For UK private hire and hackney drivers, the coronavirus pandemic first brought sudden, daily exposure to a deadly virus; then inadequate health information with little or no protection. Finally, drivers faced a catastrophic, year-long loss of income when lockdown hit. Our survey results uncover the state of the trade in March 2021.
Our first survey of the taxi trade in June 2020, just three months into Lockdown #1, revealed the shockwaves hitting the industry. Now a full year after the country first closed down, how is life for the tens of thousands of men and women that drive private hire vehicles or taxis for a living? We asked four questions.
Our survey with PHTM shows that almost 97% of taxi drivers’ incomes has been slashed—and 75% have little or no income at all.
A Wirral private hire driver of six years:
“The government has totally ditched drivers. Depending on the area you are badged, some of the local councils have tried to help. But where I am badged it’s been a disgrace. To date, all they have done is give drivers £100 towards their licence plate renewal last year.
“It will take at least a couple of good years work-wise for me to be able to replace the savings that I have had to use to get by over the past twelve months. I have not had any financial assistance such as the SEISS grants, basically being told to use what we have saved for retirement — and stuff the future.”
Our research reveals how the Covid crisis has meant real financial hardship, heartbreaking loss and painful mental health challenges for drivers who’ve had inadequate support.
A North-west taxi driver:
“The local council has been disgraceful... I’ve received a £100 grant. We are approximately 80% down in takings, I have a young family to feed, and my wife is on furlough.”
Taxi drivers are the ‘unsung heroes’ of the current crisis, a 4th emergency service that has continued to support their local communities. They deserve more and better support.
A Brighton hackney cab driver:
“I’ve been a Hackney taxi owner/driver since 1988. When COVID-19 happened... lockdowns and pubs, clubs, restaurants and the rest of the business affected, the taxi trade is nearly non existent. Waiting two and three hours for a job is the norm for the whole of my daily work.”
The majority of drivers are self-employed, so when there’s no work, there’s no income. Most people stopped using cabs very early in the crisis, and those that did were potentially spreading the virus. Drivers weren’t given enough information or protection to work safely and it led to high infection rates amongst drivers. In May last year the BBC reported, ‘Taxi drivers have among the highest death rate of coronavirus in the UK. Along with security guards, they are more likely to die with Covid-19 than any other occupation.’
While many drivers feel let down by their local authorities, some councils have stepped up and supported drivers.
A Durham private hire and hackney driver:
“I have been extremely grateful to the local authority for their support. Contractors, under the supplier relief scheme, have received a good percentage of the contract price even when it wasn’t operating. This was to ensure that enough drivers stayed in business to meet future contract requirements, I think that says a lot. The SEISS grants have been more than I thought any government would provide to the self employed and were very welcome. Durham County Council have paid all licenced drivers a one off £500 grant."
A picture not echoed by this East Sussex cabbie:
“I’ve been a taxi driver for three years in June. The SEISS grants have allowed my situation to be bearable. With this money, some small furlough for my wife and some help from my family, we have stayed on track. Mortgage payment breaks and tax bills strung out. At the moment I own a £25,000 cab which I use to deliver food (for Deliveroo) at £3.50 a journey. When you consider the cost of fuel, £2,000 insurance and also council licensing conditions, it’s not ideal.”
Solihull private hire badged driver:
“I feel disowned and ignored by the Local Authority. I estimate it will take me two years to recover financially once the crisis is over. The second lockdown was a killer. I had to get a bank loan which has meant extra stress.”
There are now tens of thousands of UK drivers who have received no financial support at all, unlike many other industries.
There is a dark irony in that drivers and operators that do survive and get back out fast will pick up a lot of work. After lockdown we predict a booming cab trade. Why? Because the general public is tired of being stuck indoors, hungry to go out to pubs, clubs and events, and to go away on holiday. And with fewer drivers competing for fares, there may be good times ahead.
|Income is down a little||8||2.78%|
|Income is half what it was||63||21.88%|
|Income is very low or zero||215||74.65%|
|No change to my income||2||0.69%|
|Only a little worried||36||12.50%|
|Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG)||13||4.51%|
|Taxi driver grant||19||6.60%|