Tour bus operators impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak are now petitioning for financial help.
According to Vejayan Santhirasegaran, he is one among “hundreds of excursion bus owners” not being a part of any aid package to combat the adverse impact from Covid-19, which is projected to reduce tourist numbers by 30 per cent.
Mr Vejayan laments that his daily earnings have been reduced to $60 on average with over half the payment amounts going to overhead expenses such as parking fees, vehicle loan instalments and fuel costs.
Before ride-hailing firms ventured into tourism-related services like providing airport transfers “with very low rates” in 2015, Mr Vejayan recalled that he used to earn “S$12,000 gross a month”.
Mr Vejayan added that “Even after deducting cost, it was decent money.”
Before the Covid-19 took a hit on tourist arrivals, Mr Vejayan noted that his earnings had declined to about S$3,000 per month. He put effort into finding for delivery work, but “most are already taken up”.
Recalling the swine flu epidemic in 2009, he managed to pull through at the time “but that time, our earnings was enough to weather the downturn… But not now”.
“We rely on tourists for 70 per cent of our business. Only 30 per cent of our business is local. My takings have gone from $100 a day to $10 a day…I don’t want freebies, I just want more jobs,” another driver, Remaesh Krishnan remarked.
Phillip Peh, the President of Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners’ Association stated that “We’re talking to government departments such as Enterprise Singapore to see if there are partners in sectors such as logistics and human resource placement which can offer part-time work for drivers during this downturn…We’re also seeing if (the Urban Redevelopment Authority) and JTC can help defray costs by, say, cutting parking charges by 50 per cent during this period…Also, we’re asking if diesel duty can be suspended temporarily.”
Addressing the current predicament, Singapore Tourism Board spokesman Terrence Voon remarked that “We are aware that (tour bus) businesses have been impacted significantly by the Covid-19 outbreak. Operators, including sole proprietors, are eligible for the temporary bridging loan programme, which caters to tourism-sector enterprises…If these businesses hire local workers, they are also eligible for manpower support, such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which provides help for enterprises to retain local employees during this period of uncertainty…Transport businesses which have been similarly affected are also eligible to apply for the Enhanced Working Capital Loan.”
However, according to industry players, these schemes hardly apply to owner-drivers.
“Bridging loan is a loan. The van drivers have costs and overheads – such loans are of little help…Their situation is similar to (that of) private-hire vehicle drivers, but because they operate a different type of vehicle, not much attention has been paid to them,” the Founder and Chief Executive of van-pooling platform Getvan, James Neo explained.
The S$77 million point-to-point aid package co-funded by the Government is available for private-hire drivers.
According to Mr Neo, there are around 100 drivers on Getvan platform, while there could be over 1,000 drivers who have been affected. “Most are sole proprietors who are sub-contractors to transport companies that have contracts from Changi Airport Group, hotels or tour companies,” he remarked, noting that there each driver typically own two or three minibuses respectively.
On Wednesday (26 Feb), a group of drivers are meeting to ink a petition for financial assistance, Mr Vejayan concluded.