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Faced with huge demand, Amazon books taxis to fulfil orders

SINGAPORE — Confronted with a deluge of orders, Amazon’s Prime Now service has resorted to booking taxis — on top of tapping freelance drivers — to make deliveries.

ComfortDelGro taxis seen waiting at the loading area of Amazon's warehouse at Toh Guan Road East in this photo taken around 7.30pm on July 28. Photo: Chris Koh

ComfortDelGro taxis seen waiting at the loading area of Amazon's warehouse at Toh Guan Road East in this photo taken around 7.30pm on July 28. Photo: Chris Koh

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SINGAPORE — Confronted with a deluge of orders, Amazon’s Prime Now service has resorted to booking taxis — on top of tapping freelance drivers — to make deliveries.

Transport operator ComfortDelGro, which has the largest fleet here of almost 16,000 taxis, confirmed bookings through its call centre by Amazon Prime.

“They operated like any normal taxi bookings with at least one passenger on board each taxi,” ComfortDelGro group corporate communications officer Tammy Tan told TODAY.

Trans-Cab, the second-largest operator here with more than 4,400 taxis as of May, said it has not heard about its drivers taking such bookings, but was open to the arrangement “as long as drivers are able to make an income out of it”.

SMRT Taxis, Prime Taxi and HDT Singapore Taxi did not respond to TODAY’s queries by press time, while Premier declined comment.

On Friday, TODAY reported that freelance drivers here — some with ride-hailing firms Grab and Uber — were taking on deliveries for the online shopping giant’s “ultra-fast” service, drawn by an attractive hourly rate.

Around 7.30pm last Friday, seven ComfortDelGro taxis were spotted in the loading area of Amazon’s warehouse at Toh Guan Road East.

Private-hire car driver Chris Koh, 50, who gave the picture to TODAY, said a part-time Amazon staff member had told him that the taxis were roped in to do deliveries, as there were not enough cars.

Grab and Uber said their drivers are freelancers and can explore other sources of income, including deliveries.

Uber said its drivers decide when and how long they want to work, as well as the type of work to take on.

“More than 46 per cent” of its drivers here use the application less than 10 hours a week and 76 per cent have stated that they drive with the firm so that they can have flexible hours which they can spend with their families, said the Uber spokesperson.

Drivers told TODAY last week they were earning an hourly rate of up to S$30, comprising a basic wage of S$25 and a S$5 bonus, from making Amazon Prime deliveries.

Paying high wages is likely to be a temporary measure as the company builds its capabilities and meets demand, said transport economist Walter Theseira from the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

Amazon has a reputation as an “extremely efficient and low-cost” logistics operator overseas, especially in the United States, he noted.

“It’s completely inconsistent with how they run their operations in the US that they’d be using these high-cost sources for delivery in the long run ... If they were, I’d believe their shareholders would be extremely unhappy.”

Unless taxi drivers are allowed to make deliveries on their own, it is inefficient for two individuals — the taxi driver and his passenger — to be involved in each delivery, given high manpower costs here, said Dr Theseira.

Once demand stabilises and the firm has a “better sense of what’s going on”, it will put in place a more efficient delivery infrastructure, he said.

Hours into the shopping application’s official launch last Thursday, consumers were left disappointed after they were notified that delivery was “unavailable”. Some also experienced delays in downloading the app.

A check by TODAY at about 8pm yesterday showed deliveries were unavailable until between 10am and noon today, at the earliest.

Amazon spokesperson Amanda Ip said delivery windows were taken owing to “great customer response” and the firm was opening up windows rapidly. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOEY CHUA XUE TING

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