Private-hire drivers: More on the road, fewer perks

Flexible hours, lower car rental costs and monetary incentives are several reasons drivers chose to join UberX and GrabCar instead of a taxi company.

But with an influx of newer drivers making it tougher to get passengers and firms scaling back incentives, private-hire drivers said they need to "strategise" to maintain their earnings .

"There are now too many drivers and not enough riders," said Mr James Fang, 30, who has worked for both UberX and GrabCar.

In the beginning, the perks were attractive for drivers who met designated targets.

 
 
 
 

At one point, he said, Uber offered incentives such as an additional $32 an hour for drivers who made at least one trip that hour. In July, GrabCar also offered drivers $1,550 a week, on top of fare earnings, if they picked up 100 different passengers and made 60 peak-hour trips.

But as the driver pool expanded, it became harder to meet the targets. Mr Fang said his earnings dropped about 30 per cent.

To survive on the platform, he made the switch to UberExec, which offers commuters rides in luxury cars, about three months ago. He said he earns $6,000 or more a month.

While the fare for a private-hire car through UberX may be comparable to that of a taxi, UberExec trips often costs $30 or more.

Another driver, 40-year-old Shi Wei Long, who has worked for UberX and GrabCar as well, said he once earned up to $4,000 in a week just by making sure he collected the incentives on offer.

For instance, when dropping a group at multiple destinations, he would ask each passenger to make a separate booking, making it easier to hit the target number of rides.

But incentive programmes are no longer as generous, he said.

Now, he drives when there is surge pricing on weekday mornings, and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. These periods are when fares rise in tandem with real-time demand.

Mr Ken Gwee, 28, who has also worked for both app companies, was attracted by the flexible hours but said drivers have to work smart to make a living from this.

While cabbies can pick passengers up from taxi stands and on the streets, private-hire drivers cannot do so without bookings.

"Uber drivers have to be more ingenious when it is quiet," he said.

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Private-hire drivers: More on the road, fewer perks'. Print Edition | Subscribe