Here at Lowland RFCA we’re privileged enough to see the fantastic work of many taxi organisations throughout the Lowlands of Scotland. However, today we want to focus on one particular taxi charity, Fares4free.
The founder of a charity which provides free transport for veterans has hailed Reservists for stepping up during the Coronavirus pandemic to provide crucial services.
Once the nation was plunged into Lockdown the taxi phone line service tripled in jobs at Fares4free – a unique nationwide organisation which puts on free journeys for ex-military personnel to access important services and combat loneliness.
However, Reservists from around the country and members of the public hastily banded together to offer a lifeline which included free emergency transport to hospitals and delivery of shopping to the doors of those shielding.
Fares4Free Founder and Operations Manager, David Gibson, made the decision to suspend all social journeys after Veteran centres began to close their doors which resulted in a rise in calls for aid but also saw more volunteers join the support.
He said: “During the Lockdown Reservists stepped up. Dundee City and Highland Squadron of the signals were the first to step up and introduce us to further contacts around the country which has been helpful.
“Before it got bad, the Scottish War Blinded charity said they would close both centres to service users because of age, vulnerability and health reasons. As soon as that happened I had to talk to the board about suspending social journeys. Social journeys for veterans are one of the biggest things we do.
“We made the decision not to have older veterans in the car but panic buying soon set in. And that’s when our user base increased because people who might have had underlying health conditions who would normally be able to go the shops were now needing a helpline.
“We then had to source things that people couldn’t get like toilet roll. We were doing welfare checks, delivering prescriptions and we were even getting calls to help transfer homeless people from hotels or even the street to accommodation.
“We had to make sure we could immediately source PPE and visit shops in a safe way.”
At one point during the last three months the charity received over 130 email requests for taxis. But thankfully it reacted quickly to create a social media messaging group of over 100 volunteers to weather the storm in its busiest period since David started the charity in 2016.
As a former taxi driver himself, David was empathetic to customers who were isolated and offered free taxi journeys to a local charity shop. And before long, David sought to find the group who could mostly benefit from free taxis and began offering them to veterans while taxi drivers themselves were giving up four fares a month as goodwill.
Fares4Free has now completed over 10,200 journeys – a value of over £300,000 – and helped more than 800 individual’s combat mental health and isolation.
“Veterans are one of the main groups in society where a significant minority have issues which can be prohibitive when it comes to public transport,” David continued. “As a taxi driver I recognised that, for example, driving an elderly person to the supermarket from the house which is five minutes away, helping them in with their shopping, that could turn into a 15 minute journey because you are sitting outside their house or at the door nattering away to them and you could be the only person they speak to that week.
“The proudest part of what we do is the mental benefit. Often what occurs after these people get a lift is that they strike up a friendship with their taxi driver. That is not unusual, that is a very big part of why we do what we do.
“A priority of ours is to listen, to get to know people when they open up to you and get to know the driver. It’s important they don’t feel one journey is just a fleeting window in their life. We want them to feel like they can pick up the phone to us anytime.
“It’s important trust is built and maintained beyond the engagement of the transport service and that they can always come back to you and ask for further support or for a chat.”
How can you support Fares4Free? The charity does not encourage donations but is continuing to call on the help of volunteer drivers, in particularly Reservists in the Lowlands of Scotland, due to the nature of their job, life experience and mentality.
The majority of journeys take place in Scotland’s Central Belt but the rural areas of the country can result in taxis ventures becoming more complex.
Fares4Free are also looking into the possibility of enhancing their service by including social activities with taxi journeys such as dog walks or fishing.
David said: “We are hoping to expand on a one to one basis, building on that trust and being able to develop relationships and build confidence in people who come to trust us.
“On a typical day the phone isn’t always ringing but getting that help from Reserve units throughout the country would be absolutely amazing. Especially in the Lowlands because if you look at the geography, it’s challenging.
“We are busy in the Central Belt but that is because a lot of the population is based there. However, we are busy in most towns and cities.
“It’s knowing when the phone rings, when there’s an issue, when we need cover, that there are enough people on our books that we can just pick up the phone. Not everyone is going to be available for that that hospital visit or if someone just wants out for a bit of companionship.
“Reservists would be there as a safety net and any help would be very appreciated.”
For more information visit fares4free.org/ or search Fares4Free on Facebook.
A number of taxi companies have been extremely supportive of the Armed Forces community including Network Private Hire, Glasgow Taxis and City Cabs (Edinburgh). All have signed the Armed Forces Covenant and Glasgow Taxis and City Cabs both hold a Silver Employer Recognition Scheme award.