Taxi drivers need to find ways to stay healthy even with long hours at the wheel: NTA

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong (in red), along with taxi leaders from the National Taxi Association, gave out goodie bags and hongbao to taxi drivers at Changi Airport on Friday morning, Jan 31, 2014, to thank them for working on the first day of Chine
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong (in red), along with taxi leaders from the National Taxi Association, gave out goodie bags and hongbao to taxi drivers at Changi Airport on Friday morning, Jan 31, 2014, to thank them for working on the first day of Chinese New Year. -- PHOTO: NTUC

With rising rental costs and an increased minimum daily mileage driving cabbies to ply the roads for longer hours, the National Taxi Association (NTA) is urging drivers not to leave their mental and physical health behind.

The NTA, a body that champions the interests and well-being of cabbies, plans to hold exercise programmes and sports programmes for the drivers, said its executive adviser Ang Kin Hee. The NTA already organises events in sports like badminton - one of its most popular activities - and bowling, but are looking at other activities taxi drivers have voiced an interest in, such as table tennis and basketball.

But the participation rate of drivers in the NTA's sports programmes so far is lower than they have hoped for, said Mr Ang. In 2013, NTA has seen more than 1,000 people participating in its sports events but, with over 30,000 active cabbies in Singapore, there's still "a long way to go".

Mr Ang cited long hours - with most cabbies spending more than 12 hours on the road - as one of the reasons most cabbies hold back from attending these events. He encouraged cabbies to start small by doing simple stretches during their short breaks or while waiting for passengers.

Mr Henry Tay, one of the taxi leaders in NTA, said rising rental costs have led to drivers clocking in longer hours. A taxi driver of 10 years, Mr Tay said his daily rental has risen from $102 about three years ago to about $163 now. And, starting last year, taxi operators had to have 70 per cent of their fleet cover a minimum distance of 250km a day, giving drivers even less free time.

"Some times drivers don't even have time to go to the toilet," said Mr Tay, who said most taxi drivers were 50 years old and above and had illnesses like kidney problems and heart problems, aggravated by long, stressful hours cooped up in their vehicle.

About 50 taxi leaders from the NTA accompanied Health Minister Gan Kim Yong as he made his rounds at the taxi stands at Changi Airport’s three terminals early Friday morning to give out goodie bags containing health-related items, hongbao and warm handshakes to some 1000 taxi drivers to thank them for working on the first day of the Chinese New Year.

Mr Gan told reporters that the Health Promotion Board is reaching out to people from all walks of life to encourage them to stay healthy, and are working with organisations like the NTA to reach out to various groups of workers.

Mr Gan said: "We will continue to work with NTA to reach out to more and more drivers to encourage them to have a healthy lifestyle so that they can drive (the) taxi for many years and earn a good income to support the family."