Additional $27 million of support for cabbies, private-hire drivers amid 'significant' fall in ridership

Drivers will receive $25 per vehicle per day, up from the existing $15 per vehicle per day. ST PHOTO: JOYCE FANG

SINGAPORE - Private-hire car and taxi drivers will receive additional daily cash support from this week till the end of June, as the Government has set aside an additional $27 million to support them amid a significant drop in ridership during the current heightened alert period.

In total, drivers will receive $25 per vehicle per day, up from the existing $15 per vehicle per day. This works out to $750 per vehicle per month until the end of June.

The additional payout will benefit the 16,000 taxi drivers and 40,000 private-hire car drivers here, said Transport Minister S. Iswaran at a virtual press conference on Friday (May 21).

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Friday that the additional support from the one-off top-up to the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund (CDRF) is in addition to the $188 million in CDRF payments that has already been committed from January to June.

LTA said it will work with taxi and private-hire car operators to implement the enhanced CDRF by the end of this month.

"We recognise that taxi and (private-hire car) drivers need urgent targeted assistance to tide through this period so that they can continue providing sustainable taxi and (private-hire car) services for Singapore commuters," it said.

Preliminary data showed that taxi and private-hire car ridership has declined significantly since stricter Covid-19 measures kicked in on Sunday, said LTA.

Mr Iswaran told reporters that taxi and private-hire car ridership in April was at 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels before phase two (heightened alert) measures kicked in.

Since the heightened alert period began, this has fallen to about 55 per cent.

"It has been a material drop and we have to also see what the impact of some of the measures that just came into force, like home-based learning, (will be)," he said.

Under the new restrictions, people are allowed to be out in groups of only two. Dining in at eateries is not allowed and working from home is once again the default.

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Taxis and private-hire vehicles can ferry only two passengers at a time, unless the passengers are from the same household.

In addition, all primary, secondary, junior college and Millenia Institute students, including students from special education schools, have since shifted to full home-based learning until May 28.

Said Mr Iswaran: "The likelihood is that (ridership) may further decrease with the implementation of home-based learning, and some of the associated changes in behaviour and activity patterns of our citizens."

LTA said the new support measures were devised after consultation with the National Taxi Association (NTA), the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA), as well as taxi and private-hire car operators.

All cabbies and private-hire car drivers who are eligible for the CDRF will automatically receive the top-up through their operators.

The Government is also looking into extending CDRF payments beyond June, given that ridership is likely to take time to recover after the end of the heightened alert period.

When asked how long this proposed extension might be, Mr Iswaran said the authorities will need to look at overall circumstances as the Covid-19 situation evolves.

He said the Ministry of Transport will work with the Ministry of Finance to get a holistic assessment before making a decision.

Taxi and private-hire operators have rolled out their own support measures, noted Mr Iswaran. Earlier this week, ComfortDelGro, Singapore's largest taxi operator, raised its daily rental waiver for its cabbies to 50 per cent per vehicle to help cushion the blow of the stricter Covid-19 measures.

Other taxi operators have also committed to providing additional discounts on rental fees of at least $5 a day. This is on top of the daily $10 rental discount that their drivers already receive.

In total, taxi operators have pledged around $28 million in additional taxi rental discounts, according to LTA.

Meanwhile, ride-hailing firm Gojek has reduced commissions for its drivers, LTA noted. A spokesman for rival Grab said it will share more details on its support programme for drivers "very soon".

Mr Iswaran was also asked whether any added support will also be given to private bus drivers. He said the Government will look into this separately, as there are "a whole bunch of other issues" related to this group of drivers.

On fears that the airborne transmission of the coronavirus could occur on public transport, Mr Iswaran said the current measures that are in place - such as mandating the wearing of masks and advisories for commuters not to talk on trains - are based on prevailing scientific evidence and medical advice.

"We are closely tracking this because if there is any evidence that we need to adopt additional measures because of certain characteristics, whether it's about the virus or its transmission patterns, then we will do so," he added.

NTA and NPHVA adviser Yeo Wan Ling, who is also National Trades Union Congress director and an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said another way the authorities can help drivers is to keep Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) charges for major roads at $0.

She said NTA and NPHVA are also looking at providing training allowance support for drivers who use this period of low ridership to go for training courses.

Taxi and private-hire car drivers said the additional cash payout is much-needed relief as their earnings have fallen by 30 per cent to 50 per cent since Sunday.

ComfortDelGro taxi driver Tan Eng Chuan said he used to be able to take home $80 to $100 a day after a 10-hour shift, but has been able to make only $30 to $40 daily in the past week.

The 54-year-old cabby welcomes the additional support but hopes operators can be more generous with rental waivers.

Gojek driver Lawrence Quek, 40, said the additional support will help offset his fuel costs, which have gone up as he now has to drive longer hours and longer distances to look for customers and to make up for lower earnings.

He said: "Everybody surely wants more. Perhaps an additional $30 would be good. But the Government has already spent so much money, so any money is helpful. I am quite thankful."

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