A TAXI driver went a whole day without picking up a single fare, highlighting the crisis facing the borough’s cabbies.
Now they are appealing for urgent help so they can survive the coronavirus pandemic.
And to ensure they are doing their bit to help others, the drivers have decided to defer the first fare increase for nearly a decade.
But they are worried that their livelihoods are at stake as the virus – and social distancing rules – has seen commuters stay at home or find alternative methods of transport.
Members of the Wokingham Borough Hackney Drivers Association are asking Wokingham Borough Council to take action to help them get through this time, arguing that simple short-term changes would make a big difference.
Muhammed Arshad, who chairs the Association, said that “Despite several requests to suspend our licensing matters and licensing renewals, charges and taxi MOTs, we are still desperately trying to get some relief.
“The taxi trade has been almost finished since early March – even before the lockdown started.
“One of my colleagues rang and told me that he had worked a nine-hour day and left the Wokingham station taxi rank without taking a single fare.”
“Rather than giving us some relief, the council are forcing us to pay for non-urgent courses, while we are out of a job and not making any money. If we don’t, we’d face license suspensions.”
He added: “The taxi trade demanded a fare increase after nearly a decade, being at the bottom of fares league in the area, and a 20% rise was agreed in principle. But due to the financial hardship of the local community, we have offered to postpone these increases.”
Mr Arshad has written to Wokingham Borough Council’s chief executive, Susan Parsonage asking for assistance, saying that the Government’s self-employment salary scheme is paid on declared profit and not gross income.
He wants the council to suspend all licensing matters including license and badge fees until the pandemic is over, a relaxation of the maximum age limits for vehicles and help given to allow drivers to consider greener replacements.
In the letter, he pointed out: “This year is particularly going to be challenging and very difficult particularly as all major public events/festivals and private ceremonies weddings/parties have been cancelled and pubs and restaurants are expected to remain closed for a considerable time, which will directly affect our business”.
Wasaq Ahmad, who has been a taxi driver since 2004, said that the drivers have also had to “spend a bit more” on additional hygiene measures, but “earn next to nothing”.
“At the moment, we’re sitting at home, all the expenses are going out but nothing is coming in,” he added. “We’re just asking for a bit of relaxation to the rules.”
“No one is going to the airport, trade is at zero, but we still have to pay our fees, we have to pay everything. That’s why we’re struggling.”
Cllr Parry Batth, executive member for environment and leisure at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We’ve been supporting local businesses affected by Covid-19 in a number of ways.
“With the taxi trade, in partnership with the Public Protection Partnership, our measures include: ‘pausing’ vehicle and operator licences so people can save money, suspending fees and required medical tests to renew licenses until drivers resume work, reduced the cost of recovery fees by £40 for this and next year, and amended the Private Hire Operator schedule of fees to a per vehicle basis.
“We continue to use taxis for our Home to School transport, and taxi drivers can also apply for the financial help we’ve set up for all local businesses.
“We are open to consider other measures to help our businesses at this difficult time.”