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Drivers told the Edinburgh Evening News that they fear for the future of the trade – worth around £55 million a year to the city’s economy - and warned of the toll on health of drivers facing financial hardship.
Union officials estimate that many in the capital have given up work during the pandemic especially at night, prompting fears of a lack of available taxis when bars and clubs reopen.
Demonstrating at Edinburgh Castle today, drivers called for additional funding, backed by Union officials and Alba candidate Kenny MacAskill, who say more has to be done to keep those who have survived afloat.
Drivers welcomed a discretionary payment from the city council last week, but have repeated calls for a £10,000 grant for owner operators who have to fork out more than £1000 every month in operating costs alone.
Frank Walls, 65, has worked in the trade for forty years. He said: “Owners are hanging on because we are tied into finance agreements. But the lack of help has forced many to quit. I usually start about 3.30am. There’s nobody around then now. When the bars reopen in weeks ahead, we are going to have a shortage of nightshift drivers. Most of them are gone.”
"I’m earning about £6 an hour but it’s about 1150 a month to in costs before fuel. Even when things open up again, we’ll still be struggling after the year we’ve had. Big financial services companies and other large employers are closing offices or have already closed them, with folks working from home most of the time now. Tourism and travel for business is non existent. It’s a fight to get by.”
One driver who asked not to be named has said his health has deteriorated: The dad-of-two said: “I was rushed to hospital last August because of high blood pressure. I’m diabetic. I was told if I had a stroke or heart attack, that would be it. It’s definitely been caused by stress. It has been a lot to take this year. Its not just about me, I’ve the cost of keeping my family.”
Kevin Robertson, who relies on a second job, said there is a huge knock-on effect for workers and their families:
“It’s like we don’t matter. Owners surely deserve the same help as other small businesses. It’s a marginal existence and most days it’s below breaking even. Many are up to the neck in debt. There’s a huge legacy effect and it’s not just money. It’s distress and a toll on health. But a lot of the guys don’t know how to ask for support.”
Andy Taylor, branch secretary for Edinburgh cab section Unite said: “There’s so much pressure on operators and drivers who are left standing. Many have left. Most nightshift drivers have walked because there’s no night time economy. We are mostly self employed so don’t quality for furlough. The two grants we’ve had so far are like a drop in the ocean. We have guys regularly on the phone in tears worried about how they can pay their bills. It’s desperate.”
Cllr Catherine Fullerton Regulatory Convener, said: “There has been regular contact with the trade throughout the pandemic and we recognise the financial pressures on the trade. As a result of this we recently paid out top-up payments of £1,000 each to taxi and private hire drivers across the city through the Taxi and Private Hire Driver Support Fund, provided from the Edinburgh Discretionary Business Support Fund.”