27 September 2021
In Thailand, taxicabs are giving new meaning to the term "rooftop garden." People are using the rooftops of parked vehicles to grow vegetables.
Many taxicabs in Thailand have lost business during the coronavirus crisis. To make better use of them, people have planted small vegetable plots on their rooftops.
Workers from two taxi companies built the small gardens. They stretched black, plastic garbage bags across wooden structures and added soil. Then they planted vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers and string beans.
The result looks more like a work of art than a car parking lot. And that is partly the point: to draw attention to the difficulty of taxi drivers and operators in Thai cities. They have lost much business and money due to coronavirus lockdown measures.
These days, Ratchapruk and Bovorn taxi companies only have 500 cars left working the streets of Bangkok. Meanwhile, 2,500 cars are not moving. They are parked at a number of locations throughout the city, says Thapakorn Assawalertkul. He is the manager of one of the businesses.
The streets in the capital have been quiet during the pandemic. This has resulted in a fall in drivers' earnings. Many of them now cannot afford the daily payments on the vehicles. This is even after the daily payment was halved to 300 baht, or $9.09, the manager said.
So, the drivers have walked away and have left the cars in long, silent rows.
When the pandemic first hit last year, some drivers gave up their cars and returned to their homes in rural areas. They were scared, Thapakorn said. During the second wave of the coronavirus, more have given up and returned their cars to the companies
Thapakorn said, "Some left their cars at places like gas stations and called us to pick the cars up."
With new surges of the virus this year, the taxi companies were "completely knocked out." Thousands of cars, he said, were given up by their drivers.
Thailand's new coronavirus cases were at just above 23,400 in mid-August. The government hopes the country is coming out of this wave. It has been the deadliest so far. This wave makes up 97 percent of Thailand's total cases and more than 99 percent of its deaths. In total, Thailand has confirmed 1.4 million cases and over 14,000 deaths.
The situation has left the taxi companies in financial danger. They are struggling to repay loans on the purchase of their cars.
Ratchapruk and Bovorn companies owe around 2 billion baht or $60.8 million U.S. dollars, Thapakorn said. The government has so far not offered any direct financial support.
"If we don't have help soon, we will be in real trouble," he told The Associated Press on September 16.
The rooftop taxicab gardens do not offer a way to make money. The company managers were asked to take pay cuts. And now they take care of newly-made gardens.
"The vegetable garden is both an act of protest and a way to feed my staff during this tough time," Thapakorn said. "Thailand went through political turmoil for many years, and a great flood in 2011, but business was never this terrible."
I'm Anna Matteo.
Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report. Anna Matteo adapted the AP story for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.
Words in This Story
taxicab – n. a vehicle that carries passengers for a fare usually based on the distance traveled
roof – n. the cover or top of a building, vehicle, etc. rooftop – n. the upper surface of a roof
garden – n. an area of ground where plants (such as flowers or vegetables) are grown
park – v. to leave temporarily on a public way or in a parking lot or garage
location – n. a place or position
manager – n. someone who is in charge of a business, department, etc.
surge – n. to suddenly increase to an unusually high level
knocked out – v. to make inoperative or useless
staff – n. a group of people who work for an organization or business
tough – adj. difficult to accomplish, resolve, endure, or deal with
turmoil – n. a state of confusion or disorder