The Transport Ministry is looking into converting cabbies and private-hire drivers into temporary transport ambassadors amidst the COVID-19 crisis
Khaw: Displaced cabbies can drive buses, be 'transport ambassadors' Taxi drivers affected by the coronavirus crisis can drive buses or be deployed to lessen crowding on trains, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on 22 March 2020 PHOTO: ST FILE

Cabbies and private-hire drivers who have seen their earnings hit by the COVID-19 crisis can drive buses or be deployed to lessen crowding on trains, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on 23 March 2020.

Speaking during a visit to Bright Hill station on Stage 2 of the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL), Mr. Khaw said having "temporary transport ambassadors to help commuters keep safe distances" was an idea mooted by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

"These are temporary positions to support higher manpower needs at our stations during this special period. These ambassadors can also help to sanitise train cabins, seats, poles more frequently." Mr Khaw said.

During pre-outbreak times, MRT trains could pack as many as four commuters per square metre during peak hours. Although crowding has reduced since the coronavirus forced many to work from home, public transport commuters are still placed well within the 1m distance recommended by the Government for entertainment venues, restaurants, hawker centres and cinemas.

Mr. Khaw said, "I would very much like to do the same for buses and trains. Unfortunately, as public transport has to accommodate large numbers of people at the same time, this is very challenging. Almost impossible, unless we can substantially reduce peak hour demand. I say, let's try."

Mr. Khaw said transport ambassadors could be employed on three or six-month contracts, "depending on how long the pandemic lasts".

Cabbies who have seen their earnings hit by the COVID-19 pandemic can fill these roles. "The extra cash allowance may also come in handy... to supplement their reduced income," Mr. Khaw said, adding that the Land Transport Authority will work with transport operators to get the scheme up "in the coming weeks".

He also said displaced cabbies can opt to become bus captains. Two hours after Mr. Khaw spoke, ComfortDelGro and SMRT issued statements inviting cabbies and private-hire drivers to switch to driving buses.