Slow pick-up for taxi, private hire drivers in phase 2 of Singapore's reopening; more commuters on trains, buses

Taxis waiting in the taxi bay outside Bishan MRT on June 21, 2020. ST PHOTO: TEE ZHUO

SINGAPORE - In Mr Yap Kok Hua's 30 years as a taxi driver, this may be one of his worst dry spells of passenger pick-ups.

When he spoke to The Straits Times on Sunday (June 21) at a passenger pick-up bay outside Bishan MRT station, he had been waiting there for 20 minutes and was third in a full queue of six taxis.

The ComfortDelGro taxi driver had already worked for seven hours, from 7am to just over 2pm, but had only $55 to show for it.

When asked whether Singapore entering into phase two of its reopening has helped, Mr Yap, 69, said: "Not so good. I get about a passenger an hour. It's almost the same as before Friday."

His response is typical among cabbies and private hire car drivers who spoke to ST, even as Friday saw more shops reopened and small gatherings allowed again.

Many cited modest, if any, increase in earnings over the past two days, and very long queues at waiting bays.

Though some screenshots on social media reported private hire drivers seeing jumps and surge pricing on Friday, this was not the case with those who spoke to ST.

Mr Goh, a 58-year-old Grab driver who wanted to be known only by his surname, said he received about $80 to $90 before Friday, and about $100 on Friday itself, about 10 to 20 per cent more.

"At least now, if you're lucky, you may get someone once you drop the previous person off.

"Better than almost nothing for two hours at a time during circuit breaker, I guess," he said.

ComfortDelGro taxi driver Henry Tay, 50, said that even with Sunday being Father's Day, no one seemed to be in the mood to head out to celebrate.

"Friday was slightly better during peak hours, maybe one or two more passengers at lunch time. But all taxi queues are still very long."

While the waiting time was different from place to place, he estimated that it was an average of half an hour. This could be because of rainy weather in the past few days, he said.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Ang Hin Kee, who is executive adviser to the National Taxi Association, said passengers are naturally cautious as this is the first weekend of phase two, and traffic will return gradually.

"Support from the Government, such as permission for drivers to continue with doing food delivery, rental rebates plus other support schemes, will be needed," he added.

Operators were conservative with their forecasts even as they said the situation has improved.

Ms Tammy Tan, group chief corporate communications officer for ComfortDelGro Corporation, said trips made by its taxis during Friday's morning peak rose 16 per cent compared to the same period a week ago.

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"We expect demand to slowly edge up going forward although the increase is not expected to be huge since many people are still working from home," she said.

Similarly, a Grab spokesman said it saw a "slight increase" in demand in phase two, but expected Singaporeans to remain cautious.

He also did not expect to see numbers returning to pre-Covid-19 levels quickly.

As for buses and trains, regular commuters said they saw an uptick in passengers, especially in the morning peak period.

When ST visited major MRT stations or bus interchanges at Bishan, Toa Payoh, Dhoby Ghaut, Outram Park and HarbourFront on Sunday afternoon, they were quiet with few people.

Trains came every five to six minutes, the normal frequency for off-peak hours.

While the Land Transport Authority could not provide figures on ridership or frequency for the first two days of phase two, it had earlier said train and bus intervals would return to pre-circuit breaker levels from June 2.

It had also said morning peak ridership on trains and buses from June 2 to 12 was at 37 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels, twice the circuit breaker level, and added it expects ridership to further rise in phase two.

Mr Asyraf Mustafa, 30, who takes buses 190 or 927 every day to and from his home in the Stadium area to his workplace at a hotel in Tanglin, noted a "big difference".

He said the number of people waiting at a bus stop outside Dhoby Ghaut may even be close to pre-circuit breaker numbers.

Madam Lian, 51, who wanted to be known only by her surname, takes bus 232 about thrice a week from her Braddell home to Toa Payoh interchange for shopping. She said there were now slightly more people during meal times.

"Some people are still talking on the bus.I don't confront them, but I hope people observe the rules," said Madam Lian, who works in finance.

A transport ambassador at Toa Payoh who did not wish to be named said most commuters have been following the rules, though he noted that the elderly needed more reminders.

Musician Fazly Bay Ahmad Yousuff, 33, who was headed into town from his home in Simei for the first time since the circuit breaker started in April, said the train was not crowded.

"While on the train I try not have contact with people, and I head home once I'm done," he said.

Ms Diyanah Muhd, 22, who was taking the train to City Hall station with her boyfriend, said it was quite empty for 1.30pm on a Sunday.

"It's good that its not very crowded, I like it. Maybe more people are still staying home," she said.

Additional reporting by Tan Tam Mei

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