To overcome the loss of income during the COVID-19 crisis, taxi driver Mr Ho Seng Huat decided to take up the opportunity to make food deliveries.

For the last two months, taxi driver Ho Seng Huat has been ferrying a very different sort of passenger.

They never speak, and often smell good. They also need to be delivered to their destination fast. These aren’t regular passengers, but bags containing boxes of fried chicken and pizza.

In his 20 years of driving a taxi with SMRT, this is the first time that the 57-year-old has to deliver food orders to supplement his income.

However, this is just one of the storms that Mr Ho has weathered. His income had similarly taken a hit during the 2003 SARS outbreak and the global financial crisis in 2008. Both times, he emerged relatively unscathed as he managed to quickly bounce back from a temporary dip in passenger pick-ups.

This time, it’s a different story—one that is more worrying.

In his 20 years of driving a taxi, Mr Ho says the COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis that he has experienced.

The Circuit Breaker measures that were implemented to control the spread of COVID-19 meant that Mr Ho would lose a huge chunk of his income for at least two months, since most people would be staying home.

Previously, he could complete between 18 and 20 rides a day on average. But when people started working from home and cancelling their plans to go out, he was lucky to get five passengers in a day.

“It was really tough for us between March and April. Whatever we earned was not enough to cover our daily taxi rental costs,” Mr Ho recalls. “I was very worried about my finances.”

Fortunately, SMRT introduced a full rental waiver for taxis from April to 1 June, to alleviate the burden of rental costs on their drivers during the Circuit Breaker period. It also dispensed a daily rental rebate, which was partly contributed by the Special Relief Fund under the Government’s Point-to-Point Support Package to help affected drivers financially.

It’s been a tough few months of poor business for taxi drivers during the Circuit Breaker period, as most Singaporeans are staying home and not going out.

However, with a family to support, Mr Ho still needed to find additional income. While his daughter fortunately secured a full-time job in May, his wife was temporarily unemployed as the shop she was working at as a cashier had to close during the Circuit Breaker period. Hence, in mid-April, he decided to take up the opportunity to make food deliveries, on top of his cabbie duties. This initiative was a collaboration between SMRT, the National Taxi Association (NTA) and various food operators to help taxi drivers supplement their income to tide through these tough times.

Each day, from 11am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm, Mr Ho picks up orders from KFC and Pizza Hut outlets and delivers them to customers. He makes about 12 trips a day, earning between $80 and $100 to supplement the money he gets from passenger trips.

Between those two delivery slots, he still tries to pick up passengers, but often, he is greeted by desolate streets and long queues of taxis lined up in front of empty taxi stands. “It’s a depressing sight,” he says. “But I’m relieved that I still have the opportunity to earn some income, it’s better than nothing.”

Mr Ho makes about 12 trips each day delivering Pizza Hut and KFC orders to customers to supplement his income.

In addition to the support offered by his company, Mr Ho also benefited from the financial assistance dispensed by the Government. So far, he has received the first payout of $3,000 from the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS), which grants eligible self-employed Singaporeans three cash payouts of $3,000 each.

As one of the union leaders at the NTA, he also reminds his colleagues to apply for SIRS if they do not automatically qualify, as well as other avenues of financial support such as the NTUC Care Fund, which provides a one-off cash relief payout of up to $300 for eligible union members. During the early stages of the Circuit Breaker, he also joined fellow union leaders in distributing masks, hand sanitisers and bento sets to their colleagues to lift their spirits.

In the past, Mr Ho always had something to look forward to—chit-chat sessions with his friends at a coffee shop, which offered a nice respite after hours of driving. These days, a phone call to check in on their whereabouts and well-being would have to suffice.

“Everyone’s feeling a little down now, so we just remind each other to stay positive, adjust our lifestyle habits if need be, and hope that this crisis will soon pass.”

After making his trips during the lunchtime peak period, Mr Ho sneaks in a short mid-day break before resuming food deliveries in the evening.

Despite the tough times, Mr Ho has been making good use of the extra time on his hands.

For a start, he has been thinking about what he wants to do next after the COVID-19 crisis is over, though it may take a while. He feels that it is difficult to be a taxi driver in this climate, and there will come a time when he would be too old to drive a cab anymore. So, Mr Ho plans to take up a security course to ‘future-proof’ himself and ensure that he still has a job after he switches his taxi’s engine off for the last time.

He is also cherishing the time at home with his family.

“Last time, I would drive for about 12 hours each day, sometimes late into the night, and rarely saw my family. But now, I get to spend more time with them, have conversations, and even get to eat home-cooked meals!”

Eligible self-employed persons whose livelihoods have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak can receive three cash payouts of $3,000 each in May, July, and October 2020, to help them tide through these tough times. Those eligible for this Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme can apply at ntuc.com.sg/sirs/.

Under the Point-to-Point Support Package, eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers also receive Special Relief Fund payments of $300 per vehicle per month till end-September 2020 to help them defray business costs.

 
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