A Chelmsford minicab boss wants the city’s knowledge test made easier because potential recruits are put off by the current requirements.
But while private hire firm bosses want a relaxation of Chelmsford City Council’s exams to meet demand, others want the standard maintained and even made harder.
The proposals will be voted on at a meeting of the city council’s regulatory committee, chaired by Councillor Lance Millane, at the Civic Centre on Thursday evening (September 6).
Waqas Hussain, of Lister Tye, who has been working for family-run firm Happicabs for six years, feels potential drivers are put off joining the industry because of the lengthy qualification process.
“We were one of the taxi firms who first put this idea of making the test easier to the council,” said the 25-year-old.
“The demand for private hire cars in Chelmsford at this moment in time is growing and we are struggling to meet that demand and cater for the customers.
“We have got all the technology in the world, but we are having to turn down 30 per cent of our calls because we haven’t got enough cars on the road.
“The only thing holding us back is the knowledge test. It can take four months to pass and people don’t want to wait that long to get a job.
“Including our Stansted fleet, we have 45 drivers, but we need to get up to 65 to be able to meet the current demand.”
The two recommendations open to the committee are to either make no changes to the current licensing process for private hire drivers or to shorten the full knowledge test element of the application.
The test can take three months to pass and costs around £300, with applicants asked to identify streets or landmarks in Baddow, Danbury, South Woodham Ferrers and the city centre without referring to a map – similar to the famous knowledge test London’s taxi drivers must undertake.
Private hire companies say that journeys could be downloaded within car sat navs, without the need to know every road in the area.
Waqas claims he hasn’t got enough taxis to meet demand in Chelmsford
Waqas added: “We are not proposing anything radical. We still want drivers to be CRB checked, go on a disability awareness course, have a medical check and all of that.
“But we are proposing the points of interest pass rate should be five out of ten rather than six, and the knowledge test pass rate to be ten out of 25 rather than 18.
“I think that is fair because of the way we have operators taking calls first, so a driver has time to pre-plan his route rather than being put on the spot.
“The difference is black cabs can be hailed but private hire taxis have to be pre-booked. I would say 95 per cent of our fleet is private hire.”
But not all taxi bosses are supportive of the proposals.
Jane Rezaie, who runs Chelmsford taxi firm Ali’s Taxi’s, wrote to the committee ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
Her letter said: “The main problem, I believe, is new applicants do not want to put the effort in to learning the knowledge and they are looking for an easy way out.
“It appears people are forgetting that we are professional drivers providing a service to the public, it is our job to know where we are going.
“It is our job to give the customer the best and most comfortable ride for their journey, and that the customer feels we are doing our best and they feel sage and confident in our ability.
“There is undoubtedly a problem with a lack of drivers in Chelmsford, both Hackney carriage and private hire drivers.
“All professional drivers should have a comprehensive knowledge of the area they work in, as we are providing a public service.”
Last month, Uber, an app that connects drivers with passengers directly, said it is not currently looking to launch in Chelmsford but could consider branching into the city if the demand was there.
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