A large number of livery drivers stopped working for many months subsequent to the COVID-19 outbreak for fear of catching the virus. Concern about their financial future caused the initial hesitancy of many For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) drivers to return to the streets. Despite financial necessity, the massive decrease in ridership caused drivers to be worried about their financial future. For many of those who stopped driving, federal unemployment checks became the only source of income. When those ran out, drivers had no option but to return to driving. Since most drivers are independent contractors, they don’t have access to paid medical leave, sick time or vacation time.
Since the workings of the FHV industry are based upon the laws of supply and demand, it is only natural that when the public’s demand for private For-Hire transportation is drastically reduced, there will be an oversupply of drivers who have little to no work. Decreases in passenger demand tracked a decline in citywide economic activity, including business travel, tourism, entertainment, and nightlife.
The pandemic decimated some FHV businesses, as well as drivers who come from diverse backgrounds.
FHV drivers are still on the front lines of the pandemic. They already struggle to earn enough money in the gig economy. Less business is bad enough, but they even have to bear the extra added expense of buying additional sanitizer and disinfectant, and in some instances, a plastic shield for the interior of their vehicle.
During the heart of the COVID-19 health crisis, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) took steps to support FHV drivers, vehicle owners, and businesses by providing financial counseling, legal services and other useful free City resources such as health care insurance and, mental health resources. The TLC even created a “Driver Resource” page on its website to learn about other work opportunities and public assistance. Unfortunately, the TLC can and will only do so much for stakeholders in the FHV industry.
Fortunately, New York City is starting to reawaken from the deep slumber set off by the sudden lockdown in March 2020. Businesses of all sorts are reopening and hiring back workers. Businesses reopening their offices has led to an increase in business-related travel. More people getting vaccinated has led to more families going on vacations, which means more travel to and from the airports. Though New York City’s recovery will be gradual, it is virtually certain. It is still a long way to recover to pre-pandemic levels, but it’s encouraging going into the summer season to see people going back to the office to work and travel and tourism on the rise.
Effective May 19, 2021 New York State adopted CDC guidance for fully vaccinated people for most businesses and public settings. Capacity limits are slated to be fully lifted as of July 1, 2021 for stores, restaurants, bars, gyms, fitness centers, recreational venues, hair salons, offices, and more. With the restrictions being lifted, people will be working around the clock and will need for-hire transportation. Many will still be weary of utilizing public transportation and as such and will be looking to their trusted livery service for private transportation.
This has to be considered the most exciting moment after a very dark and hellish year. NYC & Company, the city’s tourism-promotion agency, has been spreading word of the loosening restrictions and letting as many people know as possible that New York City is open for business and the city is reawakening.
The summer holds considerable promise for all of us in the FHV industry. Many people are clamoring to make up for a year of lost vacation time, and where else better to do so than in the Big Apple. For many business owners, especially in the FHV industry, news of the city reopening was a lifeline. People are looking for a reason to go out. Many miss socializing and sitting together at a restaurant. It is not just going out for food or drinks. It’s about a return to normalcy.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said: “Based on experience thus far in this country and globally, I feel confident that if we continue to vaccinate people at the rate that we’re doing, that we will very soon have a situation where we will have so few infections in this country, we will begin to return to the normality that all of us desire so much.”
I think it will take time to accept the “new normal,” but I believe we will get there. I hope that we take all that we have learned during this lockdown and bring the lessons forward into the future. In the interim, we have to continue to work together to keep the livery industry vibrant for all stakeholders.
Staying informed is just the tip of the iceberg. Getting involved and helping effectuate change for the betterment of the industry is a goal that we should all be continuing to work towards. I for one will continue to do all I can to inform, educate and prompt others to become active, get involved and help secure the vitality of the industry in good time and in bad. In the meantime, there are bright skies ahead. Let us all be grateful that we are here, still alive and ready to hit the road.