Taxi drivers gathered to protest in Belfast on Monday, leaving Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon facing questions from frustrated cabbies outside Stormont.
Since the coronavirus hit Northern Ireland and forcing it into lockdown, taxi drivers have been asking for clear guidance and financial support to help them survive the sharp downturn in work.
A large number of both public and private hire taxis converged outside Belfast’s Parliament Buildings to protest. Banners were displayed referencing #TaxiDriversMatter whilst cabbies sounded their horns.
Much to the surprise of the protesters, the Infrastructure Minister did take the time to speak directly to the taxi drivers, answering questions and listening to concerns for around half an hour.
The group submitted a briefing document detailing the stark issues currently facing Northern Ireland’s 8,580 licensed taxi driver and their families.
According to the briefing: “Approximately 40% of drivers failed to qualify for any of the different government funding schemes that were designed to help during the COVID-19.
“The reality of this is that many drivers across our industry now have little or no income but still have major monthly financial outgoings to cover including: vehicle finance, taxi insurance (much more expensive than regular car insurance), mortgages, food and utility bills.”
The briefing document adds: “Despite the welcomed announcements by the NI Executive regarding the relaxation of measures as our economy starts to emerge from lock down - the taxi industry has absolutely no idea how long it will be before our business returns to any sort or pre-Covid level, this is leaving many of us on the breadline.”
Finally the statement details what the taxi industry could be facing should no further support be provided. The statement reads: “COVID-19 has brought real stress, anxiety and worry to the doors of every taxi driver in Northern Ireland but this is increased further with all the additional worries drivers face when trying to ensure they operate within the law e.g. their vehicle's PSV, driving licence renewed or how long it will be before they will be making enough money to pay bills - this might just be too much for some drivers in our industry to cope with and we worry for their mental health.”
Karl Black, a Private Hire driver and member of the Taxi Drivers Matter Group, said: “Northern Ireland taxi drivers have been asking for advice and support from the NI Stormont Assembly since March 2020, but we have been passed around the different departments like a political football while other parts of the public transport system like buses and airports received funding and support.”
Black continued saying: “Today, probably for the first time in its history, all sections of the taxi industry in Northern Ireland came together and went to our Assembly at Stormont with the aim of handing in a briefing document on how drivers feel they have been let down as well as providing some suggestions on how we could be helped.
“To our surprise we were met be the Department of Infrastructure Minister, Nichola Mallon, and fair play to her, she spent 30 minutes both listening and answering questions from the drivers before being shown how some drivers have fitted screens to their vehicles.
“We wait with interest on what her next move is, but rest assured, we have started a movement for change.”