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Singapore to Host Wireless E-Mail Taxi Experiment

June 26, 2001

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singaporeans may soon be able to check their e-mails and surf the Internet from the back of a taxi — but the idea has not sparked universal enthusiasm.

CityCab, the island's second biggest taxi company, plans to launch what it says is the world's first wireless interactive service for drivers and passengers by the end of the year, rolling it out through its 5,000-car fleet by 2003.

Karaoke taxis already exist in Singapore but Project Escalade has sparked a debate, typified by an angry letter to the Straits Times newspaper, about bells and whistles versus service.

"I fail to understand why CityCab is spending S$15 million ($8.3 million) on providing Internet access and similar luxuries when basic problems like long waiting time and poor tele-booking services are still unresolved," one reader wrote.

Priscilla Chan, head of corporate affairs at CityCab, said the system was designed to make service more efficient and e-mail and Internet access were by-products which may be introduced depending on demand.

Jointly developed by Hewlett-Packard and Ericsson's Cyberlab, Project Escalade would help manage the cars, facilitate bookings and give drivers route and traffic information, she added.

"By the end of this year, we intend to install and test run HP's handheld PCs in 500 cabs," Chan said. "We are implementing a new mobile solution and not Internet cabs."

CityCab's sister companies in Britain, Computer Cab and Datacab, plan to introduce the system once it has been tried in Singapore. CityCab is part of transport group Delgro Corp.

Youngsters seem to like the idea of surfing the Internet in a cab but others said it was unnecessary in such a small place where it takes less than an hour to get anywhere by car.

"I'm not sure people will use it if they're in the taxi for 20 or 30 minutes," cab driver Kwa Chwee Tian said.

In a nation where cars are expensive, taxis are a relatively cheap way to get around. A 20-minute ride typically costs about S$8.00 ($4.42).

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