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CRISIS IN THE CAB: UK'S nighttime economy and its toll on taxi drivers



Across the United Kingdom, the nighttime economy is experiencing a significant downturn, profoundly impacting the livelihoods of taxi drivers who once thrived during the late hours.


From small towns to larger cities, the narrative is increasingly grim, as drivers report a drastic drop in demand, altered consumer habits, and regulatory challenges that together paint a bleak picture for the industry.

In Sudbury, the decline is palpable. A local taxi operator describes the situation as "dire", with the closure of nightclubs and a significant reduction in evening customers making "Friday nights so bad... Weekday evenings are a waste of time". This scenario is not isolated but indicative of a broader trend affecting many regions outside the bustling urban centres.


Ian Moore, operating in rural Yorkshire, uses the term "tumbleweed" to describe the desolation.  The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped his business strategy, forcing him to abandon street work in favour of scheduled day contracts, airport transfers, and group outings. The shift reflects a wider move among drivers who find street bookings more “rare” due to the evaporated demand.


In Chester, the saturation of the market by ride-sharing giants like Uber is a major concern. Philip Hancock expresses frustration, stating: "Chester is finished. Uber has saturated the town." He highlights the detrimental effects of cross-border hiring, suggesting it "should be illegal" as it allows drivers licensed in other areas to undercut local operators, leading to an unsustainable competitive environment.

David Grant from Salisbury succinctly notes, "we haven’t got one [a nighttime economy] in Salisbury anymore". A stark testament to the disappearing nightlife. Similarly, Allan Miller from North Tyneside describes the shift in his work schedule to "a 9 to 5 job now... Night done for", with increasing expenses driving earnings "below minimum wage".


The narrative from Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle, echoes a common theme of a significant downturn from the vibrant nightlife of a decade ago, "not a patch on what it would’ve been 10 years ago!"


Lee Ward acknowledges that while the night economy has reduced due to factors like the smoking ban, increased drink prices, and the convenience of online entertainment, the core issue remains the influx of drivers from other areas. He suggests, "so many local issues can be resolved by ending cross-border hiring". He points out that this practice is diluting earnings for locally licensed drivers.


Junayed Iqbal adds another layer to the crisis, describing his local scene as "full of out-of-town drivers with battered cars and no enforcement". This lack of regulatory oversight has left the local market "completely dead", with licensed drivers "forced into poverty”.


Reflecting on broader societal changes, another cabbie remarks that "the young ‘uns don't go out in the towns like we did back in the '90s/2000s”, indicating a perceived shift in how younger generations engage with nightlife, further reducing demand for late-night taxi services.


Amidst the widespread decline, Gerard Shields from Greenock stands out with his report of a thriving nighttime scene, "busy, busy, busy". This outlier underscores that while many areas suffer, some pockets of activity remain, potentially offering a blueprint or hope for other struggling regions.

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