BANGKOK (AP) – Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving new meaning to the term “rooftop garden” as they use the roofs of cabs wrecked by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable plots.
Workers of two taxi cooperatives assembled miniature gardens this week using black plastic garbage bags strewn across bamboo planks. On top, they poured soil into which a variety of crops were planted, including tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans.
The result looks more like an eye-catching art installation than a car park, and that’s partly the point: to draw attention to the plight of taxi drivers and operators who have been badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown measures.
According to 54-year-old executive Thapakorn Asavalartkul, the Ratchapruk and Bovorn taxi cooperatives now have only 500 cars left on Bangkok’s streets, of which 2,500 are lying idle in several parts of the city.
Until recently, the streets of the capital were silent, there has been a lot of competition for very low fares, resulting in a drop in the income of the drivers. Thapakorn said many people can no longer make daily payments on vehicles, even though the fee has been halved to 300 baht ($9.09). So they have left the cars in long, silent rows.
He said some drivers surrendered their cars and returned to their homes in the countryside when the pandemic first hit last year because they were too scared. During the second wave, More gave up and returned his cars.
“Some left their cars at places like gas stations and called us to pick up the cars,” he recalled.
With the new surge of the virus this year, cooperatives were “completely knocked down” as thousands of cars were abandoned by their drivers, he said.
Thailand’s new infections in recent days are just under 15,000, having topped 23,400 in mid-August. The government expects the country to emerge from the wave, which has been the deadliest so far, accounting for 97% of Thailand’s total cases and more than 99% of its deaths. In total, Thailand has confirmed 1.4 million cases and more than 14,000 deaths.
The situation has put taxi companies in financial trouble, struggling to repay loans on their fleet purchases. Thapakorn said the Ratchapruk and Bowhorn cooperatives owed about 2 billion baht ($60.8 million). The government has not offered any direct financial assistance so far.
“If we don’t get help soon, we will be in real trouble,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Taxi-top gardens do not offer an alternative revenue stream. The cooperative workers, who were asked to take a pay cut, are now taking turns looking after the newly built gardens.
“The vegetable garden is an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this difficult time,” Thapakorn said. “Thailand went through several years of political turmoil, and a major flood in 2011, but business was never so dire.”
Associated Press video journalist Tasani Wejpongsa contributed to this report.