Report of the Group Director of Services
The Group Director of Services submitted a report (previously circulated) updating Members on taxi provision, including wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV), within Darlington in light of a reduction in the number of available drivers following the removal of Covid restrictions and the current economic climate.
The submitted report stated that following the relaxation of Covid-19 Regulations the country was faced with a shortage of professional drivers, this included the taxi trade; that the current economic climate had significantly increased operating costs to the taxi trade; and this was a regional and national issue.
It was reported that Darlington Borough Council had 143 licensed hackney carriage vehicles and 89 licensed private hire vehicles, 10 of which were wheelchair accessible; there were 397 drivers licensed with Darlington, which was 104 less than the month before Covid restrictions were implemented; details were provided for the four private hire operators, each of which had their own business model; and that contrary to public opinion, Uber had never applied for a licence in Darlington.
Reference was made to the reasons for driver shortages and Members were informed that proposed changes to the current Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy 2021 had been approved by the Licensing Committee for consideration by Council, to support the trade and attract additional drivers, and included changes in relation to vehicle age restrictions, topographical knowledge test and window tint.
In relation to WAVs, Members were informed that there was no mandatory requirement for a specific number of WAVs; that WAVs were considerably more expensive to purchase and run; and that Licensing offered a number of incentives
for proprietors to invest in WAVs, which included reduced licence fees (25%) and allowing these vehicles to remain on the fleet for longer.
Reference was made to the taxi marshals introduced between the hours of 11.00pm and 5.00am on Friday and Saturday nights for the Grange Road rank following a successful bid to Safer Streets, which had been proved to be very successful in controlling the rank; a fare increase had been approved in May by Darlington’s Licensing Committee; and Darlington’s taxi fares were currently the third highest in the north-east and highest in the Tees Valley area for a two mile journey.
Details were provided of the new on-line taxi licensing application system, IDOX, which went live on 1 September 2022 and provided a quicker and more efficient service to applicants. Members were also informed that following the Deregulation Act 2015, many drivers and proprietors used Wolverhampton as their Licensing Authority due to reduced fees and Take Me, who had recently taken over 1AB, encouraged their drivers to use Wolverhampton as their licensing authority. This may have implications for the Council’s private hire licensing budget.
Discussion ensued regarding the flexibility in relation to legislation for WAVs to increase vehicle numbers; the Licensing Manager confirmed that the policy review had proposed that WAVs be exempt from having to be compliant with Euro 6 standards and a range of incentives were in place to encourage operators to invest in a WAV; and following a question Members were assured that any drivers refusing to transport wheelchair users would be prosecuted.
Members were encouraged to report any issues regarding the new taxi company to the Licensing Manager to raise with the company directly.
RESOLVED – That the current challenges within the taxi trade be noted.