betty July 19, 2022

SINGAPORE – About 90 Strides limousine drivers now have to pay more than what they did pre-pandemic to rent their vehicles, after rates were raised three times in the last two months.

Compared with $150 a day charged before the pandemic, the drivers, who rent the Toyota Vellfire from SMRT’s Strides, now have to renew their contracts at $160.50 a day.

Drivers said they are worried this could further increase later in the year at a time when fuel costs are surging, and set a benchmark for other transport companies.

They also said that the move was announced without any consultation, effectively “forcing the increase down our throats” after two years of depressed fares, including for the ferrying of Covid-19 patients in full protective gear.

The latest increase to $160.50 a day by Strides was announced in individual messages sent to drivers on June 14, after which the company told concerned drivers that there were more than 100 people on a wait list if they chose not to renew their one- or two-year contracts.

Before this, messages were sent on April 30 and May 17, informing drivers that their contracts would be changed, first from the subsidised $112 a day during Covid-19 to $139, then to $150.

Despite a petition on online petition website, titled “Stop exploiting local Singapore drivers”, and intervention by the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA), the only concession so far is to allow drivers to renew their lease at $160.50 after their current contract ends, instead of immediately from July.

“I understand that Strides is trying to recoup their Covid-19 losses and drivers were prepared for an increase, but this is too much, especially for a car that is already three to four years old,” said Strides driver Sherwin Tan, 40.

“We now have to be on the road five to six hours just to break even. Strides is also still getting a 20 per cent commission from our work.”

Another Strides driver, Mr Peter Tan, said he has no choice but to stomach the increase as he is already 62.

“There might be an out for others, but not me. Now that many tourists have gone back to Europe, there are also fewer passengers. Business is not as good as Strides imagines.”

Strides’ limousine service caters to private-hire and airport transfer demand, which has yet to stabilise, with passenger volume at Changi Airport still about half of 2019 levels.

Some drivers said they had left Strides due to the hike.

A 44-year-old, who quit last week and who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, said “it’s just bad treatment of drivers”.

“The new rental rate is on the very high side compared with other companies,” he added.

“I’ve heard that it might even go up to $170 per day by September. I’m very worried that other limo leasers will follow suit.”

Strides is the first operator to increase its rental charges after the pandemic struck, with other operators choosing so far to raise fares to protect their drivers’ earnings amid changing ridership demand and increasing fuel prices.

But this can sometimes backfire.

Grab drew some flak after it cut the waiting time grace period before penalising riders from five to three minutes.

It had said the move was introduced to help drivers reduce fuel wastage caused by idling engines while waiting.

In response to The Straits Times, Strides said it had been leasing out its limousines at below market rates during Covid-19, and that it has to adjust them according “to the market conditions as they develop”.

Strides Mobility Services senior general manager Yeow How Pheng said that the demand for point-to-point limousine services has risen and fares have also increased.

“Our Strides limousine drivers are our partners and we thank them for their continuous support, especially during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic measures. We appreciate all our driver partners and will continue to work with them to improve their earnings and livelihoods.”

The NPHVA told ST that it hopes companies can continue to consult associations to discuss and communicate planned changes that affect earnings.

It said the concession that Strides made is “acceptable” to drivers.

“We will continue advocating for the rights of our workers by engaging them to understand their needs and concerns,” the association added.

ComfortDelGro, the largest player, said in reply to ST that rental rates for its LimoCabs and MaxiCabs have not changed in the past three years, without saying how much it charges.

Rental continues to be cheaper than what it was pre-pandemic, with a percentage of rental every day waived given the challenging circumstances, the taxi operator added.