TAXI operators in Northumberland are set to be given more freedom in how they can ply for trade after county councillors agreed to ease tough operating restrictions.
Six separate licensing zones for hackney cabs are set to be scrapped and replaced by a single zone covering the whole county – in a move aimed at bringing benefits to both passengers and the taxi industry. The six existing zones are based on the former district councils which were abolished to create the unitary county council in 2009.
The current arrangements mean hackney cabs licensed in, for example, Blyth Valley are prevented from plying for hire or picking up fares at ranks in neighbouring Wansbeck. Similarly, cabs licensed in Tynedale can’t pick up fares in Castle Morpeth or any of the other four zones.
Yesterday the council’s licensing and regulatory committee voted unanimously that a single hackney carriage licensing zone should be created in Northumberland. If approved by the full council, it will mean drivers can ply for hire and take their place on ranks anywhere across the county.
A 12-week consultation exercise on the proposal was carried out earlier this year. Of the 54 responses, 30 were in favour of having an open system and 24 against.
Yesterday’s meeting was told by Philip Soderquest, the council’s public safety and enforcement manager, there are advantages and disadvantages in having a single licensing zone. Benefits include increased availability of hackney cabs for passengers to hire, greater customer choice and the removal of public confusion when taxis licensed by the same council can’t pick up in other zones.
He said drawbacks included worries over a potential drift of taxis to what are seen as more lucrative areas, resulting in a shortage elsewhere and potential traffic and pollution problems. In addition, there were concerns about competition issues between existing operators.
Mr Soderquest said both the Department for Transport and the Office of Fair Trading advocated the abolition of separate licensing zones, in the interests of benefits to passengers. Committee chairman, Jeff Watson, said: “We are not here to prevent people from making a living and if this helps taxi operators to do that, all well and good.”