Cabbie hit by plunge in income pushes for pay-as-you-use rental

SINGAPORE - Cabbie Peter Quek used to make 150 trips a week before the pandemic struck.

That has fallen by a third to just more than 100 now.

The 44-year-old's monthly take-home income is down by half, from $3,000 to $1,500.

Thankfully, he qualified for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme launched in March, which disburses $1,000 per month for nine months.

Explaining why his income has fallen by half even though the number of trips has not, the cabbie of 5 1/2 years, who drives 60 hours a week, said: "Pandemic or not, whatever I make in the first few hours of driving goes to covering operating costs.

"It's only after about seven hours that I break even for the day, and then begin to earn my income, so the fall in income is disproportionate to the decrease in passengers."

Mr Quek, who tracks his expenses and earnings using Excel spreadsheets, said his daily operating costs work out to about $180, after rental relief from the taxi operator and the Government.

"This includes 'hidden costs' that others might not consider, like Medisave contributions and income tax deductions," said the single father of two daughters aged 14 and 16. His parents live with him.

"Many drivers might not take these into account, but as self-employed persons, it's important that we know all the costs ourselves, because we are going to bear them."

Mr Quek feels the Covid-19 pandemic has strengthened his call for the taxi rental system to be revised.

In September, he wrote to the Ministry of Transport and ComfortDelGro proposing that instead of paying a daily fixed rate, cabbies should be charged a lower rental, with additional charges calculated based on how long they use the vehicle.

Mr Quek said his suggestion gives taxi drivers more autonomy and encourages them to take greater ownership in planning their schedules.

"Instead of slogging away for hours just to make up daily rental, a pay-as-you-use system will let us break even earlier in the day and enjoy better work-life balance," he said, adding that "being freed from the current mental and physical toll of making rent" will be a big relief.

Mr Quek believes that his proposal caters to various types of cabbies, regardless of why and how long they drive.

"Not all drivers have been impacted by the pandemic equally, because not all of us drive full-time.

"Some are retirees who do not need the income as much, and can afford to drive less. Such a system will allow them to," he said.