Tayside’s decimated taxi trade has been driven “off the cliff edge” by the latest tightening of coronavirus restrictions brought in this week.
Moves aimed at halting the spread of the Omicron variant has already hit the hospitality trade in the lead up to Christmas.
There was further bad news on Thursday when a three-week shutdown of nightclubs from December 27 was announced.
And the knock-on is being hard felt in a taxi industry left in crisis by the pandemic.
It will mean thin ranks in Courier country as an already depleted driving force decide to stay at home rather than chasing trade which isn’t there.
So people going out on Christmas Day have been warned they may face a bit of a wait.
And the advice for festive revellers or folk heading to see loved ones is to book ahead to make sure they’re not left standing in the cold.
Mass exodus of drivers
Drivers left the industry in droves when lockdown struck and have not returned.
And Unite union drivers’ representative Chris Elder – a Dundee cabbie – believes the crisis will only get worse.
He says this weekend will look a lot different from Christmas past.
“We lost a lot of drivers, and then there was a slight comeback – but nothing like the numbers who left,” Chris said.
“But things have now fallen off a cliff edge with this latest situation.
“We’ve seen what it has done to the hospitality trade with bookings being cancelled.
“And if people are not going out for Christmas parties then they’re not needing to book taxis.
“And it doesn’t look like getting any better.
“January and February are always quite quiet for us anyway.
“We really need to see some support. We got a bit the last time, but it took a lot to get it.
“The situation still isn’t good and I can see taxi plates being handed back.”
He added: “There’s not a lack of taxi plates – it’s a lack of drivers after those that went to the likes of HGVs and delivery jobs didn’t come back.
“Some operators are now driving their vehicles because they can’t get the drivers.
“But I don’t think they’ll be coming out on Christmas Day to sit on the rank.
He said: “My advice to anyone needing a taxi would be to book a slot – especially people with disabilities and the elderly.
“There’s just no guarantee how many taxis there will be on the rank.
“There will be some – but it will look nothing like it did previously,” Chris said.
‘It’s time to live with Covid’
And another Tayside taxi firm boss says it is now time to “live with Covid”.
Anddy Lothian of Ace Taxis, Perth said: “We are busy at the moment with everyone shopping. My concern is that we will go into another lockdown.
“Our trade is going to be decimated with these restrictions.
“We need to stop all the lockdowns – it’s too political. The government’s damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.
“We just have to live with Covid.
“It is taking its toll now.
“My phone doesn’t stop ringing.
“We are inundated with calls and we have no drivers and we’re turning people away.
“I think it’s time to say we have to live with Covid now.”
Fife cabbie numbers plunge
Meanwhile, Fife revellers can expect long waits if they plan to travel home by taxi this Christmas.
Driver numbers have plummeted by 40% since the start of the pandemic and firms are struggling to recruit.
Methil-based Magnum Taxis has half the number of drivers it would usually expect at this time of year.
And other firms are in the same boat.
Sam Green of Magnum said: “This week, I would normally have 13 drivers out but at the weekend I had six.
“Last week with it being Black Friday, we had a lot of pick-ups from pubs.
“But we’d turn up and within 10 seconds there was someone in the cab and there were queues and queues of people waiting.
“Every company we spoke to said the same thing.
“It’s leading to long waits for people but there’s nothing we can do.”
‘Not worth it’
Long-time Forfar operator Mitch Murray says the local night-time trade is now barely there.
“A lot of drivers are just not wanting to work late any more.
“With the Covid situation it’s just not been worth it – and a lot of the young ones coming out are not for taking in your taxi.
“We stopped working Christmas Day a few years’ ago.
“There will be some who are operating, but the level of bookings is just not there.
“And the latest changes won’t have done anything to help that situation.”