SINGAPORE: A S$77 million Point-to-Point Support Package to help taxi and private-hire car drivers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak was announced by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Ministry of Transport (MOT) on Thursday (Feb 13).
The Government will contribute S$45 million towards the package, with the remaining provided by taxi and private-hire car operators.
"The Government recognises that there is an urgent need for targeted assistance to drivers," LTA and MOT said in a press release.
The package has multiple components. The largest portion is a S$73 million Special Relief Fund that will help active full-time taxi and private-hire car drivers defray business costs, comprising S$41 million in government contributions and S$32 million from operators.
"The taxi drivers as well as the private-hire car drivers, do describe a significant reduction in the number of trips they're able to make per day," said Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary.
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"Some of our data suggests that it's 10 per cent. But I think there may be some lag, and the drivers that I've spoken to today, the numbers that they're showing me on the apps in terms of the rides they have logged over the last couple of days suggest a larger change."
About 40,000 eligible drivers will receive up to S$20 per vehicle per day for three months, contributed equally by the Government and operators.
"(For the S$20), we took reference from the type of assistance that we provided during SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), adjusting for inflation changes and cost of the rent," said Dr Puthucheary.
"This is about a 60 per cent increase from the assistance that was delivered by Government to the industry for SARS. It's a reasonable number and also one that the operators can now match. I think that has been some of the considerations for S$10 per day from the Government, S$10 per day from the operators."
Eligible taxi hirers will automatically receive the special relief through their taxi operators starting from Friday, while private-hire car drivers have to apply through their companies.
Private-hire car operators Grab and Gojek will provide application and disbursement details to their drivers within the next week, LTA and MOT said.
The companies that will be contributing to the package are taxi operators Comfort, CityCab, SMRT Taxis, Trans-Cab, Premier Taxis, Prime and HDT Taxi, along with Grab and Gojek.
Member of Parliament Ang Hin Kee, an advisor to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, said drivers have three main concerns - business costs, personal and vehicle safety, and ensuring that there is sufficient ridership.
"Today’s announcement is a great relief to many drivers. It will at least manage their business costs," said Mr Ang, adding that the distribution of masks and temperature screenings have also helped to ensure the drivers' safety.
"The third issue really is, how can we really keep the other business and economic activity going on? Tourists coming out to Singapore, businesses continue to work, members of public continue to have the confidence to go out, that will ensure that as I drive, there are commuters to send from point to point."
Mr Justin Lim, a private-hire driver, said that business dropped sharply when the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) was raised to orange on Feb 7.
“With this package that was just announced, it will help the drivers to at least tide over this period for the next three months. At least the drivers can be less pressured, when it comes to the cost of driving,” said the 49-year-old.
Taxi driver Raymond Ong said his income has "dropped drastically" and that he is worried about whether he can continue to support his family.
"(The S$20) may not be a big amount, but I think that it will at least help to cushion some of our rental costs," he added.
Active drivers who do not qualify for the Special Relief Fund can still benefit from financial assistance by applying for the Government & NTUC Driver Care Fund. The Government will contribute S$2.7 million towards the fund, with trade union NTUC administering it over the next three months.
LTA will waive three months of operator licence fees, totalling about S$1.3 million. The authority will also delay the implementation of the upcoming Street-hail Service Operator Licence and Ride-hail Service Operator Licence.
The scheme will take effect from September 2020, instead of June.
ComfortDelGro Taxi, with a fleet of more than 10,000 taxis, will be providing their share of the relief package in the form of rental rebates to their hirers, said CEO Ang Wei Neng.
“We encourage our hirers to share the rebates with their relief cabbies. We are also among the first to start temperature screening for our cabbies and have started providing disinfecting solutions for them so that they can clean and disinfect their taxis daily,” he said.
ComfortDelGro has also instructed its drivers to print receipts for passengers, so they can track their journeys.
Mr Lien Choong Luen, general manager of Gojek Singapore, said that the company will continue to work with the Government to "safeguard the well-being and earnings stability of private-hire drivers", as well as look for more ways to support them.
"During this period, Gojek is more committed than ever to looking after the needs of our driver-partners and ensuring they can continue to be on the road, delivering a vital public service daily," he added.
"We appreciate that the point-to-point operators have leaned forward to support their drivers during this difficult period, even as their businesses are also affected," said LTA and MOT.
"This will allow point-to-point operators to focus their efforts on assisting drivers as well as addressing business and operational challenges during this period."
Additional reporting by Zhaki Abdullah.