ONE of Singapore's leading taxi companies has rolled into the ancient city of Suzhou, bringing its own innovative style of management. Suzhou Comfort Taxi is riding the crest of a wave of Singaporean interest in Suzhou in eastern China, started by the huge Singapore-Suzhou township project. 'The Singapore style of management is a good one to learn from,' the deputy general manager of Comfort Taxi, Zhang Chenglin, said. 'But we are still some distance from the Singapore standard. 'Our management is not as good. We are not as steady in terms of driving skills, and our drivers have a long way to go before they achieve the ideal working style.' Suzhou Comfort Taxi, which was established in September with a registered capital of US$8 million and an initial 50 taxis, is 70 per cent Singapore-owned and 30 per cent Chinese-owned. The company was the first to start business in the Singapore-Suzhou township project. The 70 square kilometre township will cost $20 billion to build. The company differs from the other 80 taxi companies in the city in that drivers only rent its taxis, following the Singapore pattern. In Singapore, Comfort Taxi has moved on to selling its taxis to the drivers. But Mr Zhang said that once the taxis were sold, management would be difficult and the standard of service provided by drivers would be beyond its control. He said: 'The rental concept is not so popular here, but we are able to manage our cars better and more strictly. 'We do not have a large management staff but we are strong in this aspect. 'In the long term, strict management builds up a solid reputation and guarantees a good product from the company,' he said. 'For instance, there was an uproar when we sacked one driver who did not charge the customer according to the fare shown on the meter. The fact that the affected customer pleaded on his behalf did not make us reverse our decision,' Mr Zhang recalled. Comfort Taxi drivers who break the company rules face a fine of 200 yuan (about HK$184) for the first offence and 500 yuan for a second. However, one Comfort driver said the state-owned Suzhou Taxi 'red' taxis were better managed. 'With our taxis, one car can be allocated to two drivers - one for the day shift and another for the night shift. That means there is greater risk, because the cars are always on the road. 'If one driver has an accident and damages the car, it affects the other's livelihood. 'What works well in Singapore may not be practicable here,' he said. Comfort drivers pay a 20,000 yuan deposit and a monthly rent of 7,500 yuan; the company provides maintenance 12 times a year at 250 yuan each time. The 'red' taxi drivers pay a monthly rent of 7,000 yuan, and are able to buy the taxi after four years. A red taxi driver who rents his car said the influx of Comfort taxis had introduced stiff competition. 'We are not very happy about this, but what can we do?' The Singapore Comfort Taxi joint venture introduced the idea of using meters to the city. Subsequently, other companies also started using meters. Mr Zhang said the company suffered 'some losses' last year, but he expected the situation to reverse this year. 'Although we are a joint-venture company, we did not enjoy any tax incentives, and our costs and investments were high when we first started. 'But we want to pool the Singapore and Suzhou experiences to form our own system,' he said. The 80 taxi companies in Suzhou have a total of about 2,000 cars on the roads. The 50 Comfort taxis have 89 drivers. The company plans to increase its fleet to 500 in five years' time, with total investment reaching US$20 million. It also aims to build a vehicle repair plant.