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Working as a taxi driver can bring independence and financial rewards, but the hours can be long, the work sedentary and there’s the heightened exposure to the risks of the road.
Unsurprisingly, these conditions have a negative effect on the physical health and emotional wellbeing of drivers.
For example, a study of taxi drivers in Taiwan and Japan identified more instances of knee pain, lower back pain, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue and musculoskeletal system disorders amongst taxi drivers than the general population. There’s studies from the USA, Australia and Norway that show similar ill-effects.
In the UK, research from Free Now found that 75% of taxi drivers have struggled with their mental health in the past year, with 32% reporting not being able to access the support they need.
Alongside that, there are reports of the stresses particular to working as a driver in the platform economy. For example, worries over negative passenger ratings or the pressure to accept rides.
This prompts the obvious question: what should be done?
Here are three thoughts:
Show that you take well being seriously
Intriguing research shows that drivers' perceptions of how seriously health and well being is taken by ‘management’ is a predictor of both drivers’ emotional wellbeing and unsafe behaviours.
In other words, it’s not enough to know that you take this seriously - you have to show others that you do.
Authenticity, backing words with action, and gathering data on driver perceptions will all be important here.
Design interventions around the specific needs of taxi drivers
The occupational demands of taxi work do not always match the nature of the interventions that have been shown to work elsewhere. For example, interventions to reduce sitting time in the office, such as stand-up desks, are simply irrelevant.
The solo nature of the work also means that the effect of health enabling reinforcements - or, doing what your colleagues do – is also minimized. For example, it is much harder to create a working environment where the default is eating fruit, rather than unhealthy snacks.
More promising are contextually appropriate interventions such as training drivers in stretch exercises that can be done while standing by their car, or in healthy seating postures or efforts to create the social networks that are often missing (especially for recent arrivals in a country, who make up a large percentage of drivers in many countries).
App-based work could help here, providing nudges, reminders or even paid periods to walk, stretch or to eat healthily while not in the driving seat.
When school students take on a tutoring role with another student, the tutor benefits as much as the tutee. For example, by needing to explain a concept clearly and accurately the tutor’s own depth of understanding is increased.
This idea of a mutually beneficial exchange also applies to health behaviours.
For instance, a surprising number of people (or, at least surprising to an introverted Brit) share their worries with their taxi-driver. This opens up the possibility of a conversation which benefits both the driver and the passenger.
The driver benefits from the wellbeing enhancing effects of being helpful and generous, while the passenger gets to off-load.
The end result would be a fleet of mental-health first aiders - a fleet of drivers helping passengers, and passengers helping drivers.
That would be something that I would like to see more of in the world.