Coronavirus outbreak

$77m fund to help cabbies, private-hire drivers tide over crisis

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary (centre), with Mr Ang Hin Kee (third from left), adviser to the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association, speaking to drivers yesterday about the relief package,
Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary (centre), with Mr Ang Hin Kee (third from left), adviser to the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association, speaking to drivers yesterday about the relief package, which is co-funded by the Government and taxi and private-hire firms. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

About 40,000 drivers will be eligible for $20 relief each day for three months from today

Cabbies and private-hire drivers can tap a $77 million package to tide them over a sharp drop in business caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The package is co-funded, with the Government contributing $45 million and taxi and private-hire companies paying for the rest.

About 40,000 drivers will be eligible for a $20 relief each day for three months from today.

Announcing the package yesterday, the authorities said all main taxi hirers will qualify for the aid package. They will automatically receive $20 in their hiring account each day, without needing to make any application.

Private-hire drivers who completed at least 200 trips per month from October to December last year will also be eligible for the package. Private-hire operators will give details to their drivers within the next week, said the authorities in a statement.

Those who do not qualify for this relief can tap a $2.7 million fund set up by the Government and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). Details on how to apply for this fund will be released later.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary told reporters yesterday that the relief package was "about 60 per cent" bigger than a similar package doled out during the Sars crisis in 2003.

Asked how badly the coronavirus outbreak has affected the point-to-point transport industry, Dr Janil said "some of our data suggests it's 10 per cent, but I think there may be a lag".

Drivers he spoke to yesterday described a bigger drop, with one revealing on his booking app that his trips had dropped by 30 per cent. "Somewhere between the two is probably the correct number," said Dr Janil, adding: "The reality is that there are going to be several sectors which will need assistance."

"We're going to have to look at a variety of industries across our economy to see what assistance they need," he said.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, adviser to the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association, described the relief package as "fast and decisive".

"We are certainly glad to have been assured of this help," he said.

Cabby Bert Chai, 56, said the relief package "helps a little, but is not very much", translating to $10 a day when he splits it with his relief driver.

Mr Chai said his trip volume had fallen from "15 to 20 a day, to four to six". "This Monday and Tuesday, I took home only $10. It's very depressing," he said, adding that passenger numbers at the airport and hotels had plummeted. "We can wait two hours at the airport for a passenger."

He added: "Now that more companies are asking their workers to work from home, there are even fewer people taking taxi."

Meanwhile, for the taxi and ride-hailing companies, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) will waive three months' worth of operating fees amounting to $1.3 million.

The LTA will also defer the start of a point-to-point licensing regime to September. It was originally to start in June.

ComfortDelGro Taxi chief executive Ang Wei Neng said: "We know that it is a challenging time for our cabbies. We encourage our hirers to share the rebates with their relief cabbies."

ComfortDelGro said the assistance would cost the company more than $18 million.

Gojek Singapore general manager Lien Choong Luen said: "Gojek will continue to work with the Government to safeguard the well-being and earnings stability of private-hire drivers, and look at even more ways to support them during this period."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline '$77m fund to help cabbies, private-hire drivers tide over crisis'. Print Edition | Subscribe