At this point, there isn’t much which needs to be said about the extent of the disruption which has been caused in our day-to-day lives by the Coronavirus pandemic. From localised lockdowns to government policies related to face masks and what parts of the high street can reopen, the situation is changing on an almost daily basis.
This has also, unsurprisingly, had a significant knock-on effect on the behaviour and attitudes of consumers, especially as the ensuing economic uncertainty continues. Retailers are refitting their stores and implementing hygiene measures to encourage shoppers to feel like they can once again browse and buy safely, and the Chancellor’s “Eat out to help out” scheme is offering discounts to entice people back into their favourite restaurants.
Although high streets and offices are continuing to open up, and the first Government report to be released after non-essential shops resumed trading showed a nearly 14% sales rise between May and June, business, as usual, hasn’t yet returned. With consumers still reluctant to head out to the high street, let alone abroad, the global travel and tourism sector has taken a particular hit, especially with quarantine measures being enforced between different countries as the virus peaks and troughs. As far as retail goes, the early boosts for home entertainment and gardening products have subsided a little, and only time will tell what sectors will start pulling ahead as the health crisis progresses.
However, when it comes to taxis and private car hire, it’s far harder to determine the lay of the land. Face masks are now mandatory on all public transport, but it’s clear that the government is driving towards discouraging people from using cars almost completely. Their official safety guidance has encouraged those who need to travel to work to cycle or walk where possible, as well as increasing both the cost and extent of the congestion charge. With all this in mind, as well as the safety concerned, where does that leave those who continue to rely on taxi services to get from A to B?
Passengers and drivers alike are understandably concerned
Despite measures being taken by PCO drivers to maintain social distancing, the public has remained somewhat hesitant to immediately resume life as normal as lockdown measures ease. This has been exacerbated by the Government urging people to avoid making what they have termed “unnecessary journeys” on all forms of public transport, including private hire cars. Furthermore, as more information emerges around the impact of Covid-19 on various professions, Government statistics have shown that taxi drivers are one of the jobs most affected by the pandemic.
Additionally, despite there being no formal ban on taxi travel, many remained confused around whether or not private hire vehicles were still operating during the height of lockdown. Despite there being no concrete figures at the time of writing, this consumer uncertainty has surely contributed to a significant downturn in PCO usage since March. However, as some have noted, taxis are arguably safer than most other forms of public transport — after all, as long as appropriate precautions are taken, it’s arguably a safer way to get around than buses or tubes, where there is far more potential to be surrounded by other passengers.
Car manufacturers are taking steps to protect drivers and passengers
With the Prius continuing to be the PCO driver’s vehicle of choice, it stands to reason that Toyota has been one of the first companies out of the gate with measures to improve the safety of their cars. And although it isn’t a structurally significant alteration that has been made to the Prius, the invention of an easy-fit safety screen has gained full TfL approval. This means it’s ready to roll out for all medium-sized vehicles, with larger screens for models like the Prius+ expected to be approved in the coming months.
These small improvements could be effective in making customers feel safe, though it will also be hugely beneficial to drivers themselves, who have been at consistently high risk of infection since the beginning of the pandemic. Coupled with the safety measures passengers are required to take for the foreseeable future — including wearing masks and sanitising their hands before and after entering the vehicle — it might go some way towards helping passengers feel like they can return to life as normal.