Every inch of digital and print news space is crammed with stories relating to the coronavirus pandemic, covering everything from the good, the bad and the downright ugly. The same broad spectrum applies to COVID-19 taxi and mobility news articles about the taxi and mobility industry. In this review, we’ll take a whistle-stop tour of recent reporting on good deeds, despair, deliveries and new directions for the future of transport. 

Good deeds

We’ve seen taxi companies and drivers go the extra mile to help their communities in recent emergency situations such as extreme weather events, earning the taxi industry the label of ‘the 4th emergency service’. It was unsurprising then, that taxi companies were quick to step up as the impact of the COVID-19 crisis began to take hold. 

Stories of taxi companies giving free taxi fares to facilitate ‘meals on wheels’ or other essential goods drop-offs in their communities came almost immediately. Supporting healthcare workers has also become a very important trend, with companies offering discounts to essential workers or setting up funds to help support their transport to and from work. 

Along with setting up a food box delivery initiative iCabbi customer Blueline Taxis has made a local news splash by generously creating a £25,000 fund to give discounted rides to NHS workers (How Blueline Taxis’ drivers are supporting passengers during the coronavirus pandemic). 

Other companies like Royal Cars in Oxford have sought to fundraise in order to provide free rides to the NHS(Royal Cars taxi firm in Oxford fundraiser to give free rides to the NHS). 

Subsidising trips for healthcare workers is a global trend for the taxi industry, and of course Rideshare has been quick to lend their support too. For example, Free Now offers healthcare workers and other medical staff 50% off taxi fares.  Meanwhile, Uber has committed its support globally to any organisation, healthcare provider or government entity fighting the spread or impact of coronavirus with its pledge of 10 million free rides and deliveries ( Uber pledges 10 million free rides and deliveries for workers affected by COVID-19).

But, of course, it’s not just passengers and the vulnerable who need support. Drivers are, in essence, also a customer of the taxi business, and they too are struggling. A great effort to support both of these affected groups comes from New York City, which has been experiencing a dense cluster of coronavirus cases. The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) launched the Driver Food Delivery program three weeks ago to hire anyone with a valid taxi license — whether they drive a yellow cab or Uber — to deliver free meals. So far over 11,000 drivers have signed up, each earning $15 + $5 expenses per hour, helping them to keep income coming in whilst they help others (NYC taxi drivers deliver food to those in need during coronavirus pandemic in new program). 

Drivers are eligible for special self-employment emergency income relief in some countries, but this can only go so far in helping to bridge the income gap. 

This is being recognised in countries such as Singapore, where the government has addressed the transportation industry specifically with the creation of a point-to-point transport support package. On top of a monthly $1000 employment relief, the package also includes a payment of $300 per vehicle per month until the end of September (Taxi, private hire drivers to get more help in Singapore amid COVID-19). Where this goes to the taxi operator/hirer they’re being encouraged to share this with their drivers. Indeed, that is exactly what Singapore’s largest taxi fleet ComfortDelGro, operating over 10,000 cars, is doing. They’re passing on all government relief and incurred savings as well as their own rental relief, allocating a daily rental relief of $46.50 ($36.50 from the company and $10 from the government). The approximate cost to the company is about $80  million, which will see ComfortDelGro post full-year losses for the first time in its history (ComfortDelGro extends Singapore taxi rental relief package until September pushing firm into the red). While this large company may be in a viable position to incur these losses, recent reporting from Singapore indicates that not all firms will be able to match the rental relief provisions and support that ComfortDelGro has provided to its drivers (Coronavirus: Most taxi firms unlikely to match ComfortDelGro’s rental waiver extension to cabbies). 

Not all fleets can afford to give financial payments to drivers. Another way they can support them, however, is by reducing the amount that the driver has to pay. We’re hearing lots of stories of fleets switching to purely commission models by waiving base fees or temporarily modifying their  driver-earnings split to help ease income pressure on drivers right now when bookings are limited.  

Despair 

Good deeds, be they to help the community or to help drivers do not come free, and there can only be so long that one company/entity can shoulder the burden before it either collapses or requires assistance further back in the chain. As we’ve already seen above, governments, such as in Singapore, have stepped in to support businesses and workers in their transport industries. But this simply may not be enough for some. 

Stories of struggle abound. The Washington region is typical in North America, with greatly depleted bookings, and consequent financial difficulties, paired with driver fears over their own safety and the lack of available Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). And when this situation clashes with a time period usually representative of the taxi industry’s annual high, as in the case of Arlington, things appear even starker. In the Arlington District, where the period from late March to early April is the busiest time of the year, as the city fills with visitors for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, taxi trips are down by 96% (Another casualty of the coronavirus: the taxi industry). 

Likewise, hundreds of taxis are now sitting idle in Toronto as demand for rides evaporates.  Across the pond, the situation is much the same, with London black cab drivers reportedly earning only about £10 a day if they choose to work. This has sparked much anger with one Islington cabbie who has questioned why the UK government have not called upon the capital’s black cab fleet to support the response to coronavirus by asking them to service essential deliveries and the transport of NHS workers – especially given the fact that the driver and passenger are separated by a glass shield in a London black cab (Road to ruin? Lockdown hits black cab business). 

Financial difficulties stretch way farther than the drivers themselves, however. iCabbi’s Insights tool tells us that bookings are down about 60-85% across our global customer base over the past 4 months, which means a huge hit to their revenue. 

Rideshare companies are typically supported by an investment bubble of seemingly unlimited rounds of finance to fuel rapid market growth. Maybe the coronavirus will be the instrument to burst these bubbles? The repercussions of lockdown are starting to impact all the way up the corporate chain. Talin-based startup Bolt is down 85% on revenue. Earlier this month, the company was forced to look for €50 million in loans or public credit guarantees after commercial lenders refused to take part under existing state guarantees (Uber Rival Bolt Seeks State Aid After Banks Decline Loan Request). Could this be an early sign that the almost endless stream of investment open to rideshare and new mobility companies will finally dry up?

Deliveries 

Deliveries, deliveries, deliveries. It’s become a mantra for the taxi industry over the past couple of months as one ray of light to help keep the taxi industry afloat throughout the coronavirus lockdown. Taxis may not be moving that many people right now, but they are moving stuff. 

Taxis, in fact, have always moved goods – acting as an impromptu courrier by transporting items from one place to the next like a forgotten mobile phone or picking up someone’s shopping or take-away. Packet of cigarettes or a much-needed bottle of wine, when you’ve already had one and can’t drive? Get a taxi to pick it up! People have always thought to use taxis in this way, but taxi companies have not been that quick to formalise and commercialise this offering. Not anymore. The coronavirus has fast-tracked the delivery trend we’ve already seen in rideshare initiatives like Uber Eats, with taxis now stepping up as delivery services to transport everything from emergency ‘meals on wheels’ to dog food, garden supplies and paint. 

For some taxi companies, it has been a B2B play, offering their services to food and goods retailers who are struggling to meet the increased demand for deliveries with their existing transport supply – or indeed are offering delivery for the first time. Old Dominion Transportation Group in North Virginia for example, has won a contract to service deliveries for organic fruit and veg farms. 

Dublin taxi company Lynk was quick to reach out to local businesses such as grocers, dry cleaners and florists to offer Lynk delivery through a network of thousands of drivers in the nation’s capital (Thousands of Dublin taxi drivers sign up to delivery service for local businesses). This allows retailers to offer ‘store to door’ delivery with an easy portal for them to book in deliveries to their customers. 

Big players were also quick to get in on the action – in these cases often teaming up with other suitably large players. With strained resources on mail and other online delivery networks, Lyft has successfully won a contract to support the distribution of Amazon packages in the US. This is a real win-win since Amazon is experiencing extreme over-demand, while Lyft has the opposite problem with a massive drop in demand for rides. Unlike other rideshare players, Lyft does have a fast-food delivery platform, making this an extremely important survival move for them to hold onto drivers (Amazon Partners With Lyft to Deliver Packages and Groceries). In another example of big business pairings, Uber India has teamed up with the online supermarket Big Basket ( Uber And BigBasket Join Forces To Provide Last-Mile Services). 

Another taxi delivery model skips the B2B relationship. Instead, the idea is to promote passengers commissioning the taxi in a courier style by sending a car to collect items and drop them to their home or workplace. PICKnGO is a taxi-oriented ride-hailing service launched in Malaysia, which since the onset of coronavirus is now offering customers a pick-up and delivery service. All they need to do is book a ride as usual and add a message with order details to their booking (PICKnGO throws lifeline to taxi drivers with new delivery service). 

It’s not a unique idea, but a fairly simple service solution that is being offered to taxi company customers all over the world in different shapes and sizes. This is being aided by the introduction of Collect + Deliver functionality to taxi passenger apps, including iCabbi’s passenger app. This usually involves giving an order number for a supermarket, for example, and sees taxi drivers transporting goods from large retail stores that may otherwise be too corporate-controlled for local taxi firms to be able to quickly do business with. 

One way to take things even further is for taxi companies to launch their very own delivery platform, which allows customers to order from a selection of stores directly on an app. This gives the taxi company an income both from a commission on the orders since they are providing the eCommerce/online order platform and the revenue earned from servicing deliveries by way of their fleet. Think of a local version of Deliveroo, owned and serviced by a taxi company. That’s exactly what City Taxis in Sheffield have created with City Grab (City Taxis launches Sheffield’s answer to Deliveroo). The technology behind City Grab was developed as a white label solution for other taxi companies to brand and manage their own local delivery networks. Caboodleit is designed to integrate with the iCabbi platform to dispatch deliveries and is available on the iCabbi Marketplace – Visit Caboodleit- hence why we’re seeing lots of our fleets making the news with their own offerings in the past few weeks, and we hope to hear follow up stories of their success. 

New Directions 

COVID-19 taxi news articles about ‘future trends’ are not really news in the same factual sense as what we’ve discussed so far in this round-up. Rather, they’re speculations on rising or declining trends and predictions as to what will be the news in the future.  So, what are people forecasting in the COVID/post-COVID transport landscape? 

With the outbreak of COVID-19, travel movements have never been so uncertain. People are questioning even the idea of leaving their houses, let alone taking public transport or taxis. While for some it’s essential, for others it’s considered too risky. Car sale and ownership trends pre-COVID-19 outbreak were on the decline, but could fears about health risks reverse this trend and therefore reduce consumption of taxi and rideshare? This article examines this question in relation to the Indian market.  It cites survey results relating to ‘purchase intention’, but ‘intention’ really is just that, and until we see evidence in relation to actual purchases versus continued decrease in rideshare and public transportation use, it really is anyone’s guess! The author does a good job, however,  of discussing potential outcomes.  Furthermore, the points made specific to the Indian market, where average incomes typically exclude car ownership, draw attention to the fact that many socio-economic factors will play a part in determining how territories respond to coronavirus long-term (Will Coronavirus boost car sales? Here is what’s in store for ride hailing services). 

Another interesting survey relating to car ownership and rideshare sentiment during COVID-19 has been conducted by automotive consumer advice group CarGurus. It finds that car sales, in the long term, are unlikely to be affected by the pandemic. However, it also reports that people are likely to be far less interested in using rideshare services like Uber, Lyft and Grab. It predicts less work for gig workers and more stringent rules around sanitisation and safety (Survey: 39% of people won’t use ride-sharing services post coronavirus). Again, however, these kinds of trends are likely to be impacted by many factors specific to different territories. 

Looking at wider socio-economic and cultural trends is, in fact, the focus of this next article, also worth a read: Coronavirus is a once in a lifetime chance to reshape how we travel. Months of disruption may change patterns of behaviour forever. 

Business trips will be replaced by video conferencing? Will remote working become far more commonplace than before and likewise could the switch to home deliveries be permanent, thereby having a massive impact on physical v. online retail? Leisure travel, the authors suggest, is perhaps harder to predict. Either way transport policy and procedures will no doubt be under stricter watch, including the introduction of heightened safety measures on public transport such as better air filtration, dividing screens, routine sanitisation and less dense seating or passenger on-boarding. When you delve into it, almost all aspects of transport could be up for major change as the habits and attitudes that underpin how, when, where and why we travel are all impacted by COVID-19 lock-down. 

Got your own thoughts on future trends or wish to share an interesting news story or article you’ve read recently? Email me on Sinead@icabbi.com