SINGAPORE - HDT Singapore Taxi has become the first taxi business to fold amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, with the Land Transport Authority this week accepting its application to close.
The electric taxi operator said it had been "wrestling with the slowing growth" of the business since the start of the year.
About 90 taxi drivers and four back-end staff were let go, an HDT spokesman said, attributing the decision to the "prolonged, debilitating impact" of the coronavirus on the industry.
It said it is restructuring to focus on other green transport solutions, like electric buses and trucks, as well as the leasing of electric vehicles.
The company, which was granted a full taxi service operator licence in 2018, is the smallest taxi company in Singapore. It operated about 100 electric taxis, and had said it wanted to expand its fleet to 800 by 2022.
Unlike the more flexible models of other taxi and private-hire companies, which treat drivers as self-employed, HDT employed its cabbies and paid them salaries, with perks such as annual leave and contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
Those retrenched will be paid a month of salary for each year of service, on a pro-rata basis. Drivers will be given their annual wage supplement, have their Medisave accounts topped up till the end of the year, and be given a one-off retrenchment benefit "as a gesture of gratitude", the company said.
Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive adviser to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said HDT's employment model meant it has had to bear a bigger burden of the crash in the taxi market this year.
He said that, ultimately, drivers could not "deliver the targets" to match the salary paid by HDT.
There has also not been much of a clamour among cabbies for HDT's employment model, with many preferring to be self-employed and have more flexible rental.
"At the end of the day, it's about the market losing 40 per cent of ridership demand. There are no tourists and no nightlife and very few entertainment venues," he said.
Demand for taxis and private-hire cars during the two-month circuit breaker in April and May was almost non-existent. Even now, with the economy slowly reopening, ridership continues to hover around 60 per cent to 70 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, severely impacting drivers' - and taxi companies' - revenue streams.
Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor said the news was "unfortunate" and that taxi drivers and staff will receive fair treatment such as retrenchment benefits and the necessary job support from relevant agencies.
"Drivers who wish to continue driving can consider joining HDT Singapore Taxi's private hire car and private bus arms, or other taxi operators or transport companies," she said.
"The National Taxi Association will also help those who wish to consider transiting to other career options outside of transport."