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What is prompting the decline in part-time UK taxi drivers and will they ever return?

Updated: May 12, 2023

Before the pandemic, many taxi drivers would work part-time to earn extra income, supplement their primary job, or enjoy the flexibility the job has to offer. However, fewer drivers are now choosing to do so due to a variety of factors.

The taxi industry has faced multiple challenges over the past few years, whether that be the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of the gig-economy or changes in regulations.

These factors combined have sped up the decline in part-time taxi drivers, which has in turn affected passenger coverage during peak times of the day or year.

Why have the part-time drivers left the trade?

One significant reason is the high operating costs that come with driving a taxi. New zero emission capable (ZEC) and electric taxis are not cheap to buy and the rising fuel costs have hit the taxi industry harder than others.

Historically, part-time drivers would rely on buying older, and cheaper, taxis to licence. Many of the older taxi vehicles have now been removed from the roads as part of schemes to fast track cleaner taxis, but as a result the part-time working model can no-longer be achieved. Rental firms have also found more demand for newer taxis from full-time cabbies which has pushed up prices and reduced availability for part-time cabbies.

To add to the problems some cities have introduced "clean air zones", which has required drivers and fleets to invest quicker than first planned. Drivers hoping to work part-time can neither afford the high costs attached to buying or renting a new vehicle, or pay the extra daily charges. To the detriment of the local transport network, cabbies instead decide to call it a day.

Like with many things, the pandemic sped up trends and the demographics of the taxi industry were not favourable. In 2020 the average age of a taxi and PHV driver was 50-years-old. Only 21% of drivers were aged under 40 and a quarter were aged 60 or over.

Fast forward to present day and the average age of a driver has decreased slightly to 48-years-old. Notably though those aged 60 or over made up just 16% of drivers, suggesting planned or early retirement was taken during the peak of the pandemic.

Those older drivers, who were more likely to work part-time, are not coming back.

Will part-time taxi driving ever be viable again?

Not in the short-term, but as the second-hand electric taxi market grows there’ll certainly be more opportunity further down the line. That said, technology and legislation is changing so rapidly. With the introduction of longer electric range taxis looming and even autonomous on the horizon, will part-time cab driving return like yesteryear? Probably not.


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