SINGAPORE: Taxi drivers who have seen their incomes drop as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak may be employed temporarily as "transport ambassadors", Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said on Monday (Mar 23).
Speaking during a visit to the future Bright Hill MRT station, he said these ambassadors could help ensure physical distancing between commuters to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as well as sanitising train cabins and seats.
They could be provided with contracts of up to three or six months, depending on how long the pandemic lasts, he said.
The idea to have transport ambassadors support the higher manpower needs at MRT stations for such work was suggested to him by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Mr Khaw noted.
Some taxi drivers had previously reported seeing their incomes drop by as much as 30 per cent, following reduced demand due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In February, a S$77 million support package - provided by both the Government as well as taxi and ride-hailing companies - to help taxi and private-hire car drivers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak was announced.
Transport operators such as SMRT have been concerned that taxi drivers are seeing reduced income during this period, said Mr Khaw, who is also Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure.
"LTA (Land Transport Authority) therefore will work with them to get this idea up within the next few weeks," he added
He added that taxi drivers who have seen their incomes dip could also be "actively persuaded" to become bus drivers, and receive the necessary training to do so.
Such a move could also reduce the risk of cross-border disruptions, he noted.
The move by Malaysia to close its borders last week as part of a "restricted movement order" to stem the spread of the coronavirus affected some 2,500 Malaysians who cross into Singapore daily to work as public bus drivers.
The LTA, together with the National Transport Workers' Union and the four bus operators here helped provide accommodation in Singapore for the affected drivers for two weeks.
"This is our own attempt to help one another within the public transport sector cope with the pandemic. Regulator, transport operators and unions, working together, fighting a common enemy," said Mr Khaw, adding this would build stronger bonds within the transport sector.
In a statement, taxi operator ComfortDelGro noted that together with the Government, it had committed S$28 million in rental rebates to cabbies over the next three months to help them tide over this loss in income.
The company said that cabbies who make the switch to becoming bus drivers under SBS Transit - a subsidiary of ComfortDelGro Corp - will receive a one-time sign-on bonus of S$3,000, to be paid out in three tranches within their first year.
“Our cabbies may not be our staff but they are definitely one of us – people we have worked closely with for years and we want to ensure that they are looked after,” said ComfortDelGro managing director and group chief executive officer Yang Ban Seng.
“Our message to them is stay with us, let’s try to ride this out together but if you really have to give up your taxi, think about being a bus captain. You are welcome there,” he added.
SBS Transit has 168 bus drivers who were formerly taxi or private-hire vehicle drivers, with another 11 currently undergoing a 31-day training programme before being deployed from next month.
National Taxi Association advisor Ang Hin Kee noted that while some taxi drivers may choose to stay on for reasons such as the freedom to choose their own working hours, for others becoming a bus driver will be a “fairly seamless” transition into a related career.
Those who make the change will be eligible for Government funded-training as well as financial support from the union, he added.