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THE DECLINING TREND OF PART-TIME TAXI DRIVING: What are the challenges and will it ever return?

Updated: May 13

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

In recent years, the traditional image of the part-time taxi driver, who works another job or chooses to top up their pension, has increasingly faded. This decline is a result of several pressing challenges within the industry, each contributing to the diminishing appeal of part-time taxi driving.

The taxi sector has been hit hard by a series of events. The COVID-19 pandemic, the expansion of the gig economy, and the transition towards electric vehicles have collectively accelerated the reduction in part-time drivers. This shift significantly impacts passenger service during critical times, such as peak hours and special events.

One primary cause for the exodus of part-time drivers is the escalating operating expenses associated with modern taxi driving. The shift to zero-emission capable (ZEC) and electric taxis, while beneficial for the environment, comes with high initial costs. Coupled with the surge in fuel prices, these factors make it increasingly difficult for part-time drivers to maintain profitability.

Traditionally, part-time drivers would offset costs by purchasing older, more affordable taxis. However, many such vehicles have been phased out in efforts to promote cleaner, more efficient urban transport. This change undermines the viability of the part-time model. Rental firms, responding to increased demand from full-time drivers for newer models, have raised prices and reduces the availability of vehicles suitable for part-time drivers.

Moreover, the introduction of "clean air zones" in several cities has forced a faster-than-expected shift in fleet composition. These zones impose additional fees on less environmentally friendly vehicles, pushing drivers to either invest in new models or in some cities invest in retrofits. The combined effect of these financial pressures leads many part-time drivers to leave the industry altogether.

The demographic changes within the taxi driving community further illuminate this trend. In 2020, the average age of taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers was 50, with only 21% under 40 and a significant 25% aged 60 or over. By the present day, the average age has slightly decreased to 48, but the proportion of drivers over 60 has dropped to 16%, indicating a wave of retirements during the pandemic. This age group was more inclined towards part-time driving, and their departure suggests a permanent shift in the workforce.

Looking ahead, the question remains: Will part-time taxi driving ever regain its former appeal? In the short term, the outlook is not promising. However, the growth of the second-hand electric taxi market could eventually lower entry barriers for new and returning part-time drivers.

Ultimately, the future of part-time taxi driving will depend on how well the industry can lower its operating costs. Revenue can be increased as taxi tariffs catch up on inflation, but the vehicle costs and availability of cheaper vehicles must also move for part-time working to become an option again.


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