2 years of Covid-19

'I was not bringing home bread, it was just bread crumbs': Taxi driver on income loss during Covid-19

The toughest period was when Singapore toggled between loosening and tightening Covid-19 measures after the circuit breaker, says cabbie James Quak. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JAMES QUAK

SINGAPORE - Mr James Quak, 46, is a ComfortDelGro relief taxi driver who has been driving since 2012. His wife is an administrative worker and he has one child who is in secondary school.

After the circuit breaker ended, the reopening phases where Singapore toggled between loosening and tightening measures were actually the toughest.

Each time taxi drivers heard the Government announce work from home would be the default, or schools would implement home-based learning, we knew, that's it.

The streets would be depressingly quiet with no one calling for taxis. There was a severe lack of demand.

At the back of my mind, I was constantly reminded about overhead costs such as vehicle rental and petrol.

I was not bringing home bread, it was just bread crumbs.

Till today, there is this lingering fear that the Government will suddenly announce more Covid-19 restrictions.

When my income was very low, I was thankful to have been able to turn to various financial support schemes introduced by the government.

The Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme provided some cold hard cash, which was very helpful as it cushioned my income loss.

Half a loaf was better than no bread.

We have also had to make adjustments to our working schedule due to the lack of nightlife.

Before the pandemic, we would usually do a 12-hour shift. Right now, to ensure that drivers in both the day and night shifts have the opportunity to earn some money, we have shortened our shifts to nine hours, from 6am to 3pm, so that the other driver can take over from 3pm to 12am the next day. I usually take on the morning shift as this ensures that my rest time coincides with my family and I am able to spend more time with them.

Rentals were waived during the circuit breaker and I treated that period as unpaid leave.

During circuit breaker, my average hourly earnings dropped from around $30 in pre-pandemic days to $10.

We exchanged our time and effort for income, but when things did not pay off, the stress accumulated. All the stress and anxiety made me a little more emotional and sensitive.

Thankfully, my wife was extremely understanding and supportive. She reminded me that I was not alone in this situation.

To cope with the stress, I also turned to sports. In the past, I did not have time to be physically active. With more time during the pandemic, I brisk-walked and jogged around my neighbourhood.

I also picked up new hobbies including growing some edibles and keeping aquarium fishes. These distracted me from my worries, kept me sane, and lifted my spirits.

Now people can return to their offices, but it is still a contrast to the good old days where people travel to different appointments. With every change to the Covid-19 measures, it will take one to two weeks for the impact to be felt.

In fact, the number of taxis on the roads today is still towards the low end. Perhaps, some are not ready to return or they want to see how the situation unfolds.

More private hire car drivers have joined the industry over the last two years and with their competitive pricing, things are even more challenging for taxi drivers.

I hope with the recent easing of measures, the light at the end of the tunnel is not temporary, that it stays.

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