Heathrow is preparing to nearly triple the fee it charges London’s black cabs collecting passengers from the airport, an increase that drivers warn will be “devastating” to their businesses.
Taxis will have to pay £10 from July, compared with £3.60 at present. The price rise will help Heathrow to recoup the £1.4m it lost running the airport taxi rank last year, when passenger numbers collapsed as travel restrictions devastated the aviation industry.
Passenger numbers at the airport last year fell to levels not seen since the 1970s, and Heathrow is losing £5m per day.
But drivers told the Financial Times that increasing the charge for every journey from the airport to £10 would mean the work is barely worth their time.
Access to Heathrow is tightly controlled, and taxis must queue in a parking area on the outskirts of the airport while waiting to be directed to terminals to collect passengers.
Waiting times were about three hours before the pandemic, but have routinely stretched to 24 hours over the past year, according to taxi drivers.
To make ends meet, some drivers are doing four to five-day stints “essentially living at the airport” while they queue for passengers, and only returning home to see their families at weekends, said Sam Houston, a driver who is a regular in the queue.
“It is that desperate, it is like working in another country,” he added.
London’s black cabs, already suffering from cheaper competition from ride-hailing apps such as Uber, have seen a collapse in revenue during the pandemic, forcing many drivers to leave the industry.
The majority of drivers are earning less than 30 per cent of their usual income at the moment, according to the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which represents the capital’s taxi drivers.
“We appreciate the huge challenges Heathrow and the aviation industry have faced as a result of the pandemic, but the taxi trade has been hit just as hard,” the association said.
“It will take time for passenger demand to pick up and for our trade to recover. Anything which significantly increases drivers’ costs in the short-term will prove devastating.”
The LTDA suggested that Heathrow limit the price increase by spreading the cost over a five-year period, but said the airport indicated it was moving ahead.
Heathrow said Civil Aviation Authority regulations means it cannot generate any profit from services such as the taxi feeder system, and that any lost revenue is factored into the price for the following year, meaning that prices have inevitably risen.
“We have delayed increasing the charge for the taxi feeder park for as long as possible, but it will now increase from 1 July. The price will decrease in future as passenger numbers increase,” the airport said.
Heathrow is also locked in a furious dispute with airlines over a proposal to increase landing charges to claw back losses incurred during the coronavirus crisis.
The CAA is due to rule on the airport’s proposal to increase the fees it charges airlines by 5 per cent in the coming weeks, with carriers including British Airways arguing Heathrow’s group of largely overseas investors should provide more funding rather than pass losses on to other areas of the industry.