WHAT started out as a hobby, turned out to be a profession that David Roynal came to love.
It also proved to be a stepping stone to greater things—like finally investing in the country's only superannuation fund.
After 18 years of driving for the public service transport sector, Mr Roynal—now a driver for The Fiji Times, says his commitment and dedication to his passion has paid off.
His job as a taxidriver many years ago earned him a home.
"When I was in the taxi business, I was able to move from renting a house, to buying a piece of land to buying my home. The same cannot be said of many drivers today," he said.
But he left the taxi business citing the increase in flag fall as one of the reasons behind the decline in his daily earnings.
"Before 1995, the taxi business was thriving. Business was OK. I could make half and half profit for me and the owner of the taxi I was driving. All that in a week. Every week.
"But since the increase in taxi fare, in flag fall, business has gone down—that's one of the primary reasons I left. I couldn't make the 50-50 profit, and earning $60 a week just wasn't enough to feed my family.
"The drivers that are still there today are suffering," Mr Roynal said.
Where previously passengers paid $4 to $5 for a taxi ride from Laucala Beach Estate to Suva, they now pay around $10 for the same—something not everyone can afford today, he said.
"Nowadays, people appreciate and value the 70 cents bus fare they pay to get to the same destination, against the $10 taxi trip every morning. They're (passengers) getting smarter. Besides, even those with huge earnings can't afford the regular taxi rides—because of the fare.
"Taxi rides are a matter of need now—for occasions like when you're running late for work, or when you're sick. Otherwise, more people are now opting for the bus," he said.
Mr Roynal resigned from the taxi business to join the bus industry as a driver—albeit for a short term.
"I loved driving the big buses and carting a total of 60 passengers," he said.
But it wasn't as easy as he expected.
"There's a huge demand for money in the bus driving industry. We have quotas that we must meet daily and it wasn't easy. I drove three runs in the morning and four runs in the afternoon at 35 cents a ticket. Part of the problem had to do with the fact that school children—who were my passengers, opted for better buses that looked to be in better conditions.
"So there was a lot of competition in the industry and checkers sided with the bosses," he pointed out.
The taxi business however has its challenges in that drivers were more prone to robberies than their counterparts in the bus industry, Mr Roynal said, pointing to a scar on his face.
"That's from a knife," he said.
But taxi driving was beneficial for drivers as it allowed them to take money home on a daily basis, Mr Roynal said.
"You literally see what you earn every day. You know at the end of the day what your take home pay is," Mr Roynal said.
He joined The Fiji Times last year.
"It's been the best move for me because now I can get my FNPF paid. It's something to fall back on.
"For the 18 years of driving taxis for a living, I had not earned any FNPF. I lost $30,000 of earnings on non-payment of FNPF all those years," he said. He later admitted it was money he should have paid himself for being his own boss while he was in the business of driving taxis.
Meanwhile, acting general secretary of the Fiji Taxi Association Harish Chandra said taxidrivers were given two options—to sign the contract for service agreement or to opt for the contract of service agreement.
"Under the contract for service, the driver rents the vehicle from the owner and pays them a fixed amount. In such cases, the driver is responsible for his own FNPF among other vehicles.
"Under contract of service, your FNPF is paid by the company among other benefits," Mr Chandra explained adding that most drivers opted for the contract for service agreement because it was more flexible and was a direct avenue for direct and daily take-home earnings.