Warnings taxi trade may not survive in Northumberland without fare increases

Northumberland County Council is facing calls to increase fares for hackney carriages just weeks after it was agreed to leave them at their current level.
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Councillors on the local authority’s licensing and regulatory committee felt the stabilising of fuel costs meant fares did not need to increase this year, despite acknowledging rapidly rising insurance costs.

However, officials from the trade body representing taxi drivers have warned that the current regulations will drive workers away from the trade.

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New rules in the county mean new or replacement vehicles must be under the age of four years old to be used as a taxi from April 1 2024, while they will only be allowed to be licensed for eight years from that date.

A taxi rank at Marygate, Berwick.A taxi rank at Marygate, Berwick.
A taxi rank at Marygate, Berwick.

Mark Heston, secretary of the Northumberland Taxi and Private Hire Association, said: “The licensing committee hasn’t got a clue. For them to say ‘don’t fix it, it’s not broken’ – we have got astronomical increases in our insurance, the cost of fuel is on the up again and the cost of living is still rising.

“The new policy with regards to the age of new vehicles means drivers are looking in the region of £20,000 to £25,000. On the current fare tariff, you can’t justify buying a new car.

“Drivers are earning below the living wage as it stands, and it is due to rise in April. We are working an hour and a half to earn the minimum wage.

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“The council need to listen to the trade and take on board what they have said, engage with us. We just want a fair, level playing field, we want to be able to make a living.

Calls have been made for an increase in taxi fares.Calls have been made for an increase in taxi fares.
Calls have been made for an increase in taxi fares.

“Over 100 drivers have left the trade with a year. I worry about school transport – what happens when there’s not enough taxis to do the school work? It’s not sustainable.”

The association’s proposal to the council recommends increasing the flag price – where the taxi fare metre starts – from £2.70 to £3.30. Furthermore, the fare should increase by 20p every 230 yards, as opposed to the current rate of 10p every 500 yards.

Mr Heston added: “We’re not asking for massive amounts. They seem to think we don’t need a fare increase and that’s wrong and we will make sure it gets passed.

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“Mark my words, if we don’t, in the Berwick area I think we will be left with five or six taxis.”

A council spokeswoman responded: “The previous review carried out in 2023 had resulted in a fare increase. The committee acknowledged the tariff set by the authority is the maximum that can be charged.

“Since then, despite inflation having risen by 4.2% during the period, average fuel costs had gone down and the licence fees charged by the authority had remained the same. Overall, costs therefore were considered to have balanced out.”

Since the meeting of the licensing committee, the council noted it had received a formal request for the tariff to be increased and this would be “appropriately considered”. It was also explained that the new rules around vehicle age was brought in to improve air quality by reducing the emissions of licensed vehicles.