Coronavirus: $77 million package to help taxi, private-hire drivers

A taxi driver having his temperature checked at the ComfortDelGro office on Feb 12, 2020. Some 40,000 taxi and private-hire drivers will be eligible for a $20 relief each day for three months from Feb 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Cabbies and private-hire drivers can now tap a $77 million package to tide them over the 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.

Some 40,000 drivers will be eligible for a $20 relief each day for three months from Friday (Feb 14).

Announcing the package on Thursday (Feb 13), the authorities said all main taxi hirers will qualify for the aid package.

Main taxi hirers will automatically receive $20 in their hiring account each day, without needing to make any application.

Active private-hire drivers who have completed at least 200 trips a month from October to December 2019 will also be eligible for the package.

Those who do not qualify for this relief can tap a $2.7 million fund set up by the Government and National Trades Union Congress.

Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary, referring to the relationship between the Government, union and employers, told reporters on Thursday afternoon that "the fact that we've been able to move so quickly... says a lot about the relationship we have in this tripartite partnership".

Asked how badly the Covid-19 outbreak has affected the point-to-point transport industry, Dr Janil said "some of our data suggests that it's 10 per cent, but I think there may be a lag".

He said drivers he spoke to on Thursday had described a bigger drop, with one revealing on his booking app that his trips had fallen by 30 per cent.

"Somewhere between the two is probably the correct number," he added.

He noted that the package for drivers was "about 60 per cent" higher than a similar relief package doled out during the Sars crisis in 2003.

"The reality is that there are going to be several sectors which will need assistance, so this is only targeted at the point-to-point sector," Dr Janil said. "We're going to have to look at a variety of industries across our economy to see what assistance they need."

Mr Ang Hin Kee, adviser to the National Taxi Association and the 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 taxis."

Meanwhile, for 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 slated to start in June.

There are two licences under the regime: one for street-hail operators (currently, taxi companies) and the other for ride-hail operators (such as Grab and Gojek).

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."

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."

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