Taxi drivers waiting outside Heathrow Airport have started sleeping in their taxis at night, as they wait in 24-hour queues for passengers.
Taxi driver Lee Macey says drivers have lived in makeshift “slums” for much of the past year, waiting to walk through the airport’s power park to get to the terminals. the airport.
Taxi drivers have turned to this after being hit hard by the loss of customers during the coronavirus lockdown, the Mirror reports.
And they say queuing for a whole day for a Â£ 75 fare at Heathrow is more profitable than crossing London looking for punters.
Mr Macey says taxi drivers sleep at the airport to keep their place in huge queues, using gas stoves and kettles to prepare food, while sleeping on hammocks, mattresses and inflatable beds inside their taxis.
Heathrow is expected to get busier in the coming weeks as the ban on overseas travel is lifted on May 17 and the government reveals its ‘green list’ of vacations.
But struggling taxi drivers will take another blow in the form of a huge increase in hotel fees as the airport tries to recoup unprecedented losses caused by the pandemic.
“You’d be surprised how far these people have gone,” Lee, 42, told the Mirror.
âIt’s not something I’m proud of. This is something where I told my partner not to tell the kids that I am sleeping in the taxi.
âTell them I work all night because I don’t want them to think I can’t sleep in my own bed. “
The dire situation was captured in a series of photos taken by Leon Neal in November, with cab driver Keith Littlemore seen resting on a mattress in his cab.
And the Mirror understands that the situation has not improved for months.
Lee, from nearby Uxbridge, said some drivers were even using pieces of wood that crossed two chairs to put down their temporary beds while waiting for the first flights to arrive in lines of dozens.
“I have my vacuum with me, you do your vacuum, you get your wipes, your Dettol spray on the surfaces – the customer walks in and they have no idea it was your room in the last 24 hours,” did he declare. .
“I think you’re here because what else would you do, sitting at home?” It is easier to feel that you are going to do something. Even as miserable as he is. You just have to try to make an effort. “
He said temperatures dropped well below freezing over the winter and one morning he woke up with ice inside the window.
“There are staff members who will pass by, check that you are in your taxi and if you are not there you will be banned for seven working days,” he continued.
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âIt’s like a different world. You got guys over there with gas cookers, making breakfast, kettles. It’s like a slum. You wouldn’t believe it.
He said some taxi drivers do this for five days in a row and then go home for the weekend, “with very little money.”
âSince January, I’ve only covered my expenses and that’s it. No benefit at all, âhe added.
Lee estimates that his regular income has fallen by 80% since the start of the Covid epidemic.
He claimed at one point last summer – despite the drivers waiting there all day and night – that there was no restroom or place to have a drink in the row, with the cafeteria. closed.
However, a Heathrow spokesperson said that although some facilities were closed due to Covid guidelines, toilets have been available throughout the pandemic, except during routine maintenance and repairs.
It comes as London Airport prepares to triple the pick-up fee paid by Black Cab drivers from July 1.
In a letter sent to representatives of the taxi trade on April 1 and seen by the Mirror, Heathrow Airport Limited said it had “successfully reduced the size of TFP’s contracts and services” by Â£ 386,000, or 24 %.
However, he said PTF’s revenue last year was Â£ 1.4million below the service’s operating costs.
“The record number of passengers in 2020 and the low passenger volume in 2021 mean that the unit cost of using the TFP will be Â£ 8.33 (+ VAT) from July 1, 2021,” he said. added.
It’s a move that many believe could decimate the business and force hundreds of taxi drivers to seek work elsewhere.
Currently, drivers pay Â£ 3.60 each time they pass through the airport taxi rank, but the changes would bring it down to around Â£ 10.
âI really feel like Heathrow is keen to clear the Black Cab from the airport,â Lee said.
“It’s a safe way to get rid of everyone and then maybe they can go to a private rental company and pay them X amount to take things over.”
âI think it’s so unfair to put this burden on drivers who are still not making money.
âIt’s not like we’re a successful pandemic trader and our wages have tripled.
âWe’re in line for 24 hours and you’re thankful for a Â£ 70 fair in central London, but by the time you get there there’s nothing else.â
Before the pandemic, Lee said queues at the terminal lasted around three hours per pickup.
But despite the increased wait times, with the airport just 15 minutes from home, it often makes more sense to wait all day rather than crisscross the capital looking for fares.
By comparison, just before Easter he dropped his kids off at school, then drove to Hammersmith at 9:30 a.m. and by 7 p.m. he had only earned Â£ 38, before expenses.
âYou can see why waiting in line at the airport for an average job of around Â£ 75 or something, that makes sense, rather than going around in circles on diesel. It’s a waste of time.”
Lee said many taxi drivers would be happy to increase the fee to help, but around Â£ 1 or Â£ 1.50 at most.
The charge is issued each time a driver passes through the power park to the terminal, but not if they drop passengers between terminals.
And if a customer pays by card, a driver must also pay a percentage of the price.
Lee said further plans to introduce a forecourt access charge (FAC), including for drop-offs between terminals, amounting to Â£ 5, could mean drivers “will end up out of pocket for doing, say, Â£ 16 or Â£ 17 âwork.
Paul Brennan, chairman of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association – which represents just over half of London’s black taxi drivers – said the pandemic has been “absolutely devastating” to the business, which has been “hit as hard as the aviation sector â.
“Travel restrictions have resulted in an almost total collapse in passenger demand, both at Heathrow and across London. Under normal circumstances, the taxi supply yard at Heathrow is essentially the largest taxi rank and busiest in London, âhe said.
“But at the height of the lockdown in January, the number of passing taxis was down 93% from a year earlier and drivers were waiting long hours for a single fare.”
âWe tried to work with Heathrow to find a solution that would allow the airport to recoup its losses and not further damage our business.
“Unfortunately, they did not want to consider spreading cost recovery over a period that would keep registration fees at a sustainable level.”
He added that the LTDA is asking that the payback be spread over five years.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The regulated price of the taxi supply fleet is calculated only to cover the cost of operating the service and does not generate any revenue for the airport.
âCovid-19 has resulted in an almost total collapse in passenger volumes and as a result the use of black taxis has not covered the costs of operating the fleet of fueling taxis – even despite the measures we have taken. taken to cut costs by 24% last year.
“We have delayed the increase in the fee for the taxi supply fleet for as long as possible, but it will now increase from July 1.
“The price will decrease in the future as the number of passengers increases.”
The spokesperson said Heathrow was also in talks with Transport for London over changing the meters to help spread the cost of the PTF increase.
They added that details of the proposed forecourt access charge announced last year are “being finalized”, with similar access charges already in place at most major UK airports.
A spokesperson for TfL said: âWe consult each other regularly on the pricing structure for black taxis. The exercise takes into account the evolution of costs facing the industry.
Have you seen the queues outside of Heathrow? Let us know in the comments section here.