Taxi drivers are leaving Dundee roads in droves to take on new careers after custom dried up during lockdown.
Industry bosses say the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the taxi trade, as drivers gave up licences due to lack of work.
It is now thought there could be just half the number of taxis operating in the city as before the pandemic.
Jimmy Marr, who owns a fleet of 60 taxis, said he is finding it almost impossible to recruit drivers.
Mr Marr said: “I have 60 cars but have only been able to recruit around 30 drivers.
“Drivers have handed their licenses in because they can’t afford to be in the business.
“This is having the serious knock-on effect of leading to a complete drought of taxis available in Dundee.
“Something needs to be done to help the industry get back on to its feet and ensure that we can return to having all the taxis we need in the city as business, commerce and industry starts to get back on its feet.”
Talks to save Dundee’s taxis
Unite the Union is holding talks with the Scottish Government to ask for more financial support for the taxi industry.
Unite drivers’ representative Chris Elder said: “This has been a devastating year for our taxi drivers.
“Lack of customers had led to many of them being forced to give up.
“Many have handed in their licenses and are now working as drivers for other companies, becoming delivery drivers for example.
“Others have been forced to go on to Universal Credit.”
No night time economy
Mr Elder said there has been a “massive reduction” in the night-time economy as pubs were closed for months and faced reduced hours when they reopened.
Nightclubs remain closed.
“Many drivers that used to work a night shift just don’t find it worth their while to do that anymore,” said Mr Elder.
“Drivers who used to pick up the trade when the pubs and clubs closed have been forced to turn to day shifts.
“Last year taxi drivers were given a grant.
“We are now in talks with the Scottish Government to try to get further grants, this time for taxi operators.”
Low emission zone
But the devastating year comes ahead of a proposed low emission zone (LEZ) in Dundee city centre.
If this goes ahead, some older petrol and diesel cars will be banned from the city centre.
The zone is due to be introduced next spring, meaning taxi drivers are on a deadline to replace their cars.
Local authorities have to impose a grace period of between one and four years before enforcement begins. Council officers in Dundee are recommending a two-year grace period.
This means enforcement is likely to begin in spring 2024.
But taxi drivers say the 2024 deadline is not realistic for them.
Instead they are pushing to have the deadline extended by three years.
Mr Elder explained the pressure on taxi drivers to move to low emission vehicles was too much to ask while the industry is still trying to get back on its feet.
He said: “Taxi drivers are working hard to recover from the massive hit they took over the past year.
“To expect them to convert to low emission vehicles completely in the next two years is too much too soon.
“We are asking the government to extend that deadline to 2027 to give drivers and operators a chance to get back on their feet.”
Dundee’s LEZ is part of a national drive by the Scottish Government.
Other zone are planned for Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We continue to engage closely with Unite the Union and other representatives of the taxi and private hire sector and fully understand the pressures facing the taxi industry due to the pandemic.
“We’ve provided an additional £62 million for taxi drivers and operators, bringing the total support for the sector during the pandemic to a maximum than £90 million.”
Protecting public health
He added: “While Unite the Union have lobbied for change we’re continuing work to help introduce Scotland’s Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in 2022.
“This will protect public health by improving air quality in our four biggest cities.
“Additional support is available for taxi drivers to comply with forthcoming LEZs.
“This includes the LEZ Support Fund which is helping taxi drivers meet the costs of engine retrofitting to comply with emissions standards.
“Through our Switched on Taxis scheme, interest-free loans of up to £120,000 are available to enable owners and operators of hackney cabs or private hire taxis to replace their current vehicle with an eligible ultra-low emission vehicle.”