At the time of writing (June 2020) the impact of Covid-19 lock down restrictions have an ongoing impact on the demand for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire services.
Some estimates indicate that demand has reduced by around 70%.
The factors which influence the Hackney Carriage and private hire trade are complex and multi-layered. There is no 'simple' answer to forecasting the lasting impact of Covid-19 on the licensed vehicle industry. However, most people involved in the trades appear to expect that the situation is unlikely to return to pre-Covid times.
At the highest and perhaps the most simplistic level, we can consider overall demand for services and overall supply of capacity to meet demand.
The suspension of most of the hospitality sector during the first half of 2020, has led to knock on impact on the licensed vehicle trade, with respect to demand.
Whilst demand associated with the night time economy and with business travel has radically reduced. Some demand for licensed vehicles has increased. Some examples are:
Travel to and from supermarkets, using licensed vehicles, has reportedly increased in some localities.
Transport of key workers to and from work, via licensed vehicles has increased.
Some licensed vehicles have adapted the service they provide, to undertake deliveries of packages and takeaway food
The increased demand in some sectors has not replaced the level of demand from other sectors, such as from the night time economy, tourism and business travel. Overall, demand has been radically reduced.
As our society emerges from Covid-19 restrictions, through phased relaxation of restrictions, it is unlikely that matters will return to precisely the pre-Covid situation. The drivers of demand for licensed vehicles are complex and rely on multiple influencing factors.
Some of the key factors likely to influence demand in the future, are:
Some estimates forecast that between 10% to 30% of licensed premises will not recover from the impact of Covid-19 and will close.
Reduced crowding levels in licensed premises may impact capacity in those premises that remain open.
Further and higher education institutions have indicated that face to face teaching will be reduced, potentially reducing resident student numbers.
Businesses are forecast to reduce the level of business travel required and more business will be conducted via online meetings.
In the foreseeable future, it is likely that the 'New Normal' will involve reduced levels of traditional forms of demand for licensed vehicles and changed profile of demand, with less of an evening peak in some localities.
When we consider supply of licensed vehicle services to meet demand, there have been significant impacts during lock down and the pattern of supply is likely to change further, as society recovers from the impact of Covid-19. Known impacts on supply include:
Some drivers have left the trade on a permanent basis.
Some vehicles have been handed back to leasing companies and are no longer available to provide service.
Some licensed vehicle operators and booking offices have closed down, either temporarily or permanently.
Once our society begins to recover from the effects of Covid-19, some further changes are likely to occur. These include the following:
Demand for corporate travel and airport transfer services are expected to be lower than pre-covid-19 levels.
Many business sectors are likely to make staff redundant. In the past this has led to an increase in people who have been made redundant in other business sectors, seeking to enter the licensed vehicle sector.
Licensed vehicle owners are likely to be wary about investing in newer vehicles until they are certain how sustainable levels of demand will be once things normalise.
Licensed vehicle operators are likely to consolidate, with larger and more resilient operators either buying out smaller operators or acquiring the customer base and many of the drivers associated with failed operators.
Demand for contactless measures including contactless payment and app based booking and payment are likely to increase.
Developers of booking apps are likely to consolidate with those with lower capitalisation less likely to survive the impact of Covid-19 downturn in demand.
Taking all of these impacts in combination, it is likely that there will be fewer experienced drivers remaining in licensed vehicle fleets. Some will be replaced by inexperienced newcomers. The quality of vehicles used as licensed vehicles may reduce initially, with renewals left until later. Some vehicles will reach the age limit of local licensing conditions and prompt owners to leave the trade, rather than renew.
Market share is likely to increase for operators using online apps for bookings and larger operators in some localities are likely to increase their dominance as competitors go out of business or are taken over.
In many areas, it is likely that traditional rank based demand for Hackney Carriages will be reduced, in favour of app based bookings. This is a trend which has been evident in recent years in many localities.
Licensed vehicles with a screen separating the driver from passengers are favoured by many passengers and drivers alike, as a measure to reduce risk of virus spread. This feature may not be allowed in many private hire vehicles under current type approvals. Therefore, taxi-type vehicles with separate passenger compartments are often favoured by passengers and perceived as safer.
Increasing dominance of larger operators in some localities may lead to more hackney carriages joining booking circuits in order to obtain hires and sustain their business. However, this can lead, in turn, to lack of supply at taxi ranks at key times, even with reduced overall levels of demand.
With respect to the levels of public service provided by licensed vehicles. Some of the combined impacts of Covid-19 may lead to changes in the profile of demand from the public and changes to the way in which that demand is met by licensed vehicles. It is likely that a new equilibrium will quickly emerge as Covid-19 restrictions are eased. In some localities, this will result in some reduction in levels of service to the public at times and in some locations.
The quality of vehicles used may be reduced and driver experience and levels of customer service may be impacted if experienced members of the trade leave and are replaced with inexperienced newcomers.
Availability may be reduced in some locations and during some periods.
Widespread redundancies have traditionally led to some people evaluating their career choices and deciding that they are well placed to become a licensed vehicle driver, by virtue of owning a car and possessing a driving licence. For some, there are few if any alternative opportunities identified.
Few new entrants to the licensed vehicle trades undertake significant market research to establish the likely levels of demand for their services or the likely levels of earnings. For many, there is little additional investment in their new business venture, beyond obtaining a driver and vehicle licence from the local licencing authority and this encourages entry as a low risk trial venture.
For some, the reality of their new venture falls short of their expectations. This can result in a high proportion of new entrants to the licensed vehicle trades leaving within their first year.
Large scale entry into the licensed vehicle fleets by new drivers, can displace established drivers who find it difficult to sustain their business owing to increased competition and/or reduced levels of demand. Over time, the level of supply will reach a new equilibrium. However, this will, in many areas, lead to a low level of residual experience in the trade and lower levels of customer service from inexperienced drivers.
Understanding the dynamics within private hire and hackney carriage fleets and the levels of service provided to the public, extends beyond observations of activity at taxi ranks.
Increasingly, the operation of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles for immediate hire are interconnected and interdependent. It is important to understand not only the operation of taxi ranks and the capacity offered there, but also to understand how private hire businesses operate and the part that both private hire vehicles and hackney carriages play in fulfilling demand for pre-booked hires.
During this period of changes to both supply and demand, with the potential for changes to lead to long lasting detrimental impact to the levels of public service provided by licensed vehicles, it has never been more vital to understand how hackney carriage and private hire services are provided and how they meet the changing profile of demand and the needs of the public.