Derek Brocklehurst, secretary of the Manchester Private Hire Association, says the demo is aiming to get drivers a ‘level playing field’ with black cab operators.
A huge convoy of private-hire cars is to bring chaos to the streets of Manchester in protest at being barred from bus lanes.
Private-hire drivers are furious that black cabs can use the lanes but they can not.
Transport bosses say the rules are necessary because private hire vehicles are not always clearly marked, making enforcement difficult. They also say any change would cause more congestion.
But private-hire firms claim that is ‘scaremongering’ and say lifting the ban would help hard-pressed drivers and passengers, too.
Now a group of drivers has decided to hold a protest on May 16. They will drive from the Etihad Stadium to Manchester town hall in a convoy at 11am.
Organisers claim hundreds of drivers are likely to take part.
Derek Brocklehurst, secretary of the Manchester Private Hire Association, said: “What we are trying to do is get a level playing field with black cabs.
“We carry about 40 million people in Greater Manchester each year, which is a phenomenal number.
“With an ageing population, a lot of people use us because they have mobility problems and struggle to get on the bus or drive.
“But we are finding problems because there are 254 miles of bus lanes, running past medical centres, pharmacies, hotels and so on, where we can’t pick them up or drop them off, which is a great disadvantage to us.
“Sometimes we can’t get our customers to health appointments because we are stuck in traffic when bus lanes are empty.”
Bus lane rules vary across the country. Councils such as Liverpool and Warrington allow private-hire cars to use them, while in London they are banned.
Mr Brocklehurst added: “Some 59 councils nationally allow private-hire cars in bus lanes.
“All we get from the transport authorities is that it will clog up the bus lanes but that’s just scaremongering.”
Michael Renshaw, Transport for Greater Manchester’s bus and rail director, said bus lane enforcement was down to local councils and the police.
But he added: “For the bus network to avoid congestion and get passengers from A to B efficiently, bus lanes need to be as clear as possible of general traffic, particularly during peak times.
“Opening up the bus lanes to private-hire vehicles as well as the licensed hackney carriages currently permitted would increase bus lane congestion and could potentially have an impact on the reliability and punctuality of bus services – services which are heavily relied upon by people accessing work, education and healthcare.”
The 2009 Protest;
Private – Hire drivers in bus lane protest
About 60 private hire cars caused a traffic jam in central Manchester as part of a continuing protest about bus lanes.
The private hire drivers are angry that they are not allowed to stop in the lanes to pick up or drop off, while Hackney carriage drivers are.
Organiser Derek Brocklehurst branded Manchester City Council’s policy of using CCTV to catch drivers who flout the rules as “discrimination”.
But the authority said the rules would not be changed.
Drivers travelled in convoy from the City of Manchester stadium into the city centre, before circling the town hall in a go-slow protest.
Mr Brocklehurst, from Audenshaw, said: “We’ve had to take these measures because they are refusing to let private hire use bus lanes.
“We’re basically a public service vehicle – we do the same job as a black cab – but our customers are being treated as second-rate customers.
“We can’t pick disabled and elderly customers up in bus lanes, which is becoming an increasing problem.
“There are so many bus lanes now in Manchester that run along shops like hairdressers, opticians, doctors, dentists – and basically we just can’t pick them up at the moment.”
There are about 210 miles of bus lanes across Greater Manchester, which can be used by Hackney carriage taxis.
But the council said the rules would not be extended to include private hire vehicles.
Richard Cowell, of Manchester City Council, said: “We are not looking to open up, carte blanche, our bus lanes.
“We feel that would a retrograde step and would have a very severe impact on the thousands and thousands of people who use buses on a day-to-day basis to get to where they need to go.”
Manchester City Council advised earlier in the year that they were to review the standards attributed to both hackney carriage and private hire drivers.
The review was suspended during March until the Law Commission consultation was made available; the review will now be considered in June 2012.