By Grahame Anderson

The recent pandemic has highlighted yet again, being a 21st century taxi driver can in some people’s eyes still be akin to modern slavery in some instances. Long hours, poor pay, verbal abuse, risk of COVID and high fees all make the role of the modern day taxi driver a very difficult one, especially for those who come from a BAME background.

Taxi Increase

According to The Office For National Statistics since 1972 the numbers of licensed taxis in England and Wales outside London has followed an increasing trend. However, the rate of increase has been very different: compared to 1972 the numbers of licensed taxis more than tripled in England and Wales outside of London increasing from 12,400 to 55,400. Over the same period the numbers in London have nearly doubled increasing from 10,100 to 20,100.

In April to June 2019, 22 per cent of drivers usually worked seven days a week, similar to the previous year and an increase from 18 per cent in April to June 2007. The majority of drivers usually worked five days a week. In 2018, the average person in England made 10 taxi or PHV trips and travelled 62 miles by taxi or PHV, an increase from 9 trips and 55 miles in 2017.

Experienced Driver

Kirklees based Zulfiqar Ali has been driving taxis for more than 20 years for various firms. The 54-year-old has a young family to support and feels passionately the job is becoming increasingly difficult because of the lack of support from both local authorities and Government.

Zulfiqar said it costs him around £3,500 every year just to run the taxi and sometimes you’d be lucky to make £50 a day. Some people are good tippers and many others aren’t. It’s also important to remember certain company’s also have a monopoly in the area. He’s also seen some bias toward drivers from a BAME background.

He told me: “The most prevalent victims of modern-day slavery in the UK have originated from many countries including from Eastern Europe and South East Asia.

Up until the 1980’s there were very few taxi drivers from an ethnic minority background. The taxi business was operated by professionals and it was also a respectable profession providing an honourable service. The customers had respect for the taxi drivers and held them in high regard as they were integral parts of the community. The fares were also very good in those days.

Its true to say there’s no dignity or respect these days for taxi drivers as even some professional people treat you like scum. Some people call you names, they try and get out of paying and even try and jump out of the car. Some days you just feel like finding the nearest bridge, chucking you keys in the water and packing it all in.

I once took a girl 100 miles to a caravan park at Filey. When we arrived she leapt out and did a runner without attempting to pay me. I was fortunate enough to get help from a security guard who knew where she was. When the girl came out she shouted, “why take the side of a Paki”, offering a totally different story. She was eventually taken to court but it took me three years to get my money.

There’s no protection from any Governmental organisation to fight for the interests of taxi drivers. There needs to be regulation in place so taxi drivers are treated fairly and their working conditions improved.”

Transport For Key Workers

Back in May The GMB asked Kirklees Council to investigate every incident where a taxi driver wasn’t being paid over transport for key workers and to explore whether the actions of some operators was fraudulent. UNION chiefs were angry a couple of taxi firms in Kirklees had failed to pass on payments to drivers transporting key school workers during the coronavirus crisis.

The authority’s chair of licensing said withdrawing a licence could be unnecessarily punitive as all employed drivers would then lose their jobs

Chilling Figures

It’s a chilling thought information from the Office for National Statistics has revealed male taxi cab drivers and chauffeurs had higher rates of deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales. And while quite rightly, there continues to be a strong focus on the NHS – this is higher than doctors, nurses and care workers.

Sociologist Dr Mark Williams from Queen Mary University of London says taxi and private-hire drivers are among the worst hit because they face many risk factors.

He added: “They can’t do their job from home, and their job makes it hard to socially distance, but they’re also self-employed so need to work.”

Employment generally decreased by more than 220,000 during the last quarter – the biggest quarterly decrease in employment since May to July 2009, the Office for National Statistics have said.

Transport Secretary

Zulfiqar wrote to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps earlier in the summer about the problems taxi drivers face. In a reply from Francis Lisbon speaking on behalf of Mr Shapps he wrote: “The Government attaches the utmost priority to passenger safety in the taxi and PHV trade. We are taking action to ensure that only those who are genuinely ‘fit and proper’, hold a taxi or PHV license. We have recently issued Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards.

Department for Transport officials have been in regular contact with stakeholders in the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic on matters relating to driver and passenger safety. This includes providing support on the interpretation of the Government guidance on the safe provision of transport services during the coronavirus pandemic, and how this might be applied to the taxi and PHV sector in England. The guidance sets out recommendations on who should be travelling and under what circumstances, and how social distancing rules should be interpreted.

The Government is aware that many people who work in a job that regularly brings them into close contact with lots of people, such as taxi and PHV drivers, are worried about their risk of infection. The Government recently announced the beginning of an expansion of targeted testing to occupations and groups at higher risk in England. This will help us learn more about who is at higher risk from COVID-19, how the virus is spread between groups and to help minimise spread amongst high contact professions.

He added: “ Government recognises concerns that the UK’s flexible labour market is not working fairly for everyone. That is why the Government asked Matthew Taylor to carry out his review to consider modern working practices and whether they need to change to keep pace with modern business models.”

Zulfiqar still feels the central problems haven’t been addressed and has emailed the Department of Transport for more clarity. He added: “The Truth is many of my fellow drivers feel the same way, but they daren’t speak out for fear of reprisals or losing their jobs.”

We did ask a couple of local taxi drivers to speak but they declined.

Asian Sunday has contacted Kirklees Council For a response.