The cabbies are showing their frustration at Newcastle City Council’s decision to scrap the ‘local knowledge’ test for new drivers.
Frustrated taxi drivers staged a third go-slow protest through Newcastle city centre, this time during rush hour.
Cabbies have already twice brought the city centre to a standstill when scores of drivers turned out to show their anger at Newcastle City Council’s decision to scrap the ‘knowledge’ test for new drivers.
The authority got rid of the stringent test, which demands cabbies in the city have in-depth knowledge of the area they cover, earlier this year, arguing that the increased use of apps and sat navs and changes in Government legislation made the traditional exam obsolete.
However, cabbies say the city has now been flooded with inexperienced drivers, and this is not only threatening their livelihood but putting passengers’ safety at risk.
And, during rush our on Friday evening, they vented their frustration once again by driving slowly through the city in convoy.
The route started at Jesmond Road West, went along St Mary’s Place towards the city, down Percy Street and passed the Haymarket, before turning driving back along the route.
In 90 minutes, the cabbies did two or three loops of the route, causing traffic to gridlock and buses to be diverted.
Cabbie Dennis Weedy, who has been in the industry for 40 years, said the protest was not about causing disruption, it was about getting their voices heard and, ultimately, about passenger safety.
He said: “Since the council scrapped the locality test, we have gone from 1,200 Newcastle private hire cars, slowly built up over 20 years, to 1,600 and there’s 600 still pending.
“These lads don’t want to be rich, they just want to be able to earn a living and, since the massive increase in licences, many have seen their income drop by 30%.
“It’s also about passenger safety. Since the locality test has been scrapped, most a relying on sat nav and it’s not safe. I’ve been at the council offices and seen men applying for licences who can’t even speak English!
“It’s ridiculous that Newcastle Council have done this. Many councils in the country, like Leeds, have actually made their locality tests more stringent, rather than scrapping them!”
Cabbie Mark Turnbull, who has been a taxi driver for eight years, said it’s tougher now than he has ever known it.
He said: “Some taxi drivers are having to work 80 or 90 hour weeks to try and get the same income they had.
“In my career as a taxi driver, it’s the worst now than it’s ever been.
“We’re protesting today to save our jobs and also to protect our passengers – some of the new licence holders go the wrong way down one-way streets and down streets with no entry signs, because they’re relying on sat nav and haven’t had to pass a locality test.
Organiser Mark Lillie, a licenced Hackney carriage and private hire driver with North Tyneside Council, who was previously licensed under Newcastle City Council , said the cabbies had held a meeting with the council 10-days-ago.
He said: “We’re going ahead with the protest today as the council have had 10 days to get back to us after the meeting and they haven’t. They haven’t responded to phone calls or emails, so that’s why today is happening.
“We’ve found that most people support us, particularly the general public, who we’re also doing this for.”
Mr Lillie also warned there may be more protests to come if the council don’t negotiate.
A Newcastle City Council spokesman said: “We have received more applications for private hire drivers licences since the locality tests were replaced with an interview-type test.
“However, this is for a number of reasons including more drivers from outside of the area wishing to compete for fares in the busy city centre.
“Despite the increase, we continue to vet all applications very carefully as the safety of the travelling public is our highest priority.”