Taxis, ride-sharing services in short supply in Burlington area

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 4:16 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - If you use taxis or ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft to get around Burlington, be prepared to wait. Pre-pandemic, Burlington had 45 taxi licenses now, they’re down to 11.

As people get vaccinated, turn to travel and want to go out more, drivers say they are trying their best to keep up but the need is overwhelming.

“It’s really starting to pick up and I really cannot keep up with the demand now,” said Yoness Jamil of Star Cab of Vermont.

Jamil is a one-man band; he owns and operates Star Cab of Vermont.

He says his former drivers and others in the taxi community are hanging up the keys.

“There are really hard to find the drivers because some people and some drivers quit actually during the pandemic,” Jamil said.

Business dried up as COVID ramped up.

Ricky Handy of the Blazer Transportation Group says from March to the end of 2020 they only had two customers. But now, demand is soaring again.

“The phone started ringing at 4 in the morning and I had to get up and spring into action and I did five Doubletree calls before 6 a.m. And they’re the ones who have a shuttle,” Handy said.

Airport Winooski Cab driver Abdi Dexeri says he is being stretched thin.

“I work for 15 hours a day, yeah. Fifteen hours a day, seven days a week,” Dexeri said.

In Burlington, the city collects 25 cents for every pickup and drop-off whether it’s by taxi or Uber.

Burlington Vehicle for Hire Committee Member Bill Keogh says at the height of the pandemic, city coffers took a hit.

Just looking at Uber in July 2018, the company paid the city $11,855. Three years later, in July 2021, Uber paid the city just 20% of that, $2,431.

And the numbers are even worse for taxis.

“We used to bring in revenue of $127,000, now we bring around $36,000,” Keogh said.

Keogh says there are far fewer gig drivers since the start of the pandemic and customers are feeling it.

Mike McCaffrey tried to get an Uber at the airport.

“It says unavailable. They didn’t even get me a wait time,” McCaffrey said.

Uber driver Joy Tyo says that’s because they are all busy.

“It’s like calling a phone line and seeing it’s busy and to call again,” Tyo said.

Tyo says her hands are full. She completes around 35 rides a day.

Keogh is optimistic that business will continue to boom for these drivers but he says the industry has been forever changed by the pandemic.

“We have people working from home now not taking cabs, not taking business cabs. We have airline passengers down but that’s going to be back rising again, so it will come back to some degree but maybe not to what it once was,” Keogh said.

For now, Keogh says it’s important to schedule a cab ahead of time if you need one and he hopes to give out more taxi licenses in the coming months.

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