Taxi, private-hire car drivers allowed to deliver food and groceries to address delivery slot shortage during Covid-19 outbreak

The new measure will help to address the shortage of delivery slots, even as the Government called on people to order food and groceries online instead of venturing out. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Taxi and private-hire car drivers can now help make grocery and food deliveries, said Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Sunday (March 29).

The measure will help address a shortage of delivery slots, even as the Government called on people to order food and groceries online instead of venturing out.

Said Mr Khaw in a Facebook post: "With tighter safe distancing measures, working from home and telecommuting, demand for home deliveries, whether for food or groceries, has grown.

"Anecdotally, it has gotten difficult to obtain a delivery slot across the various online grocery platforms. We are also observing a dip in the fulfilment rates for online food deliveries. The demand for home delivery will only increase in the upcoming weeks as we push for more people to work from home."

Currently, there is a limited trial with Grab to allow its drivers to also deliver goods and food. There were concerns, said Mr Khaw, that it could affect the traditional passenger service, and contribute to traffic jams. But, he added: "This is an unusual time with a reduced demand for traditional passenger service and less traffic on the road.

"We have therefore decided to expand the Grab trial and will continue to avail this option to taxi and other PHC (private-hire car) operators to allow their drivers to participate in such delivery service, if they wish. This will also help supplement their income."

To enable this, he added that there will be a temporary liberalisation of point-to-point regulations - which otherwise place multiple restrictions on drivers using their vehicles to make deliveries - with immediate effect until the end of June.

Grab Singapore head of transport Andrew Chan said that the company began dicussing with the Land Transport Authority last month how they could extend the GrabExpress Car pilot programme, launched last September.

The expansion of the programme benefits up to 15 per cent of the company's pool of drivers.

Thousands have signed up and will now be able to deliver food and parcels during all hours except between 7am and 10am on weekdays, and all day on weekends.

Elsewhere at ComfortDelGro, cab driver Frankie Chew, 51, plans to give grocery delivery a go.

"It is good that the Government and the company are providing alternative jobs to cabbies, as we are picking up fewer and fewer passengers.

"I am open to giving anything a try, including this opportunity."

Meanwhile, the country's biggest supermarket chain FairPrice is looking at hiring more workers and opening pop-up stores around the island in the next few days in spaces attached to existing stores, such as the atria of shopping malls or HDB estates.

The system is facing tremendous demand, FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng told The Straits Times on Sunday. "Actually, we have already increased the number of slots, but honestly, no matter how many times we increase it, it will all be taken up."

He said that the chain has brought on more workers for packing and delivery and is looking to hire more. It is in talks with other employers who have excess manpower because of the slowdown caused by the pandemic.

It is also enlarging the physical area of its stores by booking additional spaces for the public to buy and check out items, in the way that it usually does for Chinese New Year. Some have already been set up, such as a pop-up in the open space near its Bedok North branch.

"This way, we are able to carry more stock, and it also allows the public to buy the things they need in a safer, slightly more spacious setting."

Retiree Karen Teo, 62, who used to work in a bank, is among the shoppers who want to heed the Government's advisory, but is frustrated with the lack of online delivery slots. She checks e-grocer RedMart three times a day to look for new slots, which can disappear within 10 minutes of opening up.

"Sometimes I even check before midnight," said Ms Teo, who shops not only for herself and her husband but also her son and daughter-in-law, who is in confinement, and her elderly mother, who lives alone. "The Government keeps telling us to stay home and go online for groceries, but there are so many problems."

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