Taxi driver Pall Singh has seen a 95% drop in business in the last month, since the movement control order was enforced on March 18.
I'd be lucky if I have one passenger a week, says Pall, 59. Every day, I drive around Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya and pray that I can get at least one passenger. I also wait at designated taxi stops. But sadly, there are not any passengers.
Before the restriction on movement, Pall would typically make four trips a week to Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Although this meant working for longer hours, he did not mind as it allowed him and his family to live comfortably with the RM2,000 to RM3,000 he would earn a month.
Now, with the drastic loss of income, Pall admits that he is struggling to make ends meet. As the sole breadwinner for his family of four, he has been having sleepless nights worrying about his finances. How will he put food on the table, pay his housing loan, car installments, groceries, and other miscellaneous bills.
“I also miss the drives to the airport, being able to talk to passengers en route to and from KLIA. These days, there’s always a fear that the person next to you might have Covid-19, ” says Pall, a retired physical training instructor with the Royal Malaysian Airforce who has been driving his taxi for 15 years.
As an essential service worker, Pall is well aware about the dangers of picking up passengers. To stay safe, he uses a mask and disinfects his car whenever a passenger steps out of his vehicle.
"It is hard to tell if a passenger is infected with the virus. To protect myself and other passengers, I disinfect the seats, window panels, and doorknobs. And I pray they don't cough. It is a risky job to drive a taxi, especially during this pandemic. But at the same time, I have to earn a living," says the father of two.
His eldest son Mcpall Singh Sidhu, 23, works as a tour guide. His job is also affected by the pandemic.
“It’s hard for Mcpall as well. Times are bad. The irony is that we want to work, but there aren’t any passengers or tourists because the country is under MCO.”
Pall has already used up the RM600 he received from the government's Bantuan Prihatin Rakyat aid. His wife, homemaker Kuljit Kaur, 54, has also received RM1,000 under the scheme.
"We are grateful for the government’s assistance, but the money isn’t enough to pull us through. Our daily meals are simple, consisting of chapati, one vegetable, and curry. If things worsen, I might have to apply for a personal loan to pay for my younger son’s college fees.”
Pall remains optimistic about his future. He loves his job and hopes that things will go back to normal after this.
“Although I work seven days a week and have to endure the daily rush hour, I am proud to be a taxi driver.
“Each day, I meet people from different walks of life. Through conversations with them, I learn new things, ranging from their take on politics, good kopitiams around the Klang Valley to some of the top places to go for a holiday. This is what makes my job so interesting.
Pall hopes that Malaysians will soon be able to "go about their daily lives and earn a living".
"I do hope businesses will improve, and tourists will be able to visit Malaysia once again."