Taxi drivers in Dundee are concerned for their livelihoods amid “unclear” government advice during the coronavirus pandemic.
Drivers are handing back radios to taxi offices because there are too few passengers to cover the costs of renting.
They are also worried about the risk of catching coronavirus from passengers – but say they are stuck in a “Catch-22” situation of either working or losing their livelihoods.
Chris Elder, local Unite taxi rep, said drivers were at the mercy of local and national government, whom he says failed to provide clear guidance.
Self-employed drivers should be eligible for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme – but payments are deferred until June at the earliest.
Mr Elder has written to Dundee City Council’s licensing chiefs to ask for a deferral of renewal fees, due in May.
“A lot of the guys aren’t working because they’re feart of picking up the virus,” he said.
“The government has never come out and said whether there’s a ban on us working, or whether we’re essential workers.
“Drivers are sending their machines back to the offices and are having to look at whether to sign on (for benefits) as we won’t hear about self-employment payments until June.
“There are drivers taking mortgage holidays and hoping their landlords will let them delay their rents. We’re struggling. Some of us are going to go to the wall.”
One driver, who spoke to the Tele on condition of anonymity, said an 11-hour shift now earns just £30 a day, yet his car costs £15,000 a year.
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Local authorities are stepping in to help taxi drivers – but critics say they aren’t doing enough.
Angus Council has deferred taxi renewal fees, and Dundee City Council has closed the region’s taxi testing centre for three months.
Dundee City Council added: “Provision for a three-month deferral of the last date for submitting applications for renewal of licences was included in the coronavirus emergency powers bill passed at Holyrood.
“We are currently talking to the local taxi trade about the implications of this.”
Local taxi driver Roger Paterson has handed his radio back for the time being.
“But there are drivers out there working to put food on the table for their kids. They’re putting their lives in danger because they don’t have a choice” he said.
“Some have had offers to defer car payments but they’re being charged interest on top of interest so they’re going out to work instead to avoid that.”
Guidance published by the Department of Transport says taxi drivers should avoid work where possible, save for exceptional circumstances.
The advice states: “Taxi and private hire drivers should not generally be considered critical workers. Those undertaking home to school transport or the transport of ‘extremely vulnerable’ people may be considered critical workers on a case-by-case basis.”
Graeme Stephen, chairman of the Dundee Taxi Federation, said the risk of catching and passing on coronavirus was “too great” to justify working, citing the death of a London cabbie who may have contracted Covid-19 from a passenger.
“I drive a saloon car – I can’t keep two metres away from people, and you don’t know who you’re picking up,” he said.
“Only bigger taxis should be allowed out.
“We should be getting 80% of our earnings from the self-employed scheme, which is good, and I’ve got a private pension I can dip into, but it’s hard for a lot of us to keep afloat.”
He added: I’m 63, I’ve had two collapsed lungs, it (Covid-19) would cause me all sorts of problems.
“Plus we pick up a lot of elderly people – there’s a risk that, if we got the virus, we could pass it onto them. I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.”
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