Taxi to nowhere: Virus measures hit London cabs

London cabs parked in a field in Epping. Picking up a fare has become so hard for London’s legendary black cabs that many taxis are being mothballed. (AFP)
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Updated 21 November 2020

Taxi to nowhere: Virus measures hit London cabs

  • Drivers unable to keep paying for their vehicles are handing them back in droves

EPPING: Tony Georgiou sighed as he stood in front of a field full of parked taxi cabs, admitting he has lost count of how many are there.

Many London taxi drivers rent their instantly recognizable black cabs from fleet companies such as GB Taxi Services, where Georgiou is one of the owners.
But with London’s streets emptied by the coronavirus lockdown, many drivers are unable to keep paying for their vehicles and are handing them back in droves.
“There’s probably around 150 to 200 vehicles that are here, which we’ve had to take off the road,” said Georgiou, whose company has parked its vehicles in Epping northeast of the capital. “I’ve lost count.”
Famed worldwide, the British capital’s bulbous black cabs were originally designed to accommodate a passenger in a top hat.
To earn a license, drivers have to pass a fiendishly difficult exam called “The Knowledge,” which tests their recall of streets, routes and landmarks purely from memory.
But fields full of taxis are now a mass phenomenon, said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA).
“It’s happening all over, all round the M25 there are fields with cabs like that,” said McNamara, referring to the main orbital motorway around London.
He called the situation “totally and utterly unprecedented” and “already not survivable for some.”

FASTFACT

The LTDA has about 11,000 members out of a total number of about 20,000 black cab drivers in the city.

Georgiou said that about 50 of the parked vehicles have already been targeted by thieves who removed catalytic converters and diesel particulate filters that will cost some £120,000 ($160,000) to replace.
“I couldn’t tell you if we are confident to get through this at the moment. It is a struggle,” he said of his company, which has been operating for more than 16 years.
Currently, only some 20 percent of cabs are operating, McNamara said, basing the assessment on the association’s own vehicle counts and official figures from Heathrow Airport.
The LTDA has about 11,000 members out of a total number of about 20,000 black cab drivers in the city.
McNamara now wants taxi drivers to get more financial support from the government, arguing that they recently invested in costly electric cabs and electronic payment machines. Covid is “without doubt the prime factor” for falling numbers of taxis, he said.
Uber and other ride-hailing apps are “absolutely not” a factor, he added, arguing that their prices have crept up and drivers are unpredictable.
Those cabbies still on the road may be earning 20 percent of their usual income, which can range from £15,000 to £80,000 per year.
“We’ve lost 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles since June,” he said.
Some drivers have switched to making deliveries for supermarkets but the “vast majority” are not working, he added.
According to official figures from Transport for London (TfL), the number of licensed black cabs has gone down from more than 19,000 on March 1 this year to just under 15,000 on November 8.
A TfL spokesman said that it had advised drivers on how to stay safe and mentally healthy during the pandemic and they have had grants to help them buy low-emission vehicles.
Drivers are “calling on the government for more support” rather than TfL, he said. One cab driver, Sam Houston, was waiting in a queue at Heathrow to get a fare.
With air travel constrained, hitting tourism, he said that the wait could be 20 to 24 hours instead of the normal three.
The 45-year-old has been a taxi driver for eight years and says that in normal circumstances it is a “good living.”
But the COVID-19 period is “the most difficult time I’ve ever experienced,” he said.
“The feeling it’s a semi-permanent change to the economy, a lot of people are finding that incredibly frightening.”
While some taxi drivers have claimed self-employed furlough payouts from the government, many have not qualified, he said, urging “targeted support for our industry from local government and national government.”
McNamara said that taxi drivers should be singled out for help, in the same way that government helped restaurants try to bounce back after their enforced closure.
“We’ve been hit equally hard, if not harder than the hospitality sector,” he said.


US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

Updated 29 November 2020

US sanctions Chinese and Russian firms over Iran trade

  • Four companies accused of ‘transferring sensitive technology and items’ to missile program

LONDON: The US has slapped economic sanctions on four Chinese and Russian companies that Washington claims helped to support Iran’s missile program.

The four were accused of “transferring sensitive technology and items to Iran’s missile program” and will be subject to restrictions on US government aid and their exports for two years, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The sanctions, imposed on Wednesday, were against two Chinese-based companies, Chengdu Best New Materials and Zibo Elim Trade, as well as Russia’s Nilco Group and joint stock company Elecon.

“These measures are part of our response to Iran’s malign activities,” said Pompeo. “These determinations underscore the continuing need for all countries to remain vigilant to efforts by Iran to advance its missile program. We will continue to work to impede Iran’s missile development efforts and use our sanctions authorities to spotlight the foreign suppliers, such as these entities in the PRC and Russia, that provide missile-related materials and technology to Iran.”

The Trump administration has ramped up sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Earlier this week, Pompeo met Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah, when the campaign of pressure on the Iranian regime was also discussed.

“I want to thank Kuwait for its support of the maximum pressure campaign. Together, we are denying Tehran money, resources, wealth, weapons with which they would be able to commit terror acts all across the region,” he said.

It is not yet clear how the incoming administration of Joe Biden will deal with Tehran and whether it wants to revive the nuclear deal which would be key reviving the country’s battered economy. The Iranian rial has lost about half of its value this year against the dollar, fueling inflation and deepening the damage to the economy.

Iran’s economy would grow as much as 4.4 percent next year if sanctions were lifted, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) said last week. 

The economy is expected to contract by about 6.1 percent in 2020 according to IIF estimates.