The taxi and private hire industry has once again stepped up to the plate to provide a critical service to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Operators large and small are offering free rides to take elderly and vulnerable people to get coronavirus vaccinations – despite a continued refusal by the UK government to provide specific help for the beleaguered sector.
Trade associations have written to government ministers asking for priority vaccinations for drivers due to the high-risk nature of the work. And while devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have pledged funds to help the taxi and private hire trade, drivers in England have to hope for meagre local council handouts on an ad-hoc basis.
Meanwhile taxis provide the only safe means for many people to get their vaccinations, as many of the NHS vaccination sites are in hard-to-access locations that are not well served by public transport.
Veezu, the UK’s largest private hire operator, is working with GP surgeries throughout the UK regions it serves to offer free rides to elderly and vulnerable people who are attending a coronavirus vaccination appointment.
The firm is working with participating GP practices to help eligible people get to their vaccine appointments if they have no other means of transport. “In these first few weeks of the programme, we are helping to assist the first wave of people get their vaccinations,” said regional director Jack Price.
“We don’t want to bring any additional pressure on the NHS or GP practices and it’s vital that people do not call their GPs or NHS asking about free rides. Our offer is strictly on appointment only for those persons who are eligible.”
Veezu “hub” operations, including Dragon Taxis in South Wales, Go Carz in the Midlands and V Cars in the Bristol area are all helping out. Telephone operators at the participating GP surgeries will coordinate the journeys with Veezu’s dispatch centre, in a system designed to make sure only the eligible persons who need it get access to the free rides.
“We are also exploring the option of fixed rates and reduced fares for future waves of people who are invited for their vaccination,” Price added. “Even if you are not eligible for the free journey, we may be able to help you. This might be a useful option as public transport services are being reduced.”
Ride-hailing apps are also offering free rides, with both Uber and Bolt announcing schemes. Uber said it would offer free trips to help the most vulnerable get to the seven mass-vaccination hubs that have been set up across England.
Uber will cover up to £15 of passengers’ trips by entering the correct promotion code for the mass-vaccination hub they are travelling to in the app ahead of booking their journey. The offer extends to all trips, including wheelchair-accessible Uber Access vehicles and Uber Assist vehicles for those needing assistance in getting into and out of the car.
Trips must start or end at one of the seven vaccine centres below, and are subject to availability:
- Robertson House, Stevenage
- Excel Centre (Nightingale), London
- Centre for Life, Newcastle
- Etihad Tennis and Football Centre, Manchester
- Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey
- Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
- Millennium Point, Birmingham
In addition, Uber is working with Age UK to identify areas within its network of local charities where free round trips can be covered by Uber, to help some of the most vulnerable people travel to their vaccination appointments.
Jamie Heywood, Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern and Eastern Europe said: “It’s vital that the most vulnerable people in our society are vaccinated against the virus as soon as possible, and we want to help remove any barriers that could prevent them from travelling safely to get their jab.”
Bolt has pledged an initial £250,000 worth of rides to the government and said its 50,000 registered London drivers were on standby to help with the vaccination effort.
In Leicestershire, ADT taxis taxi company is offering free rides to help over-80s get to their Covid-19 vaccine appointments. The taxi firm said it had already offered support during the pandemic, including delivering free emergency food parcels to those most in need and collecting shopping.
Directors David Hunter said that to take advantage of the vaccination help, customers would need to call on one of the main ADT numbers – either 01509 260000 or 0116 255 5222 – and quote “Cab-4-A-Jab”. The offer is valid until February 15. Hunter said the company was also offering NHS and other key workers a 20% discount by using the code NHS20 when they booked via ADT’s app.
“We are determined to help the great people of Leicestershire get around during this pandemic and ongoing lockdowns, with the hope that we will all someday soon return to enjoy a more normal life together,” Hunter said.
In Winchester, local taxi firms are taking part in an innovative crowdsourced local fundraising initiative called Cabs for Jabs, which is trying to raise £20,000 in donations. This will allow local taxi drivers to carry out 1,000 free rides to and from vaccine hubs for vulnerable local people.
Winchester resident Tim Perry, who is heading the scheme, said: “With the help of local Winchester Taxi firms we aim to provide free taxi rides to as many people who need a lift as possible. We hope it will take a little bit of the stress out of the day knowing a taxi will already be paid for getting them to and from the vaccination centre safely.”
Even smaller operators in rural areas are helping out – particularly necessary where bus services are limited and people may live in remote villages some distance from the nearest vaccination centre.
A number of taxi firms in Sudbury, Suffok and the surrounding areas are offering free transport to elderly residents who would otherwise be unable to get to their Covid-19 jabs.
Sudbury Cab Company and Smith’s Private Hire are helping out the elderly in Sudbury and Great Cornard, while Cooks Private Hire is covering the Melford and Lavenham areas. Sudbury Cab Company managing director Joanne Cleverley previously worked in the care industry, and she said she wanted to help the community in a difficult time.
“A lot of elderly people who live alone are really worried about getting the vaccine. If I can help them get there and back safely, without the need for public transport, then that’s great.”