The taxi industry worldwide, like many other forms of mobility, came to a near standstill with the introduction of COVID-19 containment measures. Bans on public events and the closure of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues or non-essential shops, as well as the fear of contamination, kept people out of taxis, resulting in operators facing revenue declines of up to 90%.
Though containment measures are gradually being lifted in many places, taxi drivers continue to experience low activity. Some drivers are still only serving a handful of customers each day.
“In Vienna, restaurants opened again on 15 May and that brought us passengers. It is not like it was before the crisis though, I have far fewer passengers,” says Christian Krause (main picture above), who has been a taxi driver in the Austrian capital for 24 years.
The pick-up in activity remains extremely slow in other cities as well. “The most difficult part is not knowing where to look for work,” says Michael Atkinson, a London-based taxi driver. “Sometimes, I wait for three to four hours, because museums, hotels and department stores are not operating as before.”
The slowdown has been addressed by some countries, with Austria for example, unlocking a hardship fund. “I received EUR 1,000 as part of the hardship fund’s first round, but am still waiting, like many of my colleagues, to hear back about my submission for the second round,” shares Christian. “Without reserves, you can’t survive.”
Other measures, such as those related to health and safety, have been slow to be developed by authorities. Many operators however took their own initiatives to protect themselves and their customers. “The drivers were wearing a mask on duty for two weeks before the government introduced requirements for public transport. I also always have a couple of clean face masks with me, just in case customers have forgotten theirs. In addition, I have a partition wall in my car, separating the back seat from the front. Safety is important, for us drivers and for customers,” says Christian.
Despite the lack of appropriate financial support and regulatory responsiveness, taxi drivers have continued to do their job, exposing themselves to risk while resisting calls for them to be qualified as heroic. As front line workers and part of the public transport system, they should receive financial and non-financial relief to weather the consequences of the pandemic and stay safe as they continue to do their job.