London, UK – Drive through a leaf-strewn forest and past a charming street market in Epping, about 20 miles northeast of London, and a jarring sight appears: black London taxis, parked bumper-to-bumper by the hundreds in a muddy field, surrounded by beehives and a barn for raising squab pigeons.
It’s a camera-ready monument to the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. The cabs were returned by their drivers to a rental company because of the collapse in business after Britain went into lockdown last March. As the number of idled taxis piled up, the company ran out of room in its garage and cut a deal with a local farmer to store about 200 of them alongside his bees and pigeons.
“I call it the field of broken dreams,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which represents about half of the British capital’s more than 21,500 licensed cabbies. “It’s awful, and it’s getting worse.”
On Wednesday, England emerged from its second lockdown, but severe restrictions remain in effect, and it’s anyone’s guess when central London’s deserted streets will once again fill with office workers, theatergoers and tourists.
As of now, barely a fifth of London’s taxis are currently operating, Mr. McNamara said, and the drivers still on the road are averaging just a quarter of their pre-pandemic fares.