BANGKOK – Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving the term ‘rooftop garden’ new meaning, as they use the roofs of taxis stranded by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable gardens.
Workers at two taxi co-ops assembled the miniature gardens this week using black plastic trash bags stretched over bamboo frames. In addition, they added soil in which a variety of crops including tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans were planted.
The result looks more like an eye-catching art installation than a parking lot, and that’s part of the point: to draw attention to the plight of taxi drivers and operators who have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown measures. .
The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi cooperatives have only 500 cars plying the streets of Bangkok, 2,500 of which are inactive at several sites in the city, according to Thapakorn Assawalertkul, a 54-year-old executive.
With the streets of the capital extremely quiet until recently, there has been too much competition for too few fares, resulting in lower incomes for drivers. Many can now no longer afford the daily payments on vehicles, even after the fee has been halved to 300 baht ($ 9.09), Thapakorn said. So they moved away, leaving the cars in long, silent rows.
Some drivers returned their cars and drove home to rural areas when the pandemic first hit last year because they were so scared, he said. More gave up and returned their cars during the second wave.
âSome left their cars in places like gas stations and called us to collect the cars,â he recalls.
With new outbreaks of the virus this year, co-ops have been “completely stunned” as thousands of cars have been abandoned by their drivers, he said.
New infections in Thailand stood at just under 15,000 in recent days after peaking above 23,400 in mid-August. The government hopes the country pulls out of the wave, which has been the deadliest so far, accounting for 97% of total cases in Thailand 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 left the taxi companies in financial jeopardy, struggling to repay loans on the purchase of their fleets. The Ratchapruk and Bovorn co-ops owe around 2 billion baht ($ 60.8 million), Thapakorn said. The government has so far offered no direct financial support.
“If we don’t have help soon, we will have real problems,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Gardens atop taxis do not offer an alternative source of income. Cooperative staff, who have been asked to cut wages, now take turns looking after the newly landscaped gardens.
âThe vegetable patch is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this difficult time,â Thapakorn said. “Thailand went through political turmoil for many years and a great flood in 2011, but business has never been so bad.”
Associated Press video reporter Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.