Marin’s largest taxi company, facing a 90% drop in business from the coronavirus pandemic, has reduced its fleet of 20 cabs down to two.
“Business was already tough before because of Uber and Lyft, but we were getting by,” said Chaudry Ali, a Marin North Bay Cooperative Taxi co-owner and driver.
Earlier this year, the company’s insurance cost nearly doubled, Ali said, and then the coronavirus began spreading in Marin. As schools and businesses shuttered, ridership plummeted.
On a recent day, Ali worked a six-hour shift in which he got so few calls he didn’t make enough money to cover his expenses.
The coronavirus pandemic, he said, “is going to be the last nail in the coffin for us.”
The company continues to operate 24 hours a day, and drivers are taking extra sanitary precautions when they pick up riders, including wearing masks and gloves, regularly washing their hands and disinfecting surfaces inside the cabs. But drivers are struggling to eke out an income, and many have decided to pull their cabs off insurance plans and stay home.
Dispatcher Andrea Axtell has started an online fundraiser at GoFundMe.com to help keep the company’s wheels turning amid the pandemic.
“We are now faced with a decision: do we try to keep operating, or do we close our doors and park our cabs for an indefinite period of time?” the petition says. “I’m hoping that with some community support, we can keep our service available to all.”
Taxi Express, another Marin cab company, typically relies on business from tourists in Sausalito and riders going to Bay Area airports. But as the travel and tourism industries have largely frozen over during the coronavirus crisis, so has the company’s ridership.
Only three of the company’s 12 drivers are still on the road in Marin, said owner Patrick Muithya.
“Most drivers have decided, because there are no customers anyway, that they also wanted to stay safe,” he said, noting that those who are working wear masks and gloves and are diligent about sanitizing.
Even with drivers staying home, the company still faces a laundry list of expenses. Muithya hopes that county officials will help taxi businesses survive the coronavirus crisis by placing a moratorium on taxi permit fees.
“Taxis are still needed,” he said. “There are many people who don’t have their own transportation, and there are people that need to be taken to the hospital. So we need the help.”
Hanne Callaert had found a niche driving Marin County business executives to and from airports with her taxi company, Marin Green Cab. But when the “shelter in place” order took effect last month, calls dried up.
“It went from a halfway decent income to zero,” she said.
Callaert has submitted a proposal to several Marin grocers asking the businesses to partner with her cab company in delivering grocery orders to customers.
She suggested that grocery workers pack up orders and then cab drivers pick them up from the stores and drop them off around the county.
“It’s a simple proposition,” she said. “We have the logistics. We have all the cars. We need to come together to get through this, and we can do it in a safe manner that gives people peace of mind.”