Taxi drivers have poured into Cardiff pleading for help from the Welsh Government as they say they can no longer support their families.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the country in March, the taxi trade has plummeted, and now drivers have said travel restrictions and curfews are killing the industry.
While the country has now re-opened after a second fire-break lockdown in late October/early November, and with the festive period well underway, taxi drivers said trade in the capital was still nowhere near where it should be for this time of the year.
The situation is said to be so dire for some drivers that they are earning just £15 in fares from an eight hour shift.
Hundreds of drivers gathered outside the Welsh Government offices in Park Place, Cardiff, on Tuesday, November 24 to encourage the government to support the drivers and the trade ‘before it’s too late’.
Shamish Kahn has been a taxi driver in Cardiff for 21 years. He said the 10pm curfew had a huge impact on trade in the city.
“It’s just getting worse and worse, I’ve never seen it like this since I’ve been a taxi driver,” he said.
“Yesterday, in an eight hour shift, I made £15, it’s just not enough. What can you get for £15? I can’t pay my car insurance and support my family earning money like that every day.
“You can sit around for hours, sometimes four hours, and then a small fare will come along. I used to do two or three trips an hour, now it’s that a day.
“It’s getting worse and worse day by day. I’ve never seen it like this before. In my day there were less taxis obviously but now there’s too many taxis and too many taxis from outside of Cardiff working in Cardiff as well.”
Shamish is also worried there is no end in sight for their issues. With the normally busy Christmas period set to be governed by restrictions, he said he wasn’t sure how the trade would survive.
“I’m worried because there will be no Christmas parties, there’ll be nobody coming out.
“10 o’ clock everything closes, who’s going to come out? I finish work at about 10:30 because my last fare is about 10:15. Nobody is coming out.
“I used to work 10:00pm to 5:00am, it’s none of that now.”
Although trade has been dwindling since March, today’s protest – which saw hackney cab drivers as well as those working for companies join together to take a stand against what they claim is inaction by the Welsh Government to support the trade.
“We’ve got no job, it’s dead, there is no job here now,” said Kalid Gahman, one driver taking part in the protest.
“We can’t even cover our expenses. We can’t cover our rent, our houses, we can’t buy food – we can’t survive. If it continues like this we’re going to die and we need support now.
“We need the Welsh Government to support us now, they have forgotten about us but are still helping other trades.
“I work 40 hours a week and do around two fares a day. It can’t carry on like this. We need help before it is too late.”
Unite Wales, which represents the cabbies and helped to organise the protest, said the industry had been “forgotten” about and that the Welsh Government had not considered the ‘unique’ challenge facing the trade.
The majority of taxi drivers are self-employed and are entitled to the UK government’s Self Employed Income Support Scheme grant extension. The grant, which is taxable, covers 80% of profits for November, December and January, up to a limit of £7,500.
Saleem Shahib has been a taxi driver in Cardiff for 22 years. He said the wage he now took home after a shift was not enough to support his family.
He said that while his incomings had been “cut by 90%” he still had the burden of paying his expenses on his cab – such as insurance and tax.
“We’re calling on the government because we need some support. There is no business and we can go and sit on the rank and every three or four hours there is a fare. We can make £25 or £30 but we can’t survive on this kind of money,” he said.
“I’ve got a family, I’ve got two daughters – one in university – it’s very hard to survive, we’re all struggling at the moment.
“Our insurance is still going on, our MOT is still going on, our road tax is still going on – our expense is still the same but our income is not coming in. That’s why we’re demonstrating today, we need some funds.
“The thing is the pub is closing at 10 o’clock so around that time we get two or three fares but after that there is no business. In eight or nine hours you will be lucky to make £30.
“In 22 years I’ve never seen this, this is the worst time for all taxi drivers.”
Driver Tariq Majid was involved in setting up the protest and said that many drivers were struggling both emotionally as well as financially with the hardships of the pandemic.
He said anxiety and depression among drivers was on the increase with many worrying how they would feed their families.
“You’re sat around twiddling your thumbs for three or four hours in a car, all you’ve got to do is think – any anxiety and depression can kick in – you can lose the will to do the job,” he said.
“So many times I’ve ended up just going home thinking, ‘I’ve been out four or five hours and I haven’t earned anything’ – you go home because you’ve failed in your task to earn anything.
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“We understand the importance of what’s going on at the moment in bringing the R rate down and we support it but the flip side of that – I’m a hackney driver so I would normally work a Thursday, Friday, Saturday until 5:00am in the morning – now I’m home by 10:30 if I can last that long.”
Alan McCarthy a regional officer for Unite Wales based in Cardiff, said the taxi trade in the city was uniquely affected by the pandemic.
“They don’t struggle inside lockdown and thrive outside of lockdown,” he said.
“The issue for taxi drivers is they rely so heavily on the hospitality sectors as well as other sectors, for them this misery has lasted since March.
“Because of cross bordering with vehicles based outside of Cardiff coming into the city to work, the wage they’d had before covid was already much less than the living wage in real terms, so the self-employed grant is only providing them a proportion of something that was not fit for purpose.
“The industry has been absolutely decimated to be honest.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Funding has been available through the local authority discretionary grant and non-domestic relief, but we recognise the extent of the challenge that coronavirus has caused. We are in regular discussion with the sector and will continue to review what support can be made available.
“We are taking on board the safety concerns expressed by unions and are considering what support could be provided to address the welfare of passengers and drivers.”