and convenient to book a cab,' he said.
Mr Shaw also suggested a centralised booking system, where commuters dial only one number to get a cab from any of the six taxi companies here. This would shorten the waiting time and thus encourage more to book a cab by phone, he said.