Thanks, but one-off RM500 handout is not enough, say taxi drivers

Some gazed at their phones. Others chatted away while maintaining their distance as they waited patiently at the LRT Ampang station taxi stand.

The total lockdown kicked off on Tuesday. It was a slow start to the day for the group of taxi drivers who had lined up their vehicles neatly at the stand. Some claimed they had not had a single passenger since leaving their homes at 7am.

“There aren’t many customers these days. Today, it’s even worse. From 7am till now (9.45am), I’ve only had one passenger… That’s it,” said Mat Nasir Pilus, 63, a taxi driver from Bandar Baru Ampang, when met on Tuesday.

Mat Nasir has been driving since the 1980s and has experienced various challenges. He described the Covid-19 pandemic as the worst ever.

In a bid to help cabbies and e-hailing drivers weather the storm, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin had, on Sunday night, announced an RM500 one-off handout, part of the Pemerkasa Plus financial aid package.

When asked about what he thought of the financial aid, Mat Nasir just smiled.

Another taxi driver, Halim Mohammad Zin, 56, said he was thankful for the financial aid, but quickly pointed out that he and his peers won’t see the money.

“I’m thankful, I sincerely am. But realistically, the RM500 one-off handout will either be used to pay the rental for our cabs, or pay the loan for our vehicles. So, the money will eventually go to the taxi company or bank,” said Halim, who made the career switch after 22 years with the armed forces.

“Whether we drive or not, we still have to pay the monthly rental (to the taxi companies). Some pay RM28 a day, some RM30, and there are those who pay RM40 a day. Since the first Movement Control Order (last year), it’s been a struggle to even get RM50 a day.”

Halim, who often picks up passengers at the Ampang LRT station said, instead of the handout, the government should instruct taxi companies not to collect the daily rental for the time being.

“Let’s find a win-win situation. Perhaps we could pay seven days of rental over the 14-day lockdown. We are willing to discuss with taxi company operators to find a logical and workable way out.”

“This month, there’s really no use driving. Drivers who have working children can, perhaps, rely on their kids for extra money. But spare a thought for drivers with young families. They need to put food on their tables.”

Wong Kwan Ming said he is just trying to remain positive, although the situation this time around is similar to the first lockdown in March last year.

“Since 7.30am, I’ve only had two passengers,” said Wong. The clock in his taxi showed 10.35am.

Wong was among the handful of taxi drivers that were spotted waiting for passengers at a taxi stand along Jalan Professor Khoo Kay Kim, Section 14, Petaling Jaya. Image: Twentytwo13

“Business was slightly better during the second lockdown, but this time around, it’s going to be tough again.”

The 41-year-old, who is from Klang, counted his lucky stars that he only had his car loan to service.

Wong said he read about the RM500 financial aid, but said he was unsure when he would receive the money.

“I’ve been driving for seven years now. It’s difficult to get passengers, but I just have to try my best and make some money these two weeks,” he added.

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