Coronavirus: Weathering the storm

Help for cab, private-hire drivers on several fronts

The point-to-point support package will be enhanced and extended to September, and $78 million will go towards main taxi hirers and qualifying private-hire car drivers. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The point-to-point support package will be enhanced and extended to September, and $78 million will go towards main taxi hirers and qualifying private-hire car drivers. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Measures to start from May are on top of $77m point-to-point transport support package

Taxi and private-hire car drivers will get more financial aid as the coronavirus pandemic takes a bigger toll on business.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday that government help on several fronts will be rolled out - on top of a $77 million point-to-point transport support package announced last month.

"Our taxi and private-hire car drivers have seen their takings fall significantly, as more people work from home and as visitorship falls," DPM Heng said.

The following measures will kick in from May:

 • The point-to-point support package will be enhanced and extended to September. This will cost the Government another $95 million. About $78 million will go towards main taxi hirers and qualifying private-hire car drivers, to be disbursed from May to September. This will benefit more than 40,000 drivers. Main hirers are encouraged to share this with their relief drivers.

 • Drivers can also look forward to the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme. Administered by the National Trades Union Congress, it grants each eligible driver $1,000 a month for nine months.

 • Taxi companies with unhired cabs will get relief amounting to $12 million. The industry's unhired vehicle rate has risen from 9 per cent in January to as high as 14 per cent, or close to 2,600 cabs, in the middle of this month, and "is expected to rise further". Again, operators are to share the savings with their drivers.

 • To allow private-hire car drivers to exit the market, there will be a one-time waiver of the $100 fee for those who convert their cars back to normal passenger car status.

 • The point-to-point licensing fee will be waived for another six months, from a three-month waiver announced last month. This will cost $3 million.

Eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers will continue to receive the Special Relief Fund payments of $300 a vehicle per month until end-September.

The Government, however, will not defer a new licensing regime which is supposed to level the playing field for taxi and private-hire car operators. The Street-Hail Service Operator Licence and Ride-Hail Service Operator Licence will kick in this September.

 
 

Besides direct financial relief, DPM Heng said an SGUnited Jobs virtual career fair will be launched today. This will offer more than 2,200 jobs, with a focus on temporary positions such as the "transport ambassadors" mentioned by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan earlier this week. These ambassadors will help prevent overcrowding in the MRT and perform cleaning duties in train cabins.

DPM Heng also announced an automatic deferment of income tax payments for companies and self-employed persons for three months, with no application required. For self-employed workers, the payment cycle for personal income tax for the Year of Assessment 2020 generally starts in May. This will be deferred to August.

A spokesman for ComfortDelGro, the largest cab operator here, said: "Our staff and our cabbies are deeply appreciative of the assistance that the Government has accorded companies in the land transport sector. We will be passing on savings to our drivers and will do our best to protect our workforce."

Cabby Henry Tay, 49, said the new package "is quite a lot". With the earlier relief package, Mr Tay said he is able to take home "$40 to $50 a day".

 
 

"It's tough, but I see this as temporary. Another six months, and I think things will get better."

Another driver, Mr Simon Tay, 65, said he finds the going untenable, even with the financial aid. "There are just no jobs (fares) out there," he said. "I would return my vehicle if I could, but I've signed a one-year contract with Grab, which ends in February 2021."

Read Mr Heng's full speech here.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'Help for cab, private-hire drivers on several fronts'. Print Edition | Subscribe