Despite government support, taxi drivers are struggling to cope with the economic impact of COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 outbreak reached Singapore, taxi drivers are among the workers who struggle to make ends meet during this tough times as they’ve lost a lot of business as Singapore imposed stringent measures to curb the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country.

“Now I can only driving around to try my luck whether there is any passenger,” said a taxi driver, noting that there is decline in demand for taxi services as there’s hardly anyone outside now.

When the city started to slow down due to the stricter measures imposed by the government, the taxi driver mentioned that the airport and malls are among the places that had seen a mass drop of passengers as most of the time those places were empty.

“The situation of SARS outbreak in 2003 was not as worse as COVID-19 and it went quickly. But this is my first time to see many countries under lockdown due to the coronavirus. I never seen this kind of situation before, and I can’t use any word to describe it,” a taxi driver who has been driving for nearly 20 years told TOC.

Given the precarious situation, the taxi driver remarked, “You can see now there are dozens of taxi are ‘queuing’ at the taxi stand of some areas such as MRT station to pick-up passengers, though the chances to get passengers are quite low.”

Instead of just waiting, the taxi driver told TOC that he will drive around the city to look for passengers, even if it wastes fuel.

“I will be happy if I can pick up any one of passenger, regardless of how far the distance is,” he added.

Business affected when government banned night activities

The Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced on Tuesday (24 March) that it will close all bars and entertainment venues like night clubs, discos, cinemas, theatres, and karaoke outlets, where there is a high risk of transmission due to sustained close contact over a period of time. This came into effect as of 2359 hours, Thursday (26 March).

Besides that, the taskforce also imposed a limitation on gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or fewer to ensure the operators of public venues would minimise crowds by providing an environment that allows at least one metre physical distancing between patrons.

With such announcement, another taxi driver TOC spoke to, who drives the vehicle himself, said that it will affect his business because majority of his customers are from KTV and nightclubs.

Hence, he hinted that he will have to change his working hours, from the usual night shift to day shift, as he foresees there will be no more customers at night following the ban on night activities.

Taxi drivers stuck with contracts with the cab company; being offered to become bus drivers amid the declining in demand of taxi services

Noting that many drivers are now working with ComfortDelGro (CDG), the taxi driver told TOC that he is aware that CDG is offering their taxi drivers to become bus drivers, with a one-time sign-on bonus of $3,000.

However, he noted that taxi drivers have been stuck with a two-year contract with their cab company, despite being offered $6,000 which will be paid out in different tranches.

He also pointed out that the drivers will need to compensate about $2,000 to the company for a breach of contract should they leave.

It was earlier reported that a CDG driver quit his job after working with the company for ten years because of the high fares and rental rates of taxi while expressing that the whole transportation industry has been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, another taxi driver, who is also tied up by contract, told TOC that he is even being offered by the company to work as a bus driver during this tough time.

Similarly, SMRT says it will also provide “short-term job options” for their taxi drivers to become bus captains so that the taxi drivers can cope with their reduced income in view of the ongoing crisis.

Government’s support packages to taxi drivers

Additionally, the taxi drivers who encountered hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic will also be temporarily employed as “transport ambassadors” to help in ensuring the physical distancing between commuters as well as disinfecting the train cabins and seats, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (23 March).

For concerned taxi drivers who have seen their incomes drop during this period, Mr Khaw stated that the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will work with the transport operators to get this idea up and going within the next few weeks.

The transport ambassadors could be employed on a three- or six-month contract depending on the period of the pandemic.

On top of this, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Thursday (26 March) said that the government will enhance and extend the point-to-point support package (PPSP) until September to provide further assistance for taxi and private-hire car drivers who are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting from May, the government will disburse about $78 million to the main taxi hirers and eligible private-hire car drivers while self-employed persons, including taxi and private hire car drivers, will be paid $1,000 per month for nine months under a new Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme.

The waiver of point-to-point licensing fee as well as the Special Relief Fund of $300 per vehicle per month, to be received by the eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers, will also be covered under the extension of PPSP till September.

This means that about 40,000 eligible drivers will receive up to $10 per vehicle per day, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Meanwhile, the CDG drivers will also receive a daily rental reduction of $46.50 till the end of April, with an additional $10 daily rental relief given by CDG to each taxi on top of the current $36.50.

However, even with the subsidy and relief given by government and operators, one taxi driver told TOC that it is insufficient to cover his cost as the daily car rental is around $70 to $80, not to mention the cost of fuel on top of that.

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