$112m aid top-up to help private-hire, taxi sector tackle crisis

The Land Transport Authority said that the additional aid is to help point-to-point drivers and operators tide over this difficult period.
The Land Transport Authority said that the additional aid is to help point-to-point drivers and operators tide over this difficult period.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

This brings total aid to $300m as demand for services drops to 70% of pre-pandemic levels

Cabbies, private-hire drivers and operators have been thrown an additional $112 million lifeline while the Covid-19 pandemic batters their industry and keeps ridership low.

The latest help follows a $77 million package announced in February and a second tranche of $120 million rolled out in March, taking the total assistance given to the sector to around $300 million.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said yesterday that the additional aid would help drivers and operators at a time when many employees continue to work from home and tourism activities are muted.

This has led to demand for taxis and private-hire vehicles dropping to 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

LTA said point-to-point (P2P) services - which the industry offers - have also been hit by shorter trips and lower fares.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor said: "This package of relief measures will further help to support our drivers and operators through this difficult period and mitigate some of their concerns and challenges."

Of the $112 million, $106 million will go towards a six-month extension of the Special Relief Fund (SRF) to March next year. The relief fund, which started in February, helps active taxi and private-hire drivers defray business costs by providing monthly payouts of $300 per vehicle per month (or $10 per day).

More than 40,000 P2P drivers are expected to qualify for the extended relief fund, the LTA said.

Taxi operators have also pledged to continue providing matching rental rebates worth an additional $29 million to their hirers.

For instance, ComfortDelGro, the biggest cab operator here, said it will extend a 25 per cent rental waiver for all taxis from today to Oct 31. This includes the $10 per taxi per day in the relief fund. The company had waived rental during the circuit breaker and had extended rental discounts since June.

SMRT said that during the circuit breaker, it had provided an average of $68 a day in rental rebates. "Since Singapore gradually opened up its economy... we have been supporting our taxi partners with an average of $30 a day in rebates," it said.

 
 
 

LTA said P2P drivers will be allowed to do deliveries for another year until end-September next year.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, adviser to the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said the groups had requested that aid be extended and drivers be allowed to do deliveries for longer.

"Both groups of drivers are relieved that the SRF is continuing till March 2021," Mr Ang noted.

A spokesman for Grab, the leading ride-hailing firm here, said: "We are glad that our driver-partners can continue to take on delivery jobs during these challenging times."

Mr Neo Nam Heng, chairman of diversified motor group Prime, which is also a taxi and private-hire operator, said: "Instead of giving us fish, give us a fishing net. We need long-term solutions."

 
 
 

He added that the underlying problem with the market is oversupply, which exerts a huge depreciation cost on operators and dilutes income for drivers.

There are around 16,000 taxis and 50,000 private-hire cars here.

LTA said yesterday that to align with requirements for taxi-drivers, all new applicants for a Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence must be Singapore citizens who are at least 30 years old.

Mr Adrian Chew, 43, a long-time cabby who quit driving recently, said the new measures will not help much as long-term demand remains weak. "As long as tourists are not back and the number of drivers remains high, $10 a day is not going to do much," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2020, with the headline '$112m aid top-up to help private-hire, taxi sector tackle crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe