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Up to 40 per cent fall in taxi and private hire driver earnings as novel coronavirus keeps passengers away

SINGAPORE — With some passengers shunning taxis and ride hailing services amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, taxi driver Harry Ng said his daily income has fallen some 20 per cent.

More taxi drivers are concerned about the lost of income than their exposure to the virus when picking up passengers, said the National Taxi Association.

More taxi drivers are concerned about the lost of income than their exposure to the virus when picking up passengers, said the National Taxi Association.

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SINGAPORE — With some passengers shunning taxis and ride hailing services amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, taxi driver Harry Ng said his daily income has fallen some 20 per cent. 

“It’s not as bad as how it was during Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). But it is my main worry today... I feel that it is very quiet now and there are very few passengers around,” said the ComfortDelGro driver who has been plying the roads for the past 25 years.

Taxi and private hire car drivers like Mr Ng are reporting a fall in takings of 30 per cent, said Mr Ang Hin Kee, executive adviser to the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association on Monday (Feb 10). 

In fact, there is a sense that drivers fear losing their livelihoods more than the virus itself, said NTA’s president Raymond Ong when asked by the media on what they were more anxious about. He estimated that the fall in demand was also between 20 and 40 per cent.

They were speaking to the media on the sidelines of a closed-door dialogue between Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary and around 60 taxi and private hire car drivers at the Devan Nair Institute in Jurong, where participants mainly flagged anxieties over the health risks from the virus outbreak and the downbeat sentiment surrounding their jobs.

MEASURES TO SAFEGUARD DRIVERS

At the session, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) also announced new measures to protect drivers, including a one-time contribution of 300,000 surgical masks to taxi companies and ride-hailing companies to be distributed to drivers.

Out of the 43 confirmed cases in Singapore, three — patients 27, 35 and 37 — worked as a taxi driver or private hire driver.

While the masks may be used by drivers, they may also offer them to passengers who are unwell but need a ride to seek medical attention, said the LTA.

Another new measure that will be implemented is temperature screening at eight locations within the premises of all taxi operators from Tuesday. 

Drivers who have been screened and have an acceptable temperature will be given an "I am OK" sticker while those who are not will be asked to seek medical attention immediately.

This will be progressively extended to other locations as well as for private hire car drivers.

Meanwhile, private hire car drivers will be required to take their own temperature and submit the reading via a mobile app.

The new measures follow efforts by taxi companies and ride hailing operators since Jan 25 to give out hand sanitisers and masks to drivers who need them, as well as roll out other precautionary measures against the novel coronavirus.

They are also reminded to practise good personal hygiene, clean their vehicles regularly, and stop work immediately and see a doctor if they feel unwell.

Dr Janil said these measures are aimed at restoring confidence in the taxi and ride hailing industry amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“These are not so much to address the financials of the industry, but really we need to restore confidence. Passengers need to find a way to be confident in the vehicle and the driver who is picking them up. The mask distribution is also to allow the drivers to feel confident again about picking up passengers,” he said.

Anecdotally, drivers said that the virus has affected them twofold: Their earnings as well as their fears about the safety of themselves and their families. 

For instance, Mr Ng said he has heard of drivers who avoid picking up passengers at the hospital because they did not want to contract the virus. 

Several drivers TODAY spoke to also had the impression that the virus can be transmitted through the air which made them concerned about driving infected passengers.

Dr Janil said he had to reassure drivers that the coronavirus is transmitted through droplets, which is why unwell passengers who wear masks will not spread the virus.

He added: ”There are nurses and healthcare workers who need to get home after a late night shift, I’ve asked them, help us get these frontline workers home to get some rest. The mood (during the dialogue) was supportive.”

FINANCIAL CONCERNS 

Mr Ong said that in the past two weeks of the virus spread in Singapore, most taxi drivers have “struggled” as the rental costs and petrol costs have not changed much. 

Most drivers are worried about these two factors now, which eat into their reduced incomes when passengers avoid taking point-to-point transport, he said. 

Mr Ang said that while there’s some fear of the virus, overall, drivers are not choosing to stay home out of fear of the virus, instead they are eager to work. 

“We have done a few checks. At the airport, there are more taxis in the queues than there are in flights of passengers coming in. The various taxi stands have also seen more taxis parked there waiting for customers,” Mr Ang, who is a Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

In fact, drivers have been requesting the authorities to grant the use of more lots in the taxi queues, as well as added petrol subsidies and assistance, he said.

“That means that they are keen to wait for customers... keen to drive as many hours or as long a mileage as they can. They have asked for petrol subsidies and assistance because to meet the same customer volume, they have to drive longer hours and cover more places. And that itself actually demonstrates that they are on the road,” said Mr Ang. 

“From a driver's point-of-view, the financial measures need to kick in now. Levy, commission, rental, pump price — those are measures within the operators’ control and we urge them to roll out measures as soon as possible… because an empty taxi or private hire car is also not good for their business. 

“What we want is for people to continue to work, to ply the trade and that can be done (through assistance from) the operators,” he said.

He said that the Government, unions and transport companies have been working to find financial solutions for the drivers.

Dr Janil, however, said it was still too early to talk about broad-based financial measures for drivers, though the authorities are looking at some options.

For now, the Government, unions and point-to-point operators have rolled out measures to aid those directly disrupted by the coronavirus, such as a S$100 a day allowance for those subject to a home quarantine order.

Related topics

taxi driver coronavirus Wuhan virus

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