How European private hire taxi drivers are adapting to a post-COVID world

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(© Rainer Fuhrmann – stock.adobe.com)

Figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show male taxi drivers had higher rates of deaths involving coronavirus than doctors, nurses and care workers. But that’s not the worst of their problems. All across the world taxi drivers are facing bankruptcy due to the public’s fears for their safety. So, what are their European counterparts doing to combat this?

Taxi drivers are among the worst hit because they face many risk factors. The nature of the job means that they are in close proximity to customers – it is hard to socially distance in a taxi. Private-hire drivers are particularly at risk because there is no physical barrier separating the driver and the passengers. And the risk is increased by longer journeys, and stagnant air from closed windows. But, private hire taxi drivers still need to make a living, so they have no choice but to work.

In England, it is now mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings on public transport, but for taxis, the advice by the UK government on the wearing of masks has been inconsistent, and at the moment it’s only advisory. And there is no regulatory guidance on plastic-screen partitions. There is no consensus on what precautions must be taken to protect drivers and passengers from local authorities either. Procedures differ by region, leaving many operators uncertain and left to make their own decisions. It’s little wonder that the public lacks confidence in the private hire taxi industry.

So how do European taxi drivers do it?

Taxi drivers are considered an important part of the fight against COVID-19 in many parts of the world, especially when many of the public transport facilities offer limited services. Many are being used to transport key-workers, food, groceries and medication during a time when travel has been severely restricted.

In Germany, for example, taxis form part of the local public transportation systems and have a legal obligation to operate unless told otherwise. But the outbreak has forced many taxi companies out of service due to a steep drop in demand.

Those that remain in service have had to adapt to stay afloat and taxi companies across Germany have started broadening their services in a bid to offset the financial damage. In Cologne, for example, taxi companies are now offering to pick up groceries or medicine for clients and deliver it to their homes. Taxis in Düsseldorf and Hamburg are also providing similar delivery services.

Taxi drivers in Germany are doing their utmost to reduce the risk of infection to themselves and their passengers, disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning car seats, door handles and other areas after every passenger and the vehicles are completely disinfected at the end of each shift. And in Berlin, the Taxi Guild has secured a supply of masks for drivers and is outfitting the city’s taxis with plastic screens.

In Paris, the French taxi union, Union Nationale Des Taxis Parisian (UNT), are handing out protective face masks to the city’s taxi drivers, in a bid to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The taxi industry in Italy, like most industries in the country, has been hit heavily. Total lockdowns and no tourism have provided very little work to a once vibrant trade. And just like in Germany and France, the demand for taxis has plummeted, but because taxis in Italy must guarantee a certain supply of cars available, taxi drivers need to provide the service in case doctors, nurses, the elderly, pharmacists or those who work in the food supply chain needs it, even if this means that they are standing around waiting for hours.

The Italian Ministry of Transport ensures that all taxi drivers operate under the same laws. This means that they are equipped with protective masks and gloves, there is a ban on passengers sitting next to the driver and no more than two customers can occupy the back seats at once. Transparent screens reduce the risk of contagion between the passenger and the driver.

Re-building the public’s trust

The situation throughout Europe and the world is slowly changing. Restrictions are easing and the public is beginning to return to some sense of normality. But how we travel is likely to change dramatically and the way private hire taxi drivers operate will be different. They will need to adapt by taking all necessary safety and hygiene precautions to protect passengers.

It is essential that the private hire taxi industry restores the public’s confidence and we can only do this by having clarity across the board for private hire taxi drivers. The first step of which is to establish a set of rules around hygiene that firms and drivers must adhere to. We can look to Europe for examples; vehicles being regularly deep cleaned, face masks being made compulsory, hand sanitisers available to drivers and passengers as well as card payments being made via an app or other contactless method.

With the public taking extra precautions and wary of close contact, people need to know what precautions are in place. Taxi companies and private hire must take the necessary but simple steps to restore public trust and encourage people to start using private hire taxi services again.

If you’re a private hire taxi driver looking to keep your costs low, then you might want to check to see if you’re getting the most cost-effective private hire taxi insurance. You can compare private hire policies from a wide range of insurance providers using Utility Saving Expert to get the best price for your insurance.

Story by Chris Richards


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