A group of angry taxi drivers met in a mass demonstration outside the Belfast Parliament Building on Monday 29th June in response to growing frustrations over financial concerns and lack of industry guidance during the COVID-19 crisis. Since the lockdown period began in March, drivers in the area have been asking for information in help to survive during the vast downturn in their workloads.
Taxi Drivers Matter
At the protest, there were large numbers of drivers from both the black cab and private hire sectors and presented banners with #TaxiDriversMatter. The sound of taxi horns was also heard throughout the demonstration in the area.
Protesters were pleasantly surprised to see the Infrastructure Minister for the city Nichola Mallon accept questions and concerns from the drivers at the session, where she received a document outlining the serious issues and concerns that the 8580 drivers of the city are experiencing. The document highlighted the grave fact that around 40% of the entire driver base did not qualify for government funding such as that of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. This means that almost half the cabbies in the region were left with minimal or no income, however they were still tied into financial obligations such as home mortgages and vehicle costs including finance and taxi insurance.
Cabbies in Limbo
Drivers are now in a state of limbo. Although the country is beginning to ease out of lockdown, the industry is still set to be under extreme strain in the coming months with much of their regular work from airports to concerts and sporting events still restricted and expected to create far less footfall than the trade is used to. The document created by the cabbies who have deemed themselves the Taxi Drivers Matter Group concluded with the reality that the stresses brought on by the pandemic could have a serious impact on the mental health of drivers across the region.
Member of the group Karl Black stated: “Northern Ireland taxi drivers have been asking for advice and support from the NI Stormont Assembly since March 2020, but we have been passed around the different departments like a political football while other parts of the public transport system like buses and airports received funding and support.” Black went on to say that the group were pleased to be received well by the Infrastructure Minister who listened to concerns, answered questions and took an interest in the protective screens that some vehicles have been fitted with. He concluded: “We wait with interest on what her next move is, but rest assured, we have started a movement for change.”