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HDT scraps electric-taxi business in Singapore on 'debilitating' Covid-19 hit

HDT - fully electric taxi company - 2017 - ST file.jpg
The EV firm's taxi drivers were treated as full-time employees, receiving a base pay with employment benefits such as sick leave and CPF contributions.

HDT Singapore Holding, whose electric taxis had plied the city-state's roads for about two years, is powering down the business for good and instead focusing on other green transportation solutions.

The company has suffered a "prolonged, debilitating impact" as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted the taxi industry, said HDT, which is affiliated with Chinese EV giant BYD Co.

Pandemic-related restrictions, which led to a sustained work-from-home trend and limited travel, resulted in the company "wrestling with the slowing growth" of the business since the start of this year.

Its application to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to close the taxi arm has been accepted.

About 90 taxi drivers and four back-end staff were cut in the retrenchment exercise, a HDT spokesperson told The Business Times (BT).

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The layoffs were conducted after consultations with Singapore's National Taxi Association (NTA) and in compliance with the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Excess Manpower and Responsible Retrenchment.

The electric vehicle (EV) group - which also provides point-to-point bus services, EV concierge services, vehicle rentals and school transport - became Singapore's seventh taxi-service operator when its full-fledged 10-year licence from LTA took effect in August 2018.

Under HDT Singapore Taxi's full-time employment model, drivers received a base pay with employment benefits such as sick leave and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions. This was in contrast to other firms which rent out taxis to cabbies, who then keep all the fares they earn.

On Friday, the company said that it will provide retrenchment benefits to all affected staff, including the cabbies employed by HDT and the back-end team who managed the taxi operations.

HDT will pay each of them one month of salary for every year of service, on a pro rata basis.

In addition, all employed drivers will be given the annual wage supplement, also known as the 13th month payment, while their Medisave accounts will be topped up till the end of this year.

There will also be a one-off retrenchment benefit given to both employed and trial cabbies, "as a gesture of gratitude from HDT", the company said, without disclosing this sum.

For all categories of its taxi drivers, HDT will renew their NTA memberships for 2021.

The company said it has worked with NTA to ensure fair compensation to the affected employees.

It is also providing assistance such as by linking them with the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) for job support and employment opportunities.

The company added that it will work with NTA to help the retrenched staff find new jobs with other taxi operators and transport companies.

"Those who wish to become drivers of HDT's private-hire cars or private bus services will be most welcomed," said James Ng, managing director of the group.

NTUC director Yeo Wan Ling also noted that for affected drivers who would like to continue driving, NTA will link them up with other operators.

And those who are open to other opportunities can approach e2i and NTA, which will help them transition quickly into new employment under the NTUC Job Security Council.

Also, eligible NTA members will continue to receive member benefits and financial assistance such as from the enhanced NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19), till the end of 2021, with no break in their membership.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, NTA has "kept a close watch" over cabbies in the country and worked with taxi companies to safeguard the drivers' well-being, Ms Yeo added.

"NTA will continue to be here for our members should they require further assistance," she said.

In the statement, HDT's Mr Ng thanked the taxi arm's employees for their contributions and for "having persevered with us during this crisis".

"It is with a heavy heart that we have to shed the taxi business and let some of our dedicated employees go," he said.

Moving forward, HDT will focus on business promotion efforts in the EV field, and develop a range of green transportation services.

These will include car-hailing, electric-bus services, electric-truck sales, as well as the leasing of EVs in the consumer, commercial and industrial segments.

"We will work closely with our strategic partners to promote the electrification of transportation in Singapore for a greener environment with low-carbon emissions," said Mr Ng.

While there are no plans at the moment to bring back taxi operations given the uncertain environment from the pandemic, the company "may review it in the future", the HDT spokesperson told BT.

Under the taxi service operator licence, HDT was required to run at least 800 electric taxis by July 2022, and had to ensure that sufficient charging stations were set up across the country to support its fleet.

Mr Ng said in 2018 that the company would roll out 200 taxis each year for the next four years to meet the requirement.

In 2017, HDT told local media that its cabbies would receive a basic gross income of S$1,900 a month, including CPF contributions, which could go up to S$2,800 with overtime. Their pay could progressively increase with higher revenue targets. For instance, if S$8,500 is achieved, the gross salary goes up to S$4,300.

HDT is the Singapore agent of BYD, which makes automobiles, rechargeable batteries, buses, solar panels and more. HDT's taxi fleet included the Chinese manufacturer's e6 electric saloon cars.

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