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FLEXIBLE WORKING: The taxi trade must seize the post-covid opportunity

Thousands of businesses across the UK will have started preparing to get their employees back to the office, whether that’s under the same working patterns as pre-COVID, or for some a more flexible working pattern that incorporates some ‘Working From Home’ (WFH).

The pandemic has forced much of the workforce into working from the confines of their own four walls through periods of the pandemic. Companies and workers have found ways to adapt and function away from familiar office space and the daily commute.

This might suggest that office culture may look different post-pandemic, but how will this affect public transport and in particular the taxi industry?

It’s looking more likely that workers will be offered more choice in where they work. It’s however unlikely that the majority of workers will leave the office environment altogether, with a more flexible WFH and Work From Office (WFO) favoured by both employer and employee.

Whilst the pandemic has highlighted that WFH can be achieved, it has also highlighted the downsides too.

Howard Dawber, Head of Strategy at Canary Wharf Group, told the BBC that people still wish to divide their time between the workplace and home.

During the pandemic the Canary Wharf financial district situated in East London has only had around 6% of people in its buildings compared to 100,000 pre-COVID. Whilst speaking on the BBC's Today programme, Dawber suggests that people will be eager to get back in the office after so long away from their colleagues.

Dawber said: "We've got to the point where there is a lot of fatigue out there."

He added: "Working from home for the first couple of months of last year when the sun was shining and people were enjoying perhaps a more flexible environment, there was a sense that this was going to be a short-term process.

"I think now people are really missing that opportunity to collaborate with and just see their friends in the office, to get your hair cut, to go and get a good coffee at lunchtime, and to do all the life admin things you can do in a city centre."

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak also supported the need to get people back in the office.

He told the Telegraph that workers could potentially "vote with their feet" and consider moving to a rival if WFH was made full-time.

Sunak said: "You can't beat the spontaneity, the team building, the culture that you create in a firm or an organisation from people actually spending physical time together."

The Chancellor also detailed how important the office environment is for younger workers looking to understand how a firm works and develop in the company.

Taking this into account, it is the traditional five-days a week of commuting that is under threat and not the ad-hoc flexible mobility that the taxi industry can cater for. Train, bus and underground companies will all be concerned over whether their customers, who spend thousands of pounds on season tickets, will still need to make the huge outlay.

If the bread-and-butter income of annual season tickets reduces, expect public transport operators to change the pricing on daily tickets to cover the revenue lost.

There is a strong opinion that commuters will instead use safer and more personal modes of mobility on the days that they do travel to their workplace. With more money in their pocket, saved from season ticket travel, purpose-built taxis are well placed to seize the opportunity.

Mariusz Zabrocki, UK General Manager at FREE NOW, told TaxiPoint: “I expect people to move away from buses, tube and rail and increasingly choose more personal ways of transport, apart from taxi and PHV, that would be bikes and e-scooters for example.

“On balance, I expect the industry to come back to pre-Covid levels by the end of the year, with taxis recovering stronger than PHV due to additional personal space and perceived safety. Over the past year on the FREE NOW platform, taxi has been recovering much stronger than PHV when lockdowns were lifted and its share in our business has increased substantially.”

Juraj Atlas, CEO of Mileus, told TaxiPoint: “This shift in working arrangements will

create a unique opportunity for the taxi industry that can take advantage of the newly found discretionary income of these knowledge workers. This should already bring some additional demand for taxi services as we know them.”

Atlas continued: “I am a firm believer that we won't stay working from home post- pandemic, even if our occupation does not require our presence in the office at all. At least not every working day. Instead, I think we will adopt a new weekly rhythm combining WFH and WFO.

“This newly formed rhythm will lead to a decreased commute demand compared to the pre- pandemic times as some occupations, especially among knowledge workers, will start splitting their workweek between WFH for some days and commuting to their work location a day or two within a week.

“As a result, the costs of commuting (discomfort and price) will decrease in line with the commute needs of the knowledge workers, now commuting only one to three times a week rather than the previous five times a week.”

It would certainly seem post-lockdown there is an opportunity for the taxi industry to recover quickly, with changes to working habits and mobility an area with great potential to be seized.


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