Spain’s taxi drivers struggle to survive during coronavirus crisis

As in many other countries affected by the coronavirus crisis, taxi drivers in Spain are struggling to get by on what little work they can find. (Twitter photo)
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Updated 19 April 2020

Spain’s taxi drivers struggle to survive during coronavirus crisis

  • As passenger numbers have dwindled, cabbies face twin threats of financial ruin and COVID-19

MADRID: Since a state of emergency was declared in Spain on March 14 in an attempt to combat the coronavirus pandemic, cities have become ghost towns. There are few people on the streets, which is threatening the survival of many businesses.

The taxi and ride-sharing sector is particularly badly affected, with activity paralyzed by the lockdown, a lack of tourists and the cancellation of events. Most companies and drivers report steep declines in the number of customers of more than 90 percent and, as a result, earnings have plummeted.

According to the City of Madrid website, there are about 15,000 taxi cabs in the city, the drivers of which are counting the financial cost of the health crisis. Taxi associations across the country are highlighting the effect the dramatic situation is having on the sector and drivers’ lives.

“We had to reduce the fleet by 50 percent,” said Jose Miguel Funez, spokesman for the Professional Federation of Taxi in Madrid. “The financial situation is really bad for everyone in the sector, especially since we still have to pay license expenses to the state every month. So far we have received no help from the government.”

Taxi drivers are struggling to get by on what little work they can find. Fernando Garcia is a self-employed cabbie in Madrid who got his license in December last year, which means he has more expenses to pay than some other drivers.

“We used to work eight to 10 hours a day to get a good income,” he said. “We could even do 16 hours, which is the maximum permitted, although it is a lot of work. Now we accept as little as 5 hours and we get no more than 40 euros a day.”


75,000 assistance

The Professional Federation of Taxi in Madrid has provided some 75,000 free assistance to health workers since the COVID-19 emergency began

Some drivers cannot live on such a low income and have had to apply for a temporary redundancy scheme provided by the Spanish government called ERTE.

“I used to work 5 days a week, between 14 and 16 hours,” said Antonio Salvador, who also drives a taxi in Madrid “When the government announced the state of emergency we started to get fewer and fewer clients, and it was impossible to survive with this. I was earning as little as 15 euros a day. I still had to buy gas, give a percentage to my boss and pay for health insurance. My situation was getting worse and I had to request an ERTE.”

This crisis has also hit drivers who work for ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify, a sector known in Spain as VTC (private car with driver). Raul Siguero, a Cabify driver in Madrid, said that the minimal amount of work that is available represents a huge decline from pre-coronavirus levels.

“We do many fewer journeys compared with before,” he added. “I used to earn about 5,500 euros a month. This has been reduced to approximately 1,300 euros, which illustrates the bad situation we are facing.”

Other companies that provide specialist car services are also facing a financial crisis. Pedro Núñez is CEO of VIP Class, which provides cars and drivers in Madrid and Barcelona, primarily to business clients, tourists and people attending events.

“Now we can barely cover the monthly company expenses, excluding the employees’ salaries,” he said. “The daily average of a driver’s billing was 300 euros, now it is much less. It doesn’t exceed 65 euros. We had to apply for ERTE for half of the staff. We assigned the other half to work for VTC services such as Uber and Cabify to help us survive until this crisis ends.”

In addition to financial effects of the pandemic, drivers are also worried about their health and safety, in particular when they are taking passengers to and from medical centers, or healthcare workers to and from the homes of sick patients. Some hygiene measures have been implemented in an attempt to protect drivers and passengers but challenges remain.

“We have five machines that disinfect the cars of our 6,000 members on a daily basis at our headquarters, but we are running out of (sanitizing) gel, masks and gloves as we don’t receive any supplies from the government,” said Professional Federation of Taxi spokesman Funez. “We are looking for our own solutions to protect our drivers.”

Taxi driver Garcia said: “Most of the passengers in the mornings are office workers but in the afternoon we take a lot of people to or from hospitals, so I need to clean constantly. I have disinfectant that I obtained from the pharmacy, the same one that they use to clean their counters. I clean after every two or three journeys, whenever I consider it appropriate.”

Despite the lack of proper safety and health measures and supplies, taxi and VTC drivers continue to provide free travel for health workers who need to visit infected patients in their homes. Funez explained that his federation provides an app called Pide Taxi (Order a taxi) that healthcare workers can use to request free transport to visit elderly patients and people in remote areas. Since the emergency began, they said more than 75,000 free assistance have been provided.




Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago

Religion, no bar: Muslim group cremates Hindus as virus fear grips Mumbai

  • Officials say a majority are under lockdown or afraid to perform last rites

NEW DELHI: Pratamesh Walavalker was always proud of living in a well-connected area with neighbors and relatives who look out for each other.

However, the resident of Dombivali East, nearly 70 kilometers from India’s financial capital Mumbai, experienced a harsh reality check on Thursday.

None of his neighbors or more than 100 relatives responded to his calls for help when his 57-year-old father died of coronavirus-related complications.

Help, he said, finally arrived in the form of Iqbal Mamdani and his group of Muslim volunteers, who took his father’s body to a cremation ground for his last rites.

“No one came to our help, not even my close neighbor. There is so much panic among people about COVID-19 that our own don’t come near us. The Muslim volunteers helped us in this hour of crisis,” Walavalker, 28, told Arab News.

That same night, 50-year-old Mamdani and his group of volunteers helped another family perform the last rites of an 80-year-old Hindu woman who had also fallen victim to the disease.

The group was formed in late March after a local civic body said: “All dead bodies of COVID-19 patients should be cremated at the nearest crematorium irrespective of religion.”

After reports of a Muslim man being cremated in the Malwani area of the city angered the community, several members met with the authorities and managed to revise the order.

Since then, Mamdani said members of Mumbai’s Bada Qabrastan — the largest cemetery in the city — have extended their services to other communities as well.

“We get calls from different hospitals and people, and they seek our help in taking bodies to their final resting place. We decided to help the victims at this hour of crisis when there was chaos and panic in the city with the number of coronavirus cases increasing every day,” he told Arab News.

So far, the group has buried 450 Muslim bodies and cremated over 250 Hindu bodies.

He said their efforts would have been impossible without the Jama Masjid Trust, which oversees the Bada Qabrastan.

“On our request, the government allowed us to bury the dead bodies in seven burial grounds in the city,” he said.

There was one problem, however.

“No one was willing to come forward to collect dead bodies from the hospital and bring them to the cemetery,” Mamdani said.

Through word of mouth, Mamdani said seven Muslim volunteers quickly offered to help out.

The first challenge the group faced was a lack of ambulances, due to a shortage in supply as a result of the pandemic.

At first, they tried renting a private ambulance, “but the owner would not rent their vehicles for carrying COVID-19 victims,” Mamdani said.

With no other option left, the group decided to pool their resources and buy abandoned ambulances.

Mamdani said: “We managed to get 10 such vehicles from different parts of the city. With the help of mechanics and other resources, within eight days we managed to roll out the ambulances on the road.”

When the volunteers began gathering Muslim bodies from the hospital, they realized that several Hindu bodies had been left unclaimed, as their relatives “were too scared to perform the last rites.”

Mamdani said another factor behind unclaimed Hindu bodies was quarantine. The lockdown forced relatives to stay indoors and avoid the cremation grounds.

Experts have praised the efforts of the group.

“The Muslim volunteers have been really great support. They started working at a time when there was total chaos and panic in Mumbai,” Dr. Sulbha Sadaphule of Cooper Hospital, Mumbai, told Arab News.

Of the 820,000 COVID-19 cases in India, 100,000 are in Mumbai, where around 5,500 people have lost their lives from the nationwide fatality count of around 22,500.

“The morgue was overflowing with bodies because of a lack of ambulances and staff. When hospital staff and health workers were short in numbers they were helping us and the people,” added Dr. Sadaphule.

Mamdani said they would not have done it any other way.

“India is a country of religious harmony and we believe there should be no discrimination on the basis of religion. With this motto we decided to perform the last rites on behalf of the Hindu families with the support of the police and relatives,” he said.