Morning taxi shortage: COVID changed cab drivers' work habits

Taxis on Viru tänav at the edge of Tallinn's Old Town.
Taxis on Viru tänav at the edge of Tallinn's Old Town. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Travelers heading to Tallinn Airport in the early hours of the morning have noticed that it's difficult to get a taxi to their early morning flight even when trying to book ahead the night before. Cab companies agree that shortages crop up at peak times, and cited the COVID-19 pandemic, which dealt a serious blow to nightlife in the Estonian capital.

Eduard Dubrovski, head of the Forus Taxi platform, said that there generally are fewer cab drivers working overnight, as people prefer to work during the day. The COVID pandemic also saw cab drivers increasingly prefer daytime shifts, as there weren't any clients late at night.

"Dispatchers are saying that there is no problem, but my 15 years of experience in taxi services show that departures are around 4-6 a.m., since everyone wants to fly out at the same time," Dubrovski explained.

"Another culprit here is COVID as well," he continued. "Prior to COVID, taxi drivers came to work at night because nightlife meant that taxi drivers got good work. They picked up partygoers around 3-4 a.m. and then airport trips around 5-6 a.m. COVID put an end to [Tallinn's] nightlife, and that has impacted cab drivers' habits to this day. Recovering will take time, but demand creates supply, which means we'll eventually start seeing more additional drivers."

AS Tallink Takso board member Tõnu Uusmaa said that the issue may be seasonal as well.

"True, each fall there's a livening of demand through all channels — via both our dispatch center as well as our app — and there have been more difficult mornings, especially at peak times, i.e. around 4-6 a.m., when demand is higher than the number of vehicles active at the time, which generates a so-called booking window," Uusmaa explained, adding that running wait times have likewise increased accordingly.

"At peak times, we tell running callers our arrival time and hope that it works for the traveler," the Tallink Takso board member said. "Should a vehicle reach a running caller sooner, the client is notified of this specifically."

He noted that all market participants are experiencing peak loads by now, in which demand exceeds supply and active vehicles are all busy at the same exact time — regardless of whether they're a traditional cab company or an app.

It's difficult for travelers to reach Tallinn Airport by public transport in time for the first departures of the day as well, as trams don't begin operating until just after 5 a.m., and the number 2 bus, which likewise serves the airport, doesn't begin operating until another some 20 minutes later.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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