Cabbies, private-hire drivers and operators to get additional $112m in aid; new private-hire drivers must be citizens, at least 30 years old

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

SINGAPORE - Cabbies, private-hire drivers and operators will get an additional $112 million in financial assistance from the Government.

This is on top of a $77 million package announced in February and a second tranche of $120 million rolled out in March.

The Land Transport Authority said on Tuesday (Sept 15) that the additional aid is to "help our P2P (point-to-point) drivers and operators tide over this difficult period".

At the same time, the LTA said it has also made changes to the Private Hire Car Driver's Vocational Licence (PDVL) criteria to align it with requirements for a Taxi Driver's Vocational Licence.

With immediate effect, all new PDVL applicants must be Singapore citizens who are at least 30 years old.

Demand for P2P services are currently at 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, the authority said. It also noted that trips are shorter, resulting in lower fares.

Ridership is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels in the near term, it added, as many employees are expected to continue working from home, tourism activities "remain muted" and the current poor economic conditions mean more people will be spending less.

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 2021.

The SRF, 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).

Drivers who are currently receiving SRF payouts will continue to receive SRF payouts during the extended period.

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

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

To help them supplement their income, the authority added that P2P drivers will be allowed to do deliveries for another year until end-September 2021.

Referring to the new rules for private-hire drivers, the LTA said PDVL applications received before 5.30pm on Sept 15, 2020 will continue to be processed under the previous eligibility criteria.

Under earlier rules, drivers could apply for a PDVL as long as they held a driving licence for two years.

Commenting on the new criteria for private-hire drivers, Singapore University of Social Sciences transport economist Walter Theseira said: "The effect of this policy comes down to what kind of driving the younger drivers were supplying. If they were coming onto the market during peak periods, where demand exceeds supply, they were not really affecting full-time older drivers' income.

"But now that demand has changed, it looks like this move is done to stop excessive entry into the market, which would erode drivers' income."

As for the third tranche of financial aid, which is funded by taxpayers and which brings the total amount of aid to the sector to more than $300 million this year, observers said it may not be sustainable.

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

Mr Neo said the underlying problem with the market is oversupply, which exerts a huge depreciation cost on operators, and dilutes income for drivers.

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