For cabbies, Covid-19 lockdown has sent earnings into freefall
Taxi driver Redzuan Ahamd, 56, speaks during an interview with Malay Mail in Shah Alam March 27, 2020. ― Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa
KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, taxi drivers here say they were already scraping to get by.
Now with the nation battling to contain the onslaught of the virus, cabbies say they have hit the bottom of the barrel and expressed hope that the outbreak’s impact on the economy will abate soon.
Radzuan Ahmad, 56, has been driving his taxi for eight years, mostly waiting for passengers outside the Section 13 Giant Hypermarket, which is located at one of the busiest intersections in Shah Alam.
With the shaky economy, business was already slow before, but since the March 18 movement control order (MCO) came into force, he likened the current scenario akin to “doomsday”.
“It's even worse now. Last time, there were many people. We were reliant on Giant customers. Now it's been terrible since March 18. It was bad before, but we could still make something daily.
“I have my regular customers who only call me when they need to go places, such as the airport, but because of the MCO, they can't go anywhere too,” he said when met by Malay Mail, while waiting for passengers at a taxi stand, just outside the hypermarket.
Radzuan is also worried about the outbreak, as taxi drivers like himself usually do not question their passengers’ health or travel history.
“So much is at stake for us, coupled with the financial issues that we are facing,” he said.
Radzuan expressed hope that the government will allocate some money to cabbies, similar to the RM600 aid which Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced for workers who are on unpaid leave, payable for six months.
He said that he has also emptied his Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) savings after retiring, and has nothing left to withdraw.
Last week, the prime minister announced that Malaysians are now allowed to withdraw a maximum of RM500 monthly from their EPF savings to buy essential goods amid the worsening Covid-19 pandemic.
Muhyiddin said all Malaysians aged 55 and below are eligible to withdraw from their EPF Account Two for a 12-month period.
Taxi driver A. Mossess, 49, poses for a picture during an interview with Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur March 27, 2020.
For 49-year-old A. Mosses, the Covid-19 outbreak has been equally devastating.
When approached by Malay Mail at the Bangsar LRT station, an eager Mossess ran to his cab and persuaded the team members to take a ride in his cab, only to be left disappointed, when told about the interview instead.
Nonetheless, the former sound engineer obliged, and shared his story.
“I have been driving my taxi for 20 years. I was an events executive before and was also driving a taxi at that time to supplement my income. When there were no events, I drove my taxi,” said Mosses who was involved in many high-profile exhibitions and events, including the prestigious Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition (LIMA).
“I have been waiting here for six hours. I was here since 7am. I only had three customers and made only RM15,” he lamented.
“Even though the economy was bad then, we still had rides. Now we feel very incapacitated income-wise. Now we have to pay taxi maintenance. It costs at least RM300, not including spare parts.
“Last time I made RM150 to RM200 a day, but today, only RM15. Ten times less than the previous amount,” he said.
His wife is a teacher based in Perak and Mosses lives in Seremban, in his own home, and the travelling to and fro from Seremban to Kuala Lumpur, is another burdensome cost which he is unable to recover from his hours driving here.
“My house is in Seremban and I have to travel daily. That is another additional cost for me. It's very tough. I hope we get something when the prime minister announces the new economic plan at the end of this month,” he said.
Mosses said that while he has EPF savings, he would not withdraw from the fund as it is savings for his older years.
“I will ikat perut (tighten my belt) and try hard. I will try somehow,” Mossess said.
Several minutes later, he received a passenger, and an elated Mosses eagerly drove off after ushering the passenger into his cab.
Reality is much harder for single mother K. Sivaneswary, 43, whose two teenage children are under the care of their school teacher, who has been caring for a group of underprivileged students, as she is struggling to manage their financial needs.
She was forced to drive a taxi 13 years ago, after a road accident left her in a coma for months.
She also had to quit her data entry job at a local bank, as one of the after-effects of the accident was unbearable headaches after long hours spent in front of her office computer.
Taxi driver K. Sivaneswary, 43, poses for a picture during an interview with Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur March 27, 2020.
“Covid-19 is a huge blow, but we were already suffering. It took so much effort to get our PSV (public service vehicle) licences.
“My rides today earned me RM15. My face mask is RM2. I ate bread which cost me RM1.70. The taxi is my own car and I still pay RM600 monthly for my car loan. What am I going to feed my family?
“Now the government is asking us to take from EPF. What happens to us later in our old age? We are not government servants, nor part-time drivers like those who do e-hailing. We need a safety net.. I live in a PPR flat. I have to pay rent. Where do I go?” an exasperated Sivaneswary said.
For 72-year-old Khew, the e-hailing industry, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, is a double whammy.
“It's very bad now. I made about RM40 today. Normally, I make slightly over RM100 a day. I drive about 10 hours a day,” said Khew, who came out of retirement to become a taxi driver about three years ago.
The former car salesman said that his car rental costs him RM40 per day.
“I earned nothing today. The RM40 I made goes to my taxi rental,” he lamented.
Khew said that he and his homemaker wife are being helped by their only daughter, who is married and has her own family.
“I drive about 10 hours a day and today only made RM40. What am I going to eat?” he said.
When asked why he did not opt to become an e-hailing driver, Khew rubbished the system as being exploitative.
“They don't take care of their drivers. Should have a quota system for the number of e-hailing drivers allowed, so that we taxi drivers can also survive,” he said.
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