Licensing fees increase reignites debate over national taxi standards

Taxi licensing fees set by local authorities are under the spotlight again after one council which has some of the highest charges increased its prices – while drivers registered there say the service they receive is “appalling”.

Dudley Council – which currently charges private hire and Hackney carriage drivers £475 for a three-year licence – is increasing fees by 2.3% from April 1. But, as the BBC reports, the same licence costs £98 in neighbouring Wolverhampton, £352 in Sandwell, and about £200 in Birmingham, where costs vary depending on the type of taxi being licensed.

Drivers in Dudley have told the BBC that they are already unhappy at having to pay higher licensing fees and “could leave the area as a result”.

Different standards

Shaz Saleem, of Dudley Private Hire and Taxi Association, said: “I appreciate the council hasn’t put fees up for a number of years, but the service level is appalling. The fees are ridiculous, there is no service – I would like to know how they justify it.”

He said drivers are unhappy that they face long waits for applications and payments to be processed and that extra vehicle checks the council insists on are “unnecessary and expensive”.

He said: “No other council does this – it’s bonkers, they have no understanding of the taxi world.”

But council leader Patrick Harley took issue with the claims. He told the BBC: “It is complete and utter rubbish to suggest drivers are moving out of Dudley, in fact, the opposite is true.

“We had 1,570 drivers licensed with us in January, which is 105 more than at the same time last year.”

He said delays were often due to drivers not supplying the correct paperwork or details, or failing their knowledge test or driving assessment.

He added: “I think the public would back us in making sure we are doing regular checks to make sure the vehicles they are travelling in are safe.”

Banning ‘out-of-towners’

The row comes as Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has said he wants to ban out-of-town working so taxis can only ply their trade in the region they are licensed in.

The mayor has previously spoken out against private hire drivers operating in Greater Manchester when they are registered in Wolverhampton because of cheaper licensing fees.

The Bolton News reports he told BBC Radio Manchester he had verbal confirmation from shadow transport minister Louise Haigh that the practice would be stopped if comes into power.

Mr Burnham said: “[On] out of area working — the ‘Wolverhampton Problem’ — I got a firm commitment from the shadow transport secretary that out-of-area working will be stopped under a Labour government.”

A Labour spokesperson has since confirmed the agreement. “As Labour has already outlined, we will ensure there are minimum licensing standards across local authorities, for taxi and private hire vehicles, including for the safety of passengers, to address the abuse of cross-border hiring.”

Mr Burnham and other Greater Manchester leaders have previously raised concerns about safety and standards after 9,000 — more than a third — of private hire taxi drivers in Greater Manchester are licensed in Wolverhampton. They fear drivers face less scrutiny, which could put passengers at risk.

Wolverhampton Council has denied the claims, and insists it has strict and rigorous checks, with enforcement officers travelling across the country to ensure drivers are adhering to the terms of their licences.

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