COVID-19 Budget: $120 million to help taxi and private-hire car drivers

FILE PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Land Transport Authority unveiled on Thursday (26 March) an additional $120 million to help taxi and private-hire car drivers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, in a second tranche of the Point-to-Point Support Package (PPSP).

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the measure during his $48 billion Resilience Budget speech in Parliament on Thursday, saying that the government will set aside another $95 million to enhance the PPSP. Taxi operators have pledged an additional $25 million worth of matching rental rebates for their hirers.

Together with the earlier $77 million PPSP announced during Budget 2020 on 13 February and other operator support for their drivers pledged to date, more than $216 million in contributions have been made by government and industry to support the point-to-point operators and drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Special Relief Fund of $300 per vehicle per month to September

Point-to-point operators have observed a sustained drop in ridership of over 20 per cent, and drivers have seen significant declines in their earnings. As the pandemic continues, the impact on P2P drivers and operators is expected to become more pronounced.

Of the $120 million announced on Thursday, $78 million in government funding will go towards the Special Relief Fund (SRF), which will help active taxi and private-hire car drivers defray business costs through relief of $300 per vehicle per month.

The SRF, which was to have ended in end-May, will be extended to end-September. Over 40,000 drivers will qualify for the extended SRF.

Other schemes benefitting drivers, operators

Besides the SRF, self-employed taxi and private-hire car drivers can also get access to the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS). This scheme will provide eligible self-employed persons with $1,000 per month for nine months and will be administered by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

LTA had earlier waived point-to-point operator licence fees for three months, but will extend this for another six months. The additional six-month waiver will help operators to tide through the current difficult business climate and will cost the government about $3 million.

To help taxi operators defray the cost of their unhired fleet, the government will also provide up to $2,200 in special relief for each unhired taxi. All operators are strongly encouraged to pass on these business cost savings to their drivers, such as through rental reductions and waiver of early return contract breakage costs.

With the slowdown in demand for point-to-point services, the government will reduce barriers for vehicle owners who wish to convert their private-hire cars out of the Private-Hire Car scheme by providing a one-time waiver of the $100 outward conversion fee.

This will allow vehicle owners to enjoy lower insurance premiums and can also help ease drivers’ transition to other jobs.

Enhanced training support from SSG

From 1 April until the end of the year, taxi and private-hire car drivers will also receive enhanced training support from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), with enhanced course fee support of up to 90 per cent for selected courses.

SSG will also work with LTA, appointing Continuing Education and Training Centres to ramp up training capacity during this period. For a start, it is partnering Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and NTUC LearningHub to help drivers to develop deep domain skills, emerging skills and soft skills during this downtime.

Eligible drivers will also receive $10 per hour in training allowance under the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme, which is part of the NTUC Training Fund.

Gojek Singapore general manager Lien Choong Luen welcomed the new stimulus package.

He said, “While the extension of the point-to-point operator license fee waiver by the LTA is a helpful move for the industry, we believe that a further postponement of the Ride-hail Service Operator Licence start date would allow operators like Gojek to focus more of our efforts on assisting drivers, and addressing business and operational challenges.

“Similarly for our driver-partners, the extension of the government’s Special Relief Fund would be essential to further helping them minimise their financial burden.”