EPPING: Tony Georgiou sighed as he stood in front of a field full of parked taxis, admitting he had lost count of their number there.
Many taxi drivers in London rent their black cabs immediately recognized by fleet companies such as GB Taxi Services, where Georgiou is one of the owners.
But with London streets empty of coronavirus blockages, many drivers are unable to pay for their vehicles and are returning them in groups.
There are probably about 150 to 200 vehicles here that we had to clear the road from, said Georgiou, whose company has parked its vehicles in Epping northeast of the capital. I lost count.
Famous all over the world, British capitals, black bumpy cabins were originally created to accommodate a passenger in a high hat.
To gain a license, drivers must pass an extremely difficult exam called Knowledge, which tests their recall of roads, routes and landmarks simply from memory.
But taxi-filled areas are now a massive phenomenon, said Steve McNamara, secretary general of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA).
It happens all over, around the M25 there are areas with such taxis, McNamara said, referring to the main orbital motorway around London.
He called the situation completely and utterly unprecedented and already unsustainable for some.
Georgiou said about 50 of the parked vehicles have already been targeted by thieves who have removed catalytic converters and diesel particle filters that will cost about 120,000 ($ 160,000) to replace.
I can not tell you if we are sure to get through this at the moment. It’s a war, he said of his company, which has been operating for more than 16 years.
Currently, only about 20 percent of cabins are in operation, McNamara said, based on estimates at vehicle counting associations and official figures from Heathrow Airport.
The LTDA has about 11,000 members out of a total 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 have recently invested in costly electric cabins and electronic payment machines. Covid is undoubtedly the main factor in the decline in the number of taxis, he said.
Uber and other apps for greeting trips are absolutely not a factor, he added, arguing that their prices have dragged on and drivers are unpredictable.
Those cabins that are still on the road can earn 20 percent of their usual income, which can range from 15,000 to 80,000 a year.
Weve lost 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles since June, he said.
Some drivers have gone on to make deliveries to supermarkets, but the vast majority are not working, he added.
According to official figures from Transport for London (TfL), the number of black licensed cabins has dropped from more than 19,000 on March 1 this year to just under 15,000 on November 8.
A TfL spokesman said he 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 than TfL, he said. A taxi driver, Sam Houston, was waiting in line at Heathrow to get a ticket.
With air travel limited, hitting tourism, he said 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 under normal circumstances it is a good lifestyle.
But the COVID-19 period is the hardest time I have ever experienced, he said.
The feeling of a semi-permanent change in the economy, many people are seeing it incredibly scary.
While some taxi drivers have claimed independent payments from the government, many have not qualified, he said, seeking targeted support for our industry from local government and national government.
McNamara said taxi drivers should be singled out for help, in the same way the government helped restaurants try to jump back after their forced closure.
Weve been hit evenly, if not harder than the hospitality sector, he said.
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