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Suffolk taxi firms in Sudbury, Great Cornard, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket face double hit of Covid and driver shortage

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Taxi companies fighting to rebound from Covid-19 say the pandemic’s detrimental effect on trade has been compounded by an ongoing driver shortage.

The supply of professional drivers has plummeted over the last year, with last year’s fuel crisis among the knock-on effects, as industries such as haulage and bus travel struggle to replace those who have left.

Now, taxi operators in Suffolk have shed light on the negative impact this has had on their trade, with some unable to meet the high demand over Christmas due to the unavailability of vehicles.

Steve Hale runs Hale-A-Cab in Sudbury, which reported a 70 per cent decline in trade during the last tax year. Picture: Mark Westley
Steve Hale runs Hale-A-Cab in Sudbury, which reported a 70 per cent decline in trade during the last tax year. Picture: Mark Westley

Sean Fox, owner of Sudbury-based Fox Cars, said his business was 'definitely suffering'.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have lost several drivers and we have not been able to replace them,” he told Suffolk News. “The lack of drivers has really hit us hard during the busy periods.

“Where a few years ago we had the biggest fleet in Sudbury, we are now lucky to be able to field two or three vehicles on a Saturday night. We have had to drop our fleet from 20 vehicles down to 13.

Bury St Edmunds taxi driver Mark Goodchild.
Bury St Edmunds taxi driver Mark Goodchild.

“During the day, we are quieter than before. People’s habits have changed.

“Companies are still not doing as much airport travel as pre-Covid and, with the driver shortage, we have had to turn away a serious amount of work that we would normally have been able to do during the evenings and at weekends.”

Mr Fox added that the proposed changes to the licensing policy, with additional requirements for new drivers, meant they will 'find it even harder to replace drivers'.

This follows the drop in income that many companies had already faced since the first Covid lockdown in March 2020.

Cooks Private Hire, based in Great Cornard, stated that trade had been okay in recent times, but they had also had a lot of cancellations, as concerns have grown around the Omicron variant of Covid.

Co-owner Becky Cook added: “We have obviously had a massive downturn in comparison to pre-lockdown.”

This was echoed by Steve Hale, who runs Hale-A-Cab in Sudbury, which reported a 70 per cent decline in trade during the last tax year.

Working as a sole trader, he adapted his business model by doing daily school runs to guarantee regular income, explaining that, during the week, there 'isn’t enough work to warrant staying out for'.

He also suggested drivers working for firms 'had it a lot tougher', as they often only earn a percentage of each fare, meaning low take-home pay on a quiet night.

“Because of this, you can understand why some drivers have decided to get themselves new jobs,” said Mr Hale.

“Taxi drivers don’t get any holiday pay, sick pay, have no guaranteed income and sometimes have to work unsociable hours, putting up with a lot of flak at times when they do.

“Is it any surprise that some of them have found other work, where they get all of the above benefits without any of the grief?

“The evenings during the week are now always quiet. It’s a real case of supply and demand and a vicious circle. If there is no work, cabs won’t bother working, but if there are no cabs, people stop going out.”

In Bury St Edmunds the number of drivers returning to the trade has been cut by 'around a third' according to one driver.

"I think the new rules being forced on drivers will put people off wanting to train, but it's crazy at the moment the phone doesn't stop ringing," said Bury based driver Mark Goodchild.

Newmarket drivers have noticed a considerable drop in people booking taxis.

"It's hard going, there's definitely been a drop in people booking taxis here, it isn't what it used to be," said a spokesperson for A2B Taxi Services Newmarket Ltd.