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Thanet Cars manager paints bleak picture of future for taxi firms, after business nearly halved since lockdown

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The manager of a taxi company in Thanet is concerned the industry has been irreparably damaged, after business plummeted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic .

Andy Doody, who has worked in private hire for nearly four decades, has been faced with dwindling customers and frustrated drivers, even after the lockdown eased in July.

The taxi firm manager predicts a grave future for the industry. Picture: Peter Still
The taxi firm manager predicts a grave future for the industry. Picture: Peter Still

Prior to the pandemic, Thanet Cars would have had between 60 and 75 cars out across the isle daily, making up between 14,000 to 17,000 jobs a week.

Since the effects of Covid gripped society, Mr Doody said the number of cars out on the road is sitting at around 40, with around 8,000 paid trips being made a week.

Despite a slight increase of customers in the past fortnight, the firm manger does not think it is likely they will be able to claw themselves back to the previous level of business.

He said: "I don't think we'll see that ever again.

"What we did class as a normal amount of drivers, I don't think we'll see again for years, if ever.

The business could struggle to make ends meet if it continues to stay quiet
The business could struggle to make ends meet if it continues to stay quiet

"From the business side it's hurting, it's really hurting."

Funds are tight as Mr Doody navigates paying his permanent staff who work at the offices, and managing the self-employed drivers who are out on the roads.

He said: "It's pretty desperate - all the drivers are self employed and they pay a circuit fee which we use to pay staff in the three offices, one of which is open 24/7.

"But if the income isn't there because we're 40 drivers down, it's going wrong."

Traditionally taxi companies would reap a significant portion of their weekly trips from people travelling from home to restaurants and clubs on the weekend, as well as the return trip.

Andy, pictured with other taxi firm owners in Thanet
Andy, pictured with other taxi firm owners in Thanet

But the Thanet Cars drivers have noticed a significant decrease in the number of people using the service.

Mr Doody said: "The 30 plus age range have just stopped going. The young ones are still going, I think they've probably got a different attitude to it."

Looking ahead to the festive period, he believes the business will continue to feel the impact.

The private hire veteran said: "I personally think it's going to be a very quiet Christmas for business.

"The days of Christmas parties, firm functions, pubs, restaurants - the work's not going to be there, because people can't do it.

"I think a lot of small businesses are just going to crumble - people are used to doing things from home, so I think for small businesses it's a pretty sad look, especially with the furlough ending.

"We've all got to get used to the new normal, but that doesn't help the restaurants, it doesn't help the taxis.

"There's nobody about, and it's up and down the country but it's going to be a frightening time."

The squeeze is being felt by businesses across the UK, and one organisation is seeking help from the government to provide better support for taxi firms.

David Lawrie, director of national Private Hire and Taxi Association, said: "The key issues are that trade is down 80% at least, and also drivers are handing back the cars - hundreds of thousands of vehicles, rented and financed. The car parks are full of them apparently.

"There's also very little help for the trade form the government. You've got help for buses, coaches, trains and everything.

"But taxis and private hire aren't classed as public transport, so there's nothing to help them."

The organisation have approached the Department of Transport for further guidance and help for private hire firms who are now desperately struggling to make ends meet.

Despite Mr Doody's gloomy outlook on the future of his - and many other taxi firm's - business, he said he was proud of his drivers who risked their own health during the lockdown to help people living in Thanet.

He said: "We had a steady 30 cars that came out everyday, and they kept going right through.

"I was pleasantly surprised, because I wouldn't have wanted to do it, but they did and they were doing NHS work, taking the frontline crews, shopping drops, meal deliveries.

"They really got into it for the community."

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