The coronavirus lockdown, social distancing rules and instructions to work from home are putting Brighton and Hove’s taxi trade at risk, according to a long-serving local cabbie.
GMB representative Andrew Peters said that self-employed taxi and private hire drivers had been hit hard as trade was significantly down.
What work there was brought drivers close to members of the public, putting them at risk of catching the virus or bringing it home to their families, Mr Peters said.
He added that most local drivers were self-employed and suddenly had no income.
The government has announced support for the self-employed, based on 80 per cent of trading profits for the past three years, but this did not take into account the cost of running a vehicle.
Mr Peters said that these costs were usually deducted from gross takings and that this was a common problem for all self-employed people.
He shared a comment from one driver who felt desperate because of the lack of money.
The driver said: “I’ve got to carry on until either I get the virus or am told to stop.
“No savings, £200 left on a credit card that’s maxed out and dinner tonight is a sausage roll and packet of cheddars.
“I need some kind of proper help from the government. I earned just over £60 last week, once I’d paid for the cab, the fuel and fuel to come to work.
“They say suicide is painless. I’ve never felt more like finding out.”
Mr Peters said: “I have spoken to the driver and thankfully he is feeling better but there a dark cloud looming over the horizon on not only the taxi and private hire trade here in the city but also over all the trade in the UK.”
He said that the directors of Streamline, a drivers’ co-operative, were doing all that they could to keep the service running and offering discounts to NHS workers and vulnerable members of the community.
The taxi trade was working closely with Brighton and Hove City Council’s taxi licensing department to support drivers, he said.
One of the issues was relicensing as vehicles must pass a compliance test, an enhanced form of an MoT certificate, and approved centres were closing.
Drivers also need an enhanced medical and faced difficulty booking examinations with their regular doctor.
Mr Peters said: “If the drivers and proprietors of vehicles cannot arrange to be relicensed due to these unforeseen circumstances then these licences may be revoked unless the government changes legislation on this. But we have been told by licensing that things may change daily.”
He said that his own taxi was relicensed in March but had not moved since.
He urged drivers and owners going through a tough time to seek help and information from www.bhtaxinews.cab.
Brighton and Hove City Council said: “We are aware that business for taxi drivers has dropped dramatically since the start of covid-19.
“However, we have a duty to ensure that the public is safe when travelling in a taxi, that drivers are fit and proper persons to hold a licence and that vehicles remain roadworthy and have insurance.
“We have put together an information sheet for drivers which offers some alternatives if medicals or vehicle testing are not available. We will review this document if the situation changes.
“We have also suggested ways for drivers and proprietors to make applications to us as there is currently no face to face contact.”
Labour councillor Jackie O’Quinn, who chairs the council’s Licensing Committee, said that she had kept in touch with trade representatives and the licensing team to offer support.
She said: “I am very worried about the impact of this emergency on the taxi trade as most drivers live a hand-to-mouth existence dependent on their daily takings.
“There is very little work at the moment and it will take time to get benefits through for the self-employed.
“It’s also worrying about the future of the taxi trade as great financial pressure is being placed on some of our taxi companies.
“The city needs a good taxi service which has close links with the local authority in order to maintain high standards.”