Having invested heavily in the tools of their trade – their cab – taxi drivers understandably want to save money wherever they can.
With different licensing authorities charging different fees for taxi licences, some drivers have taken advantage and registered with a cheaper authority while working in an area where the fees are much higher.
While this has benefited thousands of drivers, others feel they face an unfair disadvantage. Now there have been calls for national taxi legislation to ensure standards across the UK, as well as closing loopholes that enable licensing authorities to charge different fees.
Although not unique to Bury, the issue came to a head in the borough recently, when Bury Council put up licensing fees for drivers registered in the area. As well as putting a further squeeze on their business, with the cost-of-living crisis, taxi drivers say they are being unfairly treated because there are thousands of drivers who operate in Greater Manchester and Bury but are registered by Wolverhampton Council, which charges cheaper fees.
The Bury Times reports that there were 21,853 private hire drivers licensed with the City of Wolverhampton Council. But of those, nearly a quarter – 4,049 – were drivers who were registered as being in Greater Manchester.
At the same time, Bury Council planned to increase annual taxi licensing fees for 2023/24 from £294 to £320 for vehicles more than three years old, and from £410 to £450 for operators with more than three vehicles.
Taxi drivers in the borough understandably felt they were not being treated fairly and the loophole was being exploited. The new charges should have been brought in from May 4, but were delayed following opposition from black cab drivers and private hire operators in the borough. They were later introduced when the council met on July 20.
The Bury Times reports that there are 752 private hire vehicles, 33 hackney carriage vehicles and 28 private hire operators licensed in Bury.
The council explained the reason for the increase was a shortfall in the cost of taxi licensing. It said the total cost of the taxi licensing service for the financial year 2022/23 was £372,000, but the total income received by the service was £327,000 – a shortfall of £45,000.
The council said the planned increase in 2023/24 charges is due to inflation, and fees needed to be increased.
Bury’s private hire drivers’ association said that the borough’s fees were higher than other licensing authorities such as Wolverhampton and urged the council to not only reconsider, but to reduce the fees it charges.
The association said: “We understand that the cost of licensing is essential for the provision of regulatory resources and necessary services. The charges are making it difficult for our members and partners to continue operating the business.
“We have conducted a thorough analysis of the fees charged by Bury and discovered that our members and taxi trade partners are being charged significantly higher fees in comparison to Wolverhampton.
“This is causing financial strains on our members and partners while Wolverhampton license holders working in Greater Manchester take full advantage of low-cost licensing structure.
“Secondly, we believe that a fair and reasonable charging structure is necessary for ensuring public safety while also enabling our members and partners to carry out their operations effectively. Therefore, we propose that the current fee structure is reviewed to ensure that it aligns with Wolverhampton fees.”
Should taxi drivers have to be licensed within the area they operate?