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Roaming the roads without passengers, cabbie scrimped and saved when Covid-19 hit

SINGAPORE – Trans-Cab taxi driver Steven Chua’s daily earnings fell from $200 to $80 at the start of the pandemic – barely enough to cover his costs.

But with assistance from several Covid-19 budget measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, the father of three managed to tide over the tough time.

The help included the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, which provided self-employed people with three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 each, and the Workfare Special Payment, a $3,000 cash payout for lower-income workers.

In April last year, at the start of the circuit breaker period, the 54-year-old drove a demanding 14 hours a day, up from the 11 hours previously.

The roads were empty, recalled Mr Chua, who once drove a three-hour stretch without any passenger. “I just went round and round, hoping someone would board my taxi,” said the cab driver for 18 years.

To get by, Mr Chua, who is also general secretary of the National Taxi Association, took on a temporary job to help manage operations at a migrant worker dormitory from April to July last year.He had to don personal protective equipment (PPE) when carrying out duties such as distributing meals.

“I was worried about getting the virus but I had no choice because I needed to support my family. I could only take the necessary precautions,” said Mr Chua, who returned to driving his cab in July.

At home, his 36-year-old homemaker wife and three children aged 11 to 15 had to scrimp and save too.

“We cut down on the number of dishes we eat every meal and ate more rice,” said Mr Chua, who lives in a five-room flat in Jurong West. “We also used the fans at home instead of switching on the air-con.”

With the payouts from the assistance schemes, he settled the family’s outstanding bills and kept some money for the months ahead.

“I didn’t know what would happen tomorrow,” Mr Chua admitted. “If not for the help, we wouldn’t even have food on the table.”

For now, his situation has improved slightly. He drives 11 hours daily and earns about $150 a day.

“I am now just living day by day,” he said. “I hope that things will get better in the coming months.”

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