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More young drivers joining Grab, Uber full time

SINGAPORE — When she was winding down the cleaning firm she ran with her sister last year, Ms Chen Roujie saw driving a private-hire car as an option for a full-time job because she was not old enough to apply for a Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence.

More young drivers joining Grab, Uber full time

Mr Jason Teo (left) drives Grab part-time to supplement his family’s expenses, while Ms Chen Roujie turned full-time nine months after she started driving for the firm. She now earns about S$6,000 a month. Photos: Wee Teck Hian and Nuria Ling

SINGAPORE — When she was winding down the cleaning firm she ran with her sister last year, Ms Chen Roujie saw driving a private-hire car as an option for a full-time job because she was not old enough to apply for a Taxi Driver’s Vocational Licence.

Although she got off to a “shaky” start as a Grab driver, she turned full-time after about nine months, when she realised that she could make enough, after including the incentives she gets from the ride-hailing platform.

Many youths, such as Ms Chen, 30, have turned to driving for Grab and Uber as a lucrative full-time job or an easy way to supplement their incomes outside their day jobs. But choosing to do so full-time carries some downsides for youths, as the job does not add to their resumes, observers said.

While driving for private-hire services may be a viable source of income for some, they do not have benefits such as Central Provident Fund contributions and medical leave, they added.

About 20 to 30 per cent of GrabCar drivers here are younger than 30, although the company’s country head for Singapore, Mr Lim Kell Jay, said in an interview with TODAY last month that an “extremely small” number do it as their primary source of income.

At Uber Singapore, a quarter of its drivers are below 30, said general manager Warren Tseng, adding that many chose to become drivers to pursue their financial goals, such as funding their higher education and supporting their families.

SIM University labour economist Walter Theseira said relying too heavily on driving for a private-hire service could harm a young person’s career prospects in the long term. It does not boost their resumes meaningfully and provides few transferable skills.

“The short-term wages ... may be good, but there are long-run effects on the worker’s employability and income security,” Dr Theseira said.

He expects the new Private Hire Car Drivers’ Vocational Licence regime — applications open on Monday (March 13) — to deter those who intend to drive for hire on an occasional basis “because licensing introduces a large fixed cost not just in terms of the licence and training fees, but also in time required”.

Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio GRC) Ang Hin Kee noted that the majority of Grab and Uber drivers drive to earn a secondary income, and could be transient. Most taxi drivers, by contrast, are full-time hirers, said the National Taxi Association executive adviser, noting that the minimum age for cabbies — 30 — came about as the Government wanted to encourage people to explore other careers before turning to driving a cab.

“You’re really comparing different working people’s preferences,” he added.

Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said the bigger issue for young private-hire drivers was underemployment — not landing jobs commensurate with their training. But he conceded that what they had studied in school may also not land them jobs that they want or that pay well enough to meet their needs.

To reduce this problem, Mr Choo suggested that career counselling services could be expanded, for instance. While younger drivers should not be denied the option of supplementing their income to support their families, Mr Choo said there was a limit to the amount they could earn and the pool of drivers would shrink over time as public transport evolves, with the rise of driverless technology. “For job security, we should want to plan for their longer-term (needs),” he added.

Ms Chen acknowledged that she does not always get a stable income driving for Grab. She recalled how she was forced off working for a week because of an illness once, but still had to continue paying rental.

But the flexibility of the job was a draw. “(I don’t) need to jam in the train (or) the bus, and will not be scolded if I’m late for work,” she said.

Ms Chen takes home an average of S$6,000 a month — after deducting car rental and petrol, as well as Grab’s 20 per cent cut — by driving every day, for about nine hours.

To qualify for incentives, the structures of which change weekly, Grab drivers must have a good driver rating, a low cancellation record and a high rate of accepting trips that are broadcast to them.

Uber, on the other hand, allows its drivers to multiply their fares with a “guaranteed boost” for all trips in specific areas with high demand at certain times.

For some, like father-of-two Jason Teo, 28, it is a matter of finding an extra stream of income to upkeep his family’s monthly expenses of about S$6,000, for which his full-time job as a sales executive alone cannot support. His wife stays home to take care of their children, aged one month and two years.

He drives about three hours after each workday and a full Saturday or Sunday.

He said: “(It’s) still manageable ... as long as you’re willing to drive and earn the money.”

For Ms Valerie Ho, 29, driving a private-hire car was an interim job option. After taking a break in 2012 to complete a pastry and bakery diploma, the former Traffic Police officer decided to apply for a return to the force. To earn some income while waiting for word from her former employer, she turned to driving with Uber part-time, but switched to full-time under Grab about three months ago.

She earns about S$600 a week now after deducting fuel and rental costs, but acknowledged that it could be higher.

“Sometimes I’ll be lazy ... (but it’s) definitely a daily source of income,” she said, adding that she will stop driving for Grab once she secures her former job.

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