Health and Healthcare Systems

From London's black cabs to cruise ships, how the pandemic has put the brakes on transport

Workers from cleaning company Dropless wait to sanitise a London Black Cab as part of a service between taxi platform Gett and the NHS in south east London to ensure patients with COVID-19 symptoms can get to a local GP without using public transport as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay - RC2FAG952KYV

The pandemic has dramatically reduced demand for black cab rides. Image: REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Douglas Broom
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  • London’s famous black cabs are struggling.
  • COVID-19 has resulted in a fifth of taxis being taken off the road.
  • 1,000 drivers have already quit.
  • Transport across the globe is facing a crisis as passengers stay home.

Every great city has its icons – for London, it’s Big Ben, red buses and black cabs. The only catch is that there aren’t many of the taxis on the streets anymore.

Have you read?

The pandemic, having halted tourism, has drastically reduced demand for cab rides in cities the world over – and London is no exception. Add competition from ride sharing app Uber and you can see why London’s trademark taxis are in a bad way.

A fifth of London’s black cabs have been taken off the road, according to the London taxi drivers’ association (LTDA), and many are languishing in fields outside the capital, waiting for better times to return. Fare income is only 20-25% of pre-COVID levels, says the LTDA, and nearly 1,000 London cabbies have quit driving since the pandemic struck.

A london taxi rank is shown
An average of 156 London black cabs a week have been lost from the fleet since June. Image: Pixabay

Planes taxied to a permanent stop

It’s far from the only mode of transport affected.

Across the world, airports and even remote airfields are crowded with parked-up airliners. Some will never fly again and are being dismantled at aviation boneyards across the globe. Trade body IATA says passenger numbers are down by two-thirds this year due to the pandemic.

Passenger planes parked on a runway are seen during a general quarantine amid the spread of the coronavirus disease.
Grounded airliners in Santiago, Chile. Image: REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Where flights are still taking off, the latest fuel-efficient aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the A350 have replaced older models. Despite airlines slashing global capacity by almost two-thirds, planes were still on average barely half full across the world, according to IATA.

On some routes, cargo flights have outnumbered passenger services. One week in April, United Airlines flew 95 intercontinental cargo services but just 42 for passengers.

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The train now departing is... empty

Around the world, trains are almost empty, too. “I see more cleaning staff getting off trains than passengers,” a worker at Tokyo station told Bloomberg. The UK government has agreed to subsidize train operators to keep running near-empty trains.

Tourist and school buses are seen at a parking lot near Kwai Chung Container Terminal, following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Sightseeing buses gathering dust in Hong Kong. Image: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, which was the world’s leading tourist city in 2019 with 56 million visitors, hundreds of tour buses lie gathering dust at a container port. The city has banned all non-residents from visiting since February, choking off the tourist industry.

All washed up

The fate of some cruise ships is even worse. While many liners ride at anchor in sheltered bays, their empty cabins and staterooms deathly silent, some are already with the scrappers.

A drone image shows decommissioned cruise ships being dismantled at Aliaga ship-breaking yard in the Aegean port city of Izmir, western Turkey, October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File photo      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      SEARCH
Decommissioned cruise ships being dismantled at a port in Turkey. Image: REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File photo

Carnival Corporation, which says it carried nearly half of the world’s 30 million cruise passengers in 2019, has cancelled sailings until 2021 across its brands, which include Aida, Cunard, Costa, Holland America and P&O cruises; it is also selling at least eight of its ships.

No one believes a recovery will be fast or smooth. IATA says it could take until 2024 for airline traffic to return to pre-COVID levels. Cruise lines are pinning their hopes on offers and discounts for the 2022 season to restart their industry.

The World Economic Forum is urging all stakeholders to build back better after the pandemic. Its recent Pioneers of Change Summit discussed the rare, but narrow, window of opportunity that exists to reflect and reimagine the world for greater resilience and sustainability.

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