TAXI drivers who are badly affected by the pandemic are grateful if they are able to make even one trip per day at Penang Sentral in Butterworth.
While few who found alternative income sources have left the industry, many whose income is at the mercy of passengers still remain at the terminal.
Among them is 69-year-old S. Nadaraja, who is unsuccessful in getting even one passenger at the terminal’s dedicated pick-up point after waiting for over 12 hours.
Nadaraja, who is from Sungai Petani, Kedah, has spent three nights sleeping at the terminal as returning home without recovering his travel expenses would mean more losses.
“I’ve been eating porridge for five consecutive days. This is how bad our economic situation is. My wife back home is unwell and we have a family to support.
“When times were good before the movement control order, I could make between RM1,000 and RM2,000 monthly with some extra to spare but now it is about survival.
“We used to have families and groups of people who would take taxis for long trips, such as to Sungai Petani for RM120 or Taiping for RM140.
“Now I’ll be lucky to make a single trip per day, and those are usually by locals to nearby places.
“The car insurance itself costs RM650 yearly besides other maintenance costs,” he said.
Another driver, Mohd Sahurin Abu Bakar, 49, was spotted having lunch inside his car while waiting for passengers.
“I have four children aged 13 to 23 years old, and three of them are still in school.
“Six years ago, I left my job at a factory to drive a taxi and there was a constant flow of customers.
“Fortunately, throughout the period, I built a network of clients and they still call for my service.
“If we continue to depend on waiting at taxi stands like this, we are dead,” he said.
Mohd Sahurin said despite receiving some monetary aid from the government, such support was only a brief respite.
“Changes in policy will better enable us to earn a sustainable income.
“E-hailing services are charging cheaper than our fare and it is a no brainer for customers to decide.
“I do not blame the e-hailing drivers as they too are following the rates shown by their systems.
“The government needs to regulate the fare system and set it equal for e-hailing and taxi services.
“It will ensure that we get fair competition and customers will still engage our service,” he said.
Penang Sentral Car Rental And Taxi Drivers Association secretary C. Supramaniam said there were about 120 drivers registered at the terminal with all suffering the same predicament.
“We are recording only three to four trips in a day.
“Most of the drivers are elderly and can’t find other jobs elsewhere.
“We hope non-governmental organisations and local representatives will help us, while customers will continue to support us.
“There were some shortcomings in our service in the past but we are now trying to deliver our best,” he said.
Subramaniam said among the recent aid received were essential items worth about RM100 each from Bagan MP Lim Guan Eng.