BANGKOK (AP) – Taxi fleets in Thailand are giving a new meaning to the term “roof garden” by using the roofs of taxis stopped by the coronavirus crisis to serve as small vegetable gardens.
Workers from two taxi cooperatives assembled the miniature gardens this week using black plastic garbage bags spread over bamboo frames. Additionally, they added land on which a variety of crops were planted, including tomatoes, cucumbers, and green beans.
The result looks more like an attention-grabbing art installation than a parking lot, and that’s part of the point: drawing attention to the plight of taxi drivers and operators who have been badly affected by the coronavirus lockdown measures.
The Ratchapruk and Bovorn Taxi cooperatives now have just 500 cars on the streets of Bangkok, with 2,500 idle at various sites in the city, according to 54-year-old executive Thapakorn Assawalertkul.
With the capital’s streets deadly silent until recently, there has been too much competition for too few fares, causing a drop in driver income. Many are now unable to afford daily vehicle payments, even after the charge was cut in half to 300 baht ($ 9.09), Thapakorn said. So they have left, leaving the cars in long, silent lines.
Some drivers surrendered their cars and returned to their homes in rural areas when the pandemic first struck last year because they were so scared, he said. More gave up and returned their cars during the second wave.
“Some left their cars in places like gas stations and called us to pick them up,” he recalled.
With the new outbreaks of the virus this year, the cooperatives were “completely destroyed” as their drivers turned over thousands of cars, he said.
New infections from Thailand have hovered just under 15,000 in recent days after peaking at 23,400 in mid-August. The government hopes the country is emerging from this wave, which has been the deadliest yet, accounting for 97% of Thailand’s total cases and more than 99% of their deaths. In total, Thailand has confirmed 1.4 million cases and more than 14,000 deaths.
The situation has left taxi companies in financial jeopardy, struggling to repay the loans for the purchase of their fleets. The Ratchapruk and Bovorn cooperatives owe about 2 billion baht ($ 60.8 million), Thapakorn said. So far, the government has not offered any direct financial support.
“If we don’t have help soon, we are in serious trouble,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The gardens on top of the taxis offer no alternative source of income. Cooperative staff, who were asked to accept pay cuts, now take turns tending the freshly made gardens.
“The garden is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this difficult time,” Thapakorn said. “Thailand went through a political tower for many years and a major flood in 2011, but business has never been so terrible.”
Associated Press videojournalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report.