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DRIVERS’ STORIES: The impact of the pandemic on London’s taxi trade

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

According to taxi representatives, London’s cabbies need urgent financial support to ‘save taxi drivers from ruin’.

Over 3,500 iconic black cabs have been lost from London’s streets since the first lockdown ended in June due to the low-levels of work during the pandemic.

To halt the rapid decline, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), a trade body which represents half of London’s more than 21,500 black cab drivers, has launched a campaign, Taxi Drivers Can’t Work From Home to highlight the devastating impact of the pandemic on the taxi trade and the need for more support for the industry from the Government.

A spokesperson from the LTDA said: “The Government must step in and urgently provide additional financial support to save taxi drivers from ruin, protect an important part of the transport system and ensure that the many jobs and wider economic benefits the taxi trade provides are not lost.

“Meanwhile, Transport for London and the London Boroughs must also take steps to restore confidence in the future of the trade and ensure that drivers can continue to ply for hire effectively across London, now and in the future.

“Use funding provided by government to support businesses forced to close to also support taxi drivers, following the example of other local authorities and regions.”

Whilst many of London’s taxi drivers can claim some support offered via the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), the grants do not take into account the high running costs associated with running a taxi.

John, a cab driver from Bexleyheath and member of the LTDA, said: “I have been a London taxi driver for 10 years. I love my job and work hard to support my family. As an industry, we are continuing to suffer with every new COVID-19 restriction the government implements, which has a knock-on effect on trade in London. Like many drivers, I have lost most of my income since this crisis began, but I have not been able to get any support from the government.

“To be able to claim through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), you must have shown profits for two out of the last three tax years. Unfortunately, I have purchased two cabs since 2016 and claimed capital allowances, as they were business assets. This means that on my tax self-assessment, I recorded a loss in 2016/17, when I bought a diesel taxi and also in 2018/19, when I bought a new zero emission capable (ZEC) taxi.

“I have therefore not been eligible for any support through the SEISS or any other kind of financial support like Universal Credit, despite having always worked hard and done the right thing. I feel like I am being penalised for investing in a clean, green vehicle. We are now struggling to pay the bills and keep our heads above water. I feel like me and my family have been abandoned by the government.”

Lisa, a London black cab driver from Enfield, said: “I have had my badge for nine years and over that time I have loved being a London taxi driver, it’s the best job I have ever had and I was proud to do it every day. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on my livelihood and completely changed my life.

“Trade collapsed during lockdown and my income fell to almost nothing. I was one of the lucky one able to get help from the government with the grant for the self-employed, which was a godsend. I wouldn’t have been able to survive without it.

“It took me five years to pass the knowledge but the time I invested was well worth it and I had thought I would carry on driving a cab until I retired

“However, with the costs of keeping the cab on the road and less money coming in, I was worried about the future and needed some security, so with a heavy heart I made the decision to give up the cab trade, at least for the time being. I was able to find a job working for a supermarket warehouse picking deliveries and I am lucky that I did so early on, as I am not sure this would be as easy to do given where we are now, with record levels of unemployment.

“I am hoping to be back as soon as possible, hopefully next year if things get back to normal but who knows what will happen.”

Barry, a London cabbie from Orpington, said: “I have had my badge for 15 years and am extremely proud to be a London taxi driver.

“I bought a new cab nearly three years ago on a lease agreement, where I made monthly payments for three years and if I intended to keep the cab after that period, I could make a balloon payment.

“The balloon payment of £22,000 is now due. I contacted the finance company to arrange a finance agreement to allow me to keep and pay off the vehicle. I was refused due to my current financial situation, as like most drivers my income has fallen significantly. I am now being forced to give the cab back as I do not have the means to make the full payment. Pre-Covid, I never missed a single payment.

“My cab is my livelihood, I don’t know what I will do next. All the stress and uncertainty has also affected my mental health.”

Ellis, a London cab driver living in Cheam, said: “I got my badge in May 2017 and after a few years in trade, I decided to purchase a new TXE, zero emission cab in May 2019, taking out a finance agreement. Business was good until the pandemic hit.

“I was lucky to get a six-month payment holiday from the finance company, which helped me through the first wave. I was quietly confident that, with day work picking up, I would be ok to cover my monthly finance going forward.

“Two days after resuming my monthly instalments, the government announced the new restrictions and the work levels dropped back to around 20% of the norm. I called the finance company to check my options and was told I had three options: pay the monthly instalments, pay a reduced instalment calculated by my household income/expenses (which was negative) but then be in credit arrears until payments are caught up, or return the vehicle and pay off the remainder of my finance in whole.

“I tried to earn enough money to pay the next instalment, but it just wasn’t possible. The advisor I spoke to suggested I might want to find a new career! I spent a lot of time and money to complete the Knowledge and the idea that I could lose my cab and my career is absolutely devastating. If I had more financial support to help me get through next few months, I know I could pick up where I left off and have a bright future. But at this rate, when restrictions ease, I won’t have a cab or a way to make a living.”

As part of the campaign highlighting the problems faced by black cab drivers in the capita the LTDA are asking government to:

  • Provide additional targeted financial support for struggling drivers, similar to that provided for the hospitality sector to ensure the viable taxi trade is not put out of business permanently by the pandemic and measures to halt its spread.

  • Further increase the level of support provided through the Self-Employment Income Support Grant Extension and ensure this is in line with the amount of support provided for those in employment.

  • Encourage the safe use of licensed taxis where appropriate by issuing more detailed safer travel guidance specifically for the taxi trade and introduce an incentive, discount scheme for passengers, as restrictions ease and alert levels reduce.

The LTDA are also calling on Transport for London (TfL) and London’s Boroughs to:

  • Stop removing taxi access to key routes and important thoroughfares and give licensed taxis the same access as buses to London’s roads.

  • Better promote the role of taxis as part of the public transport system and a way to travel for those less able to walk and cycle during the pandemic.


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