This content was published on 20 November 2020 – 09:35
During confinement, finding a client has become an almost impossible mission for the “black cabs”, the mythical black taxis of London, to the point that many have been parked in large extensions of countryside on the outskirts of the city.
“I have lost count of how many vehicles we have here. There are probably between 150 and 200 cars that we have had to take off the road,” sighs Tony Georgiou, owner of GB Taxis Limited, one of the companies that rents vehicles to taxi drivers.
With their bulky profile and spacious interior they are one of the symbols of the British capital, alongside the red double-decker buses, and their drivers have to pass a complicated exam before being licensed.
But with a deserted urban center due to the second lockdown, most taxi drivers who rented their car have decided to return them.
Rental companies have been overwhelmed by these sudden massive returns and forced to store them in fields on the periphery.
Cars here are exposed to humidity and some have already had parts stolen, Steve McNamara, general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), explains to AFP, describing the situation as “totally and completely unprecedented”.
– 20% circulation and income –
The first London taxis, then horse-drawn, appeared in the 17th century.
The “black cabs” that succeeded them were among the British symbols recognizable throughout the world, along with the red telephone boxes and helmeted policemen.
But with mobile phones the former are no longer used and the latter now wear a small cap.
“The only ones left now are taxis,” says McNamara.
But for how long? During this confinement only 20% circulate, he affirms based on the vehicles of his association – which are 11,000, more than half of the 20,000 in the city – and the official figures provided by London Heathrow airport.
“We have lost between 5,000 and 6,000 vehicles since June,” he says, explaining that some drivers do small jobs such as deliveries to supermarkets, but the “vast majority” no longer work.
Those who chose to continue walking the streets would be earning 20% of their annual income, which normally ranges between 15,000 and 80,000 pounds a year (20,000-105,800 dollars or 16,700-90,000 euros).
The coronavirus pandemic is “without a doubt the main factor” in the reduction of the number of taxis and “absolutely not” apps like Uber, says McNamara.
According to data from Transport for London, the body that manages public transport in the capital, the number of licenses has dropped from 19,000 in March to just under 15,000 on November 8.
– 20 hours of waiting –
At Heathrow airport, until recently the busiest in Europe, taxi driver Sam Houston is in line waiting for a customer. In normal times, it takes about 3 hours, but now it can be 20 or even 24, says this 45-year-old man who has been a professional driver for 8 hours.
This pandemic is being “the most difficult period I have ever experienced,” he says. “We have the impression that it is going to be a semi-permanent change for the economy and many people find it scary,” he adds.
Some taxi drivers took advantage of government aid for technical unemployment, but many, Houston says, did not meet the requirements of the system.
“We want specific support for our sector from local and national governments,” he says.
McNamara agrees, underscoring that taxi drivers are struggling to get ahead financially when many have recently invested in expensive electric taxis.
And it asks for a specific public aid similar to that applied to the hospitality sector, ensuring that they “have been so severely affected, or more.”