Cab, private-hire drivers to get higher payouts from next year under new scheme

The new scheme, called the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund, will cost $133 million. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Private-hire driver Adrian Ong, 35, has been working three to four hours more every day to make up for the slower business of the last few months, but his earnings are still about 60 per cent of what they were before the pandemic.

The drop in income has been partially covered by payouts from schemes to help workers, such as the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), which provided self-employed people with three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 each.

But with Sirs ending this year, drivers like Mr Ong have been hoping for some form of extra help.

Said Mr Ong, who is single: "Any form of support or assistance is definitely welcome, regardless of the amount.

"Sirs was definitely helpful to tide us over the initial difficult months, but I guess we can't expect such assistance to be long-lasting as we transition to normalcy."

He was among those who welcomed the news on Wednesday (Dec 16) that drivers in the point-to-point (P2P) transport sector will get a higher amount of grants to offset their vehicle rental fees from next year.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the move will help cushion the impact of Sirs ending.

Main taxi hirers and full-time private-hire drivers in the P2P transport sector will get $600 per vehicle each month between January and March next year, up from $300.

This will be reduced to $450 a month between April and June.

The LTA said that the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund will cost $133 million. It replaces the Special Relief Fund, through which P2P drivers have been receiving payouts since February. About 52,000 drivers eligible for the Special Relief Fund will be automatically moved to the new fund next month.

The total assistance set aside for the sector now stands at about $380 million.

P2P drivers who receive the payouts under the new fund will not be eligible for the Covid-19 Recovery Grant for lower- to middle-income workers announced by the Ministry of Social and Family Development on Wednesday.

In explaining the continued payouts for drivers, the LTA said: "Despite the improving Covid-19 situation in Singapore, taxi and private-hire car ridership remains lower than pre-Covid-19 levels as tourism activities remain muted and many employees are still working from home.

"Covid-19 has also changed commuting patterns, with shorter taxi and private-hire car trips, which result in lower fares per trip."

The authority said in an update last month that ridership for taxi and private-hire cars was still at 75 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels.

But this figure is on the higher end of estimates made by drivers and taxi companies, who have said that ridership is slightly above 66 per cent of pre-outbreak levels.

Grab driver Alex Yap, 28, said: "Tourists are important customers for us, and without them, ridership is still not as good as before the Covid-19 pandemic."

He hopes there can be a one-time payment to further support self-employed workers.

Another private-hire driver, Mr William Lim, 43, said he hopes that there will not be further increases in rental or commission fees in the near future.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that she has met representatives of the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) to understand their concerns. She added that she has "assured them that we will continue to support them in whatever way we can".

NTA and NPHVA said in a joint statement they were thankful for the latest support measures.

They also said they have helped about 13,000 drivers apply for the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19) since it was launched in March. The fund provides payouts of up to $300 for hard-hit union members.

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