For the past 38 years, John Ford has been driving a taxi around Cork, getting to know the city’s people and its streets intimately.
The Covid-19 pandemic has no respect for such service, small industry and fraternity. John Ford is unequivocal - this is the worst it has been in all his decades of driving.
He said: “It is dire. We could barely survive on €350 a week as it was, but now being back at work, it is the worst I have ever seen it.
"We are working longer hours but barely scraping by. You come home and shudder when you see another bill coming through the door. This is what we are all facing. You wonder where it is going to end.”
John was one of hundreds of Cork taxi drivers who lined up in front of Ringmahon Rangers FC and drove in unison - slowly but deliberately and with the guidance of gardaí - into the city centre as part of a protest undertaken by the industry.
They have been on the frontlines bringing older people to their homes from shopping and funerals, they have brought exhausted medical staff home and back to the coalface, yet they feel taken for granted, they said.
They honked their horns in a cacophony down Patrick Street, the South Mall and on to City Hall, highlighting their plight and pleas for government help.
There was poignancy littered with hope as they passed the striking Debenhams workers on Patrick Street, who held their hands aloft in solidarity with their working compatriots.
Derry Coughlan of the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation told the Irish Examiner that the industry wants fairness.
Mr Coughlan said: “Taxi drivers have no guaranteed income. They invest and support the national transport scheme at no cost to the State, they have to put money into the car and the service, they have to be available, they have to pay a tax, have to replace the car.
“The State supports Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Irish Rail, and all we are asking is to do something for taxi drivers because we run parallel with those.
Taxi drivers want a two-year extension on the car licensing for older cars, which means when the 10-year rule is up, they get another two to carry over as the pandemic recovery begins, according to Mr Coughlan.
“We want to stop the vehicle licence for a while, go back to our own taxi meter areas and have strict control in those areas, so we can survive, live, protect and contribute to the industry.”
Cork Taxi Council (CTC) chairman Bobby Lynch said drivers are angry and worried.
“I’m looking at people here who don’t know what it is going to be like by Christmas. They are going to suffer. We have nobody helping us, no guidelines. We have good people gone from the industry.”
Taxi drivers want a support package for drivers struggling to make a living income, a buy-back scheme for older drivers who now want to retire from the industry, free access to testing, and support with the provision of face masks and personal protective equipment, CTC said.
The 10-year rule must be extended to 12, Mr Lynch said.
“We’re not asking for special favours, just fairness.”
“I’m at this since 1990, you get to know your people, a lot of whom depend on you. A lot of those drivers won’t be able to continue. The fleet is dying.”