The demand for taxi services is currently extremely high, whether in the ranks, on the street or through booking applications. However, the supply of taxis is likely to be low for some time, which means for now that the taxi driver can choose who they serve and why.
Given the choice, the most profitable way for a licensed taxi driver to work is street or hail. There’s no wasted break-in time, no app booking platform fees, and less dead mileage on fuel.
Some booking apps strongly incentivize taxi drivers to drive those dead miles and serve customers who request taxis through their mobile devices. While this has no doubt had some impact, there is a portion of customers who seem to struggle to get a taxi when needed; it’s the hotel staff.
Why would hotels have trouble finding a taxi?
There are a multitude of complex reasons, and it varies from hotel to hotel. Ultimately, there are three big points of contention; cost, risk of cancellation and past experiences.
Before the pandemic, there was a gradual shift to digital calling systems rather than the age-old tried and true means of a taxi rank. While a call from the hotel lobby could have saved the concierge time and effort when demand for taxis was low, this method is now less successful given the high demand and more efficient revenue potential .
A digital hail will typically cost drivers more than 15% of their fares, plus there is the cost of payment processing to face if the passenger is paying with a card.
Drivers are essentially being asked to waive about 20% of their metered fare during times of high demand. The math doesn’t stack up.
When demand is high, taxi drivers need not take risks. Trusting a pre-booked customer to show up on time, or arrive at all, means the driver is taking the risk that his bottom line will suffer. Basically a time out for a no show.
Taxi drivers want to be efficient in their work. Hailing a taxi when the passenger is not ready to leave the hotel, or even worse, is in their room, means downtime and risk of no-show.
Unfortunately, there is also a growing trend of hotel door staff booking taxis through an app, but taking the first taxi that appears in the meantime. The taxi driver on the reception side who is still running to serve the hotel is then informed that the passenger has already left and receives no cancellation fees and a lasting bitter experience.
This leads nicely to the last point. If a taxi driver has been treated unfairly by a hotel in the past, why would someone do the impossible and take the risk again unless they are stopped outside the hotel?
For some taxi drivers, even a door staff flag directly outside isn’t enough to justify hotel maintenance on the back of previous experiences.
A taxi driver said: “In my time (in London) you knew all the crooked hotels. You knew if they frantically tried to wave you down with passengers on the sidewalk, they only went 50 or 60 yards.
“Anyone going to Gatwick, Luton or Heathrow would call a car and get a back hander and give the licensed taxi drivers the crumbs.
“I would go ahead.”
Another taxi driver, Gavin Briner, was more positive, however, and suggested that taxi drivers treat the change in fortune as an opportunity. Gavin said: “The black cab industry is at a pivotal time. We recover a lot of work and we have to stay like this so that the Kipper is just a distant memory.
“These hotel guests come from all over the world. It’s great communication for the business, so why let them down when they want a black cab?
“Many customers use different modes of transport. Who cares about other costs and competition?
“There’s no point in being negative saying this one did this and this one did that, just take whatever job it is when your lights come on. Don’t give anyone an excuse to change from the best means of transport in London.
What is the solution?
The return of airport rides at measured fares offered to black cabs would see some renewed confidence, but for some taxi drivers, years of bad experiences will be hard to shake off quickly.
Having passengers ready to board the taxi will improve everyone’s experience, and ensuring that reserved taxis are full and occupied by passengers will go a long way to providing a longer-term positive experience for everyone.