SINGAPORE - Taxi and private-hire car drivers can continue to make food and goods deliveries until March 31, 2023, after a trial allowing them to do so was extended for a third time.
Demand for such delivery services has fallen significantly with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, but the extension of the trial gives these drivers a way to continue to supplement their incomes, particularly during periods of lower passenger demand, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in response to queries.
An average of about 9,500 taxi and private-hire car drivers have been carrying out deliveries each month since the trial began in March 2020. This is a 46 per cent drop from the monthly average of 17,500 drivers between March 2020 and August 2021 cited by Senior Minister of State for Transport Amy Khor when the trial was last extended.
Current point-to-point (P2P) transport regulations prohibit drivers of taxis and private-hire cars from making deliveries due to concerns that this would affect traditional passenger service and contribute to traffic jams.
The rule, however, was temporarily relaxed in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic forced many to stay at home – resulting in a surge in demand for delivery services and a shortage of delivery slots at the time.
The number of taxi and ride-hailing trips also fell sharply during the pandemic, so the trial was extended by a year in September 2020, and again in 2021, to help drivers stay afloat. The temporary relaxation of rules in 2020 also prompted taxi and ride-hailing companies here to offer their own delivery services.
Taxi giant ComfortDelGro, for instance, started offering food and medicine deliveries, but this was scrapped in December 2020 as normal taxi jobs rose in demand after safe distancing measures were eased.
In its response to The Straits Times, LTA said its decision to extend the trial again until March 2023 allows taxi and private-hire drivers with existing delivery arrangements to earn extra income, while safeguarding the availability of drivers for passenger trips.
“We assess that an extension of the trial… will allow LTA the flexibility to monitor and make changes as necessary,” said a spokesman, adding that the decision had come after a review was conducted in consultation with the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA).
Asked about the impact of deliveries on taxi and private-hire car availability, LTA said deliveries made up less than 1 per cent of all P2P trips, and most deliveries took place outside peak periods.
“Based on our observations of the trial results thus far, having the option of performing delivery services has not adversely affected the supply of P2P vehicles,” LTA added.
Ride-hailing firm Grab told ST that it supports LTA’s decision to extend the trial period, adding that its GrabExpress Car delivery programme helps drivers optimise their productivity while they are online. LTA’s delivery services trial was an expansion of the GrabExpress Car pilot scheme, which was launched in 2019.
Ms Yeo Wan Ling, adviser to the NTA and NPHVA, said there are questions about whether it makes economic sense for taxi and private-hire car drivers to make deliveries now, given the cost of fuel and plateauing demand.
But in the light of the evolving Covid-19 situation, the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP said it is better to extend the trial and continue to monitor its impact.
“Not everything is back to what it was before, so it is important that we continue to build on different types of livelihood opportunities for our drivers,” Ms Yeo added.
A private-hire car driver, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ali, said the option of making deliveries was useful earlier in the pandemic, but is no longer attractive as fares have been falling. The 54-year-old still makes deliveries for ride-hailing firm Tada, but only about once a week as the demand is low.
Mr Richard Ong, 40, another private-hire driver, said he does ad-hoc deliveries almost daily.
“If I am driving my family from the east to the west, I can switch on the app and pick something up along the way,” he said.
He hopes drivers can continue to have this option, even as the pandemic subsides.
“Delivery is still important because sometimes during off-peak periods when there aren’t many passenger bookings, it acts as a supplement to our income. With rising petrol and rental costs, we really need it,” Mr Ong added.