Taxi, e-hailing drivers at a loss

TIMES are hard, not worth it.

This is the sentiment of most taxi and e-hailing drivers in the Klang Valley since the start of the movement control order (MCO) last month.

Finding it so hard to make ends meet, the drivers are unsure what to do.

Some are staying at home and spending sparingly, while some keep waiting for passengers at designated stops each day hoping for Lady Luck to shine on them.

StarMetro speaks to some of the hard-hit drivers to see how they are coping.

Temporarily quitting

E-hailing driver Rasamany Vettivelu, 73, has not been working since the MCO took effect on March 18.

It has been over two weeks since she was able to make any extra money to buy groceries and provide her husband with RM500 pocket money.

She was earning around RM2,000 a month as an e-hailing driver.

These days, meals at home have been downgraded to just one vegetable, one curry and papadom.

“I am not exaggerating, but merely being honest. I do get a monthly pension, but that goes towards paying the utility bills and other expenses,’’ said the retired Inland Revenue Board officer.

Rasamany was forced to take on another job a few years ago after she lost a huge chunk of her savings, and that of her 82-year-old husband’s to a gold investment company.

“The driving job was a way for me to pay my husband back each month and pay for petrol,’’ she said.

Also staying at home for the plain reason of not wanting to be infected with Covid-19 is 55-year-old taxi driver V. Jambulingam.

The Klang Taman Sentosa Taxi and Hired Car Drivers Welfare Association president said people began to avoid getting into taxis from the third day of the MCO.

“Awareness of Covid-19 heightened on the third day and people knew the need for social distancing.

“Our regular passengers politely told us that it would be better to walk or cycle to get groceries.

“Many did not mind walking a distance to get their basic necessities.

“I could not even earn RM10 after the MCO was declared. I used to earn RM80 to RM100 daily. Now, I would wait for eight hours and there would be no passengers,” he said, adding that it was wiser to stay at home despite the bills.

The father of four, who has been a taxi driver for 35 years, added that his association members also felt it was not worth it as their daily income had dropped and at the same time, it was a health risk to stay outside.

Jambulingam’s two working children are lending him a hand now.

“I pray for a cure to the disease quickly as it is wrecking our livelihood,” he said.

Jerry Jayabalan, 53, who used to earn RM100 daily, stopped driving the taxi when his income dropped to only RM32.

He hopes application to the government’s economic stimulus package will be a simple process and that the money will be channelled to them fast.

“Our taxi drivers are grateful to the government for this financial aid in this trying time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arul Devadawson, 46, is a graphic designer by day, as well as part-time e-hailing driver and a drummer by night.

Before the virus struck global proportions, Arul could get about 30 rides a day. But once the MCO took effect, rides reduced to less than 10.

“Before Covid-19 hit us, even if I had three rides a day it was good income because it involved sending passengers to Genting Highlands or to the airports.

Now everything has stopped,” he said.

Arul’s graphic designing work and his stint as a drummer with a local band on Friday nights are also on hold.

The father of a six-year-old girl hopes the stimulus package will be helpful, otherwise he will have to dig into his Employee Provident Fund (EPF) savings to stay afloat.

Some still hopeful

Taxi driver Badrol Hisham Ahmad, 60, sits alone in front of the entrance of Pavilion Mall, Kuala Lumpur waiting from 9am to noon for passengers, but no one comes.

“No point going home, the wife is already angry seeing my face.

“If before e-hailing drivers stole our income, now it’s this virus,’’ said Badrol.

Over at KL Sentral, the taxi coupon counter is still operating, but drivers say they have to wait hours for customers.

“I waited seven hours for one customer. It’s better than going home and having to answer to my family,’’ said Ismail Sikin from Kampung Baru.

“I feel restless staying at home doing nothing, so here I wait,’’ he added.

Both Ismail and Badrol are not exaggerating.

A check at taxi hotspots in the city and areas like the KL Sentral, Bukit Bintang, Mid Valley, and the TBS station at Bandar Tasik Selatan have showed images of a ghost town.

While the government’s one-off payment for taxi drivers (RM600) and e-hailing drivers (RM500) under the stimulus package can be seen as a relief, the drivers worry for the long term.

“It’s nice that they are giving us the money, but I ask you, is RM600 enough,’’ Badrol asked.

“The most I can do with that is to pay for groceries for one month,’’ he said, adding that food was also very expensive now.

Cabbies, hang in there

Federal Territory and Selangor Taxi Operator Association president Datuk Aslah Abdullah said the Covid-19 pandemic has affected everyone and not just taxi drivers.

“Taxi drivers will complain all the time, it is their nature. We have helped by supplying food to the drivers at KL Sentral.

“The government said their services are essential, so they must wait, even though there are fewer customers now,’’ he said.

“The KL Sentral management has been kind enough to waive the rental fees for the counter for the next six months, so we are very appreciative of that,’’ he said.

Aslah’s company Puncak Holdings manages the taxi counter at KL Sentral.

Gabungan Pertubuhan Teksi, Kereta Sewa, Limosin dan Teksi Lapangan Terbang SeMalaysia (GTSM) needs the government’s support in the current dire situation.

Its head Kamarudin Mohd Hussain said without the government’s support and strategic partnership, GTSM could not move forward to provide support to its members.

“We do not have the finances and power to help taxi drivers in these trying times, more so those who flout the public transport scheduling under the enhanced MCO.

GTSM oversees 380 taxi associations in Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak, and has around 40,000 members.

Kamarudin said he received calls from distressed taxi drivers every day since the MCO was enforced, many of whom could not manage to pay the rental for their taxis.

“One driver called me crying because he woke up in the morning and saw his taxi repossessed.

“They are not getting any passengers, and there are no tourists now,” he explained.

According to a Finance Ministry statement, taxi and e-hailing drivers eligible for financial assistance under the new economic stimulus package must register with www.treasury.gov.my.

Online payments started April 2.

— to www.thestar.com.my

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