A NEW taxi system, which will see changes to the way hackney carriages and the private hire trade operate, will come into force next month in County Durham.
From September 1, Durham County Council’s new policy will bring about de-zoning across the county and the deregulation of licensed hackney carriage numbers in the Chester-le-Street and Durham City areas.
This means that licensed hackney carriages will be able to pick up and drop off fares anywhere within the council’s area.
Previously there were seven different zones representing the seven former district council areas which came together to form the unitary authority in April 2009.
The council’s head of environment, health and consumer protection, Joanne Waller, said: “Currently if a licensed hackney carriage driver picks up a passenger in for example Barnard Castle or Peterlee and takes that person to a place in another zone within the county, the driver is prevented from picking up a new fare from a taxi rank or by being hailed in the street, when they reach that destination.
“That not only means that empty vehicles are being driven needlessly all over the county, harming the environment and wasting fuel, but it also means that passengers wanting to get a taxi are not able to do so.
“By removing the zones we are bringing County Durham in line with many other counties and ensuring a better service for customers, improving accessibility to taxis at peak times in all areas and enabling operations of a system which is fairer to all taxi operators and to the environment.”
The council has been working with the licensed taxi trade for a number of years and a widespread consultation programme was held prior to the Cabinet adopting the new policy.
But the move proved unpopular with cabbies in Durham, who staged a number of go-slows through the city in protest, claiming it would lead to a “free for all” in the city centre.
The taxi drivers are also opposed to a colour policy which will force them all to drive white cabs.
Ms Waller said: “There have been some concerns raised by operators in Durham City that there is not enough rank space in the city and insufficient custom to go round.
“In response we have provided 15 new spaces after 6pm by extending the rank on Claypath and providing an additional rank in certain hours on Freeman’s Place.
“Clearly we will also be closely monitoring the situation and in the city itself we are using a pilot traffic order, which can be amended if required, so that we can measure how the new systems are working.”
Detailed leaflets outlining the new operating systems are being sent to licensed taxi trade members in Durham City and information for customers is being distributed across the county throughout a network of venues.
Posters are being placed at strategic points and the new scheme will be supported by an increased police presence and enforcement of road traffic and rank regulations where necessary, particularly where non-licensed vehicles are parked on ranks during restricted hours. In addition, the experimental traffic order in Durham City is designed to alleviate potential access issues on Claypath, where the rank will be extended.