Private bus operators hoping for assistance package
On a typical day, Mr Neo Tiam Beng's fleet of more than 40 private tour buses usually makes more than 200 trips each day. But since the coronavirus outbreak, his bus company Advance Coach now musters barely half that number.
He is not alone.
Singapore School Transport Association secretary Richard Fong, who runs his own fleet of 32 private buses, has seen his income drop by 30 per cent, with the suspension of external school activities and the cancellation of trips by volunteer and religious groups.
Even chartered bus services to and from workplaces have been affected, with companies implementing work-from-home arrangements, he said.
Their plight is similar to what many private bus operators told The New Paper they are experiencing.
The situation is even more dire for operators who rely heavily on bus charters from tourists, Mr Fong told TNP.
"There are buses parked at carparks that don't move the whole day," he said.
Some measures taken by the authorities to contain the virus, though necessary, have unfortunately added further strain to an industry already facing a manpower crunch, A&S Transportation's marketing manager Dexter Ang, 34, said.
For example, since Feb 7, all work pass holders with travel history to China within the last 14 days must obtain approval before they start their journeys to Singapore, and Mr Ang said this has prevented one of his drivers from returning to work. "Drivers are scarce, so every one adds up," he said.
Even as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat unveiled a $4 billion kitty to cushion businesses from the economic impact of the outbreak, private bus operators feel they have been overlooked.
Singapore School and Private Hire Bus Owners' Association president Phillip Peh said at least 100 of its more than 1,400 members have been impacted by a "tremendous drop" in tourist numbers.
Individual bus owners are the most badly affected as many are dependent on money from free-and-easy and small group tourists, he added.
Mr Peh said his association is hoping the Government can grant some assistance in the form of parking fee waivers, and rebates on diesel tax and road tax.
His association has also been engaging with Enterprise Singapore to find alternative jobs for its private bus drivers in the interim.
Transport economist Walter Theseira said private bus operators who are freelancers or self-employed will need to look to the Ministry of Transport to come up with ideas for an assistance package, like its $77 million support package for cabbies and private-hire car drivers.
He said: "What the ministry will have to do is sit down with the associations... and try to figure out what are the practical ways of alleviating some of the pain right now."