Feature: Rome taxi driver explains how pandemic impacts his profession

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ROME, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) — Under normal circumstances, says Rome-based veteran driver Giovanni Pesciarelli, a good taxi driver is a kind of amateur psychologist.

“After a while, you get a feel for which passengers feel like talking and which ones need to get work done during the drive, who would appreciate taking in some of the sights along the way or who is in a hurry,” Pesciarelli told Xinhua. But since the coronavirus pandemic reached Italy, he said, there’s been a lot less variety.

“Now, everything feels heavy,” he said. “Everyone is growing tired of this situation. You can feel it. For the most part, people get in the car, head down, and just want to get where they need to go.”

The more than 8,000 tax drivers in the Italian capital are part of one of the professions hit hardest by the pandemic.

The first impact came from a lack of tourists. Though Samarcanda, the taxi cooperative Pesciarelli is part of, is not specifically focused on the tourism sector, Pesciarelli said that the mix of passengers in his car abruptly switched from an eclectic combination of foreigners and Italians, vacationers and business people, to a majority mix of nervous residents between February and March of last year.

“At first people didn’t know what to do,” he said. “Sometimes they’d think they could take their masks off in the car, or you could tell they were uneasy about moving around the city during a pandemic. At least the nervousness is gone now. People are used to following the rules.”

In order to avoid a glut of taxis on the city streets, the city ordered the number of shifts cut in half for each driver: from six days a week to three, and on average, Pesciarelli said, the number of passengers is down by 60 percent or more compared to before the pandemic.

“I haven’t had a workday yet without a single fare, but I’ve had days when I only had two or three passengers,” he said. “Before the coronavirus, there were ten or 15 a day, every day, sometimes more.”

Health rules represent another big change: all drivers must wear masks while working, and most elect to put up a plastic shield made to specifications from city health officials to separate the front and back of the car. The car must be aired out between fares and disinfected regularly. Drivers have to have hand gel and spare masks ready for passengers who need them.

For the 53-year-old Pesciarelli, all the changes have had an impact on what for him is a second profession. Pesciarelli, who left behind a career as an electrical technician to become a taxi driver a dozen years ago, said he has faith that things will return to normal once the pandemic is gone.

“We read about the vaccines, about improvements in treatment, and the impact of all the lockdowns,” he said. “I know things won’t go back to normal overnight, but Rome is one of the great cities, a city of art and culture, there are companies here, it’s the capital. When the pandemic is over, things will slowly go back to normal. We have to make the best of it until then.” Enditem

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