As Brussels Airport will remain closed for a few more days and it doesn’t seem it will be working to full capacity soon, Belgian taxi association GTL is worried about the consequences the terrorist attacks will have for the Zaventem taxis licensed at the airport. It might be that the airport, keen on a complete renovation of the departure hall, will operate at a significantly reduced capacitiy for months.
GTL has addressed this issue in writing to Prime Minister Charles Michel and his colleagues of Finance, Labour and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises about the bleak perspective facing airport taxi operations. The companies have been largely jobless for over a week since the attacks on March 22. Apart from running at reduced capacity there is, according to GTL, also talk of a vastly reduced number of taxi ranks at the airport. In the letter it warns that the jobs of 500 to 600 jobs are at stake.
It is particularly painful for a trade which – particularly at the airport – played such a large role after the bombings. Brussels Airport taxi drivers took the first injured to nearby hospitals and drove dozens of punters to Brussels and a nearby shelter set up for the victims. All for free. But where Brussels cabs couldn’t cope with huge demand in the aftermath of the airport attacks and in the city, cabbies at Brussels Airport – in a different licensing area – were unemployed for over a week.
And it was the taxi driver who refused to put five big and heavy hold-alls in the boot of his black Mercedes-taxi (where there was only room for three), who saved many lives at Brussels Airport. Or was it the dispatch-centre which didn’t send the minivan the three terrorists had requested for their trip to the airport, which caused them to leave behind at least one bomb. Fact is that the taxi driver thought it was strange he wasn’t allowed to help his passengers loading and unloading these big bags. Not at their safe house. Not at the airport. Fact is also that this driver went straight to the police and showed them the pick-up address, where the police found enormous quantities of bomb-making materials.
Many of his colleagues from Brussels – called up by local taxi associations – meanwhile carried out shuttle services without putting the meter on. Whilst many survivors were still waiting for buses to ferry them either to the city or to the Zaventem shelter more and more taxis showed up to take people from the airport – for free. Several Brussels taxi organisations had asked their drivers to come to work and help ferry survivors for free. Many local drivers followed that call.
Unfortunately, the airport closing for over a week, made quite a dent in the wallets of the airport taxis, the ones with a local Zaventem licence who can only pick up at Brussels Airport but not in the Brussels Capital Region. The week after the bombings brought unemployment for Zaventem taxis and crazy demands for Brussels taxis – particularly with public transport half out of action for a few days. Often Brussels taxis (1.400 in total – two main radio circuits, Taxis Verts and Taxis Bleus) had to refuse passengers at peak times.
Taxis Autolux, the main taxi company at the airport is hardest hit: “Every day we miss out on roughly 300,000 euros in income”, commented Marc Delire, Autolux CEO in business newspaper De Tijd. “The economic consequences of the attacks are dramatic for us. Since the attacks in Paris in November our income had already fallen by 20 percent. It was just picking up again. Because the airport is closed at the moment, our 300 drivers are temporarily unemployed. That’s 80 percent of our people.”
Meanwhile the situation in Brussels was completely different. “As public transport in Brussels has not been up and running completely, we see a sharp increase in the number of people who ordered a taxi,” commented Taxis Verts CEO Jean-Michel Courtoy. “People whose flight was diverted to Charleroi, Antwerp and abroad had to find alternative ways to get there. On Tuesday, the day of the bombings, we were unable to keep up with demand, but even now (a week later – Ed.) we run 50 percent more trips and we work at maximum capacity.”
It’s not all good news from a Brussels taxi perspective, says Courtoy: “In the long run this is a bad thing for everyone because people will avoid Brussels. It could also mean that more people will take taxis because they don’t feel safe on public transport.”
Pierre Steenberghen, secretary-general of the national taxi federation GTL adds that “at peak times, not all clients are served in Brussels. Certainly on Tuesday demand was huge, but even with public transport back more or less in full working order, demand will remain extremely high.”
Friday after the attacks taxi drivers in Charleroi joined the earlier example of their colleagues in Brussels and Zaventem with a ‘Drive of Solidarity’: driving the 65 km between Brussels and Charleroi Brussels South Airport for free. (© 2016 Wim Faber)
- Brussels cab drivers played a remarkable role after the terrorist attacks in their city and at the airport.