Taxi drivers set for lunchtime protest in Shrewsbury

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Up to 100 taxi drivers were due to take part in a two-hour demonstration in Shrewsbury today over plans for a shake-up of the black cab service in Shropshire.

Shrewsbury Drivers Action Group had initially planned to stage an all day picket at the Shirehall but claimed that due to massive public support, it had decided on a shorter protest to avoid customer disruption.

Members say they are outraged at Shropshire Council’s proposals to de-zone the county’s taxi structure.

Today’s picket was expected to run from midday until 2pm.

It follows a protest in Shrewsbury on January 28 when about 100 taxi drivers took part in a rolling roadblock.


Coventry taxi drivers vote to call off strike

COVENTRY taxi drivers are set to return to work today after voting last night to call off their strike.

Leaders say about 500 striking cabbies voted unanimously in favour of bringing a halt to eight days of widespread disruption.

They will go back to work today providing councillor Lindsley Harvard, as expected, formally rubber-stamps his plan for a three-month review into demand for taxis.

The cabbies claim there are too many taxis in the city.

They had been pressing for a temporary cap on licences while the review is carried out, but the council refused to back down.

Imran Zaman, chairman of Coventry Taxi Association, said he persuaded members to vote for a return to work, adding: “There was nothing else we could do.”

The vote followed the first talks yesterday with council chiefs since the strike began last Tuesday – as scores of cabbies protested outside.

Coun Harvard has told the drivers that, depending on the review’s findings, he would consider stopping Coventry City Council issuing any more taxi licences – the strikers’ key demand.

But the dispute is set to continue in the High Court, with the taxi association considering seeking a judicial review into the council’s refusal to impose a temporary cap on licences while the three-month review is carried out.

Coun Harvard was acting on advice from lawyers that imposing a cap now could result in the council being sued by other cabbies.

He is expected to rubber-stamp his plans – approved by fellow ruling Labour councillors on Monday – at his city services cabinet member’s meeting today.

The dispute has seen massive disruption with strikers blockading the city’s taxi ranks, preventing them being used by working cabbies.

Imran Zaman, chairman of Coventry Taxi Association

A cavalcade of cabbies also staged a go-slow protest on the ring road during the evening rush-hour last Wednesday, and strikers have refused to do council-contracted school runs.

Cabbies say 950 licenced black cabs and private hire vehicles in the city is too many and is damaging their livelihoods.


Coventry’s striking taxi drivers threaten legal action

STRIKING taxi drivers are threatening legal action against Coventry City Council after councillors last night refused to give in to their demands.

City cab leaders say they are planning to take the council to the High Court as the deadlock continues and the strike today entered its eighth day.

They had been hoping for the first talks with the council since they called an all-out stoppage last Tuesday in a dispute over the number of the taxis in the city.

Coventry Taxi Association was then set to hold another vote of members today on whether cabbies want to fight on, or return to work.

But leading Labour councillor Lindsley Harvard said last night they had made no approach to him over talks.

Ruling Labour councillors last night agreed not to cave in to cabbies’ demands they impose an immediate block on issuing any more licences.

Self-employed striking cabbies – who have gone without pay for a week – claim nearly 1,000 black cab and private hire licences is too many and is ruining their livelihoods, with only 130 taxi spaces making pick-ups difficult.

But Coun Harvard insists he must act on advice from the council’s lawyers. He says imposing a temporary cap on licences now could leave the council being sued by some taxi drivers.

Coun Harvard, the city services cabinet member, wants to formally approve tomorrow the commissioning of a three-month independent review into supply and demand for cabs.

Only after the review would he consider if a cap on licences would be “in the interests of the Coventry public”, he said.

He also wants to increase the annual licence fee paid by cabbies – to pay for consultants Jacobs’ survey, which could cost up to £40,000.

Cabbies would have a further four weeks to comment on the council’s plans, said Coun Harvard.

Imran Zaman, the taxi association’s leader, wants to present “evidence” to Coun Harvard that other councils have imposed a temporary cap without first holding a review – and have conducted much cheaper surveys.

Coun Harvard conceded Cardiff City Council was among them, but said he had to follow his own council’s legal advice, which had now been backed by an independent barrister.

Mr Zaman is urging him to seek further legal opinion in light of other councils’ policies.

He said the association’s legal advisers were considering a judicial review of the council’s ruling in the High Court.

He added: “We apologise to the public for any inconvenience. We are picking up very elderly, sick and disabled for free if they need help.”

Duo arrested at Coventry train station

POLICE have arrested two men – believed to be taxi drivers – following a dispute at Coventry train station.

The pair – a 46-year-old from Holbrooks and a 51-year-old from the Henley Green area – were both arrested on suspicion of assault.

Police were called to the city’s train station just before 2.15am on Saturday.

Some Coventry taxi drivers returned to their pickets at the start of the month in an on-going dispute with the city council about the number of taxi licences being issued.

Drivers not striking have claimed they have been intimidated by those on the pickets.

A British Transport Police (BTP) spokesman said: “Officers were called to the taxi rank close to Coventry train station after reports of a disturbance in the early hours of Saturday. West Midlands Police officers initially attended the incident, but British Transport Police officers are now investigating.

“Two men – a 46-year-old and a 51-year-old – were arrested on suspicion of assault. Both were later released on police bail pending further inquiries.

“BTP is aware of an ongoing dispute among taxi drivers surrounding licensing issues.”


Call for study on number of taxis

CAMPAIGNERS have hailed a minor victory in their battle to reduce the number of cabs in Sevenoaks.

The Sevenoaks Town Taxi Drivers’ Association has spent nine months lobbying Sevenoaks District Council about the apparent surplus of vehicles licensed as Hackney carriages in the town.

Hackney carriages are public hire vehicles, which can be picked up by passengers without prior booking.

Up until 2008, the number of licence plates that could be issued each year was limited to 192.

In that year the limit was lifted and at the moment, 208 Hackney plates are in use by taxi drivers.

The association argues that there are too many drivers competing for customers and said that a feasibility study should have been carried out before the decision was made in 2008.

Steps towards a resolution were made at a licensing committee meeting at the Sevenoaks District Council office on Wednesday, January 26.

Councillors recommended a consultation of taxi drivers in the Sevenoaks and Swanley district to see whether such a study should take place.

If a 75 per cent majority is reached, it is likely to go ahead later this year.

Assistant secretary to the association Mike Simmonds said: “The livelihood of these men is at risk and they can’t afford to maintain their taxis properly. You see them driving round with bald tyres and all sorts.

“It’s a question of passenger safety.”

Anthony Garnett, who manages the district council’s licensing partnership, told the committee no study was carried out before because there is no need when no limit is imposed.

He added that a study would cost in the region of £10,000 to £15,000 – which the taxi drivers themselves would have to finance.

Mr Simmonds also claimed too many cabs are allowed to pick up passengers from Sevenoaks station.

Meteor Parking is in charge of handing out permits to drivers to allow them to wait at the station and in August last year announced the number of permits was capped at 110, with a view to decreasing this to 90.

Mr Simmonds added: “There are drivers up in town feeling the pinch even more. I know, I’ve just spent time up there.

“An average taking for ten hours’ work is only £50.”

Sevenoaks District Council spokesman Daniel Whitmarsh said: “The council has listened carefully to the taxi drivers’ concerns and will continue to work closely with them to see if there are too many or too few Hackney Carriage vehicle licences issued within the Sevenoaks District.”

Meteor was unavailable for comment.


Councillors hint at support for Dundee taxi cap

Long-standing calls to cap the number of taxis in Dundee have been cautiously backed by two members of the city’s licensing board.

SNP councillors Craig Melville and Stewart Hunter say they support, in principle, limiting the number of taxis in the city.

Tony Waters, secretary of Dundee Taxi Association (DTA), and Unite union taxi branch secretary Chris Elder — who for some time have called for a cap to be imposed — welcomed the comments.

But Dundee licensing board committee chairman Rod Wallace said the elected officials had “jumped the gun” as formal discussions were yet to be held.

A report commissioned by the committee, examining a cap option, is being prepared. It is expected to go before members early next month. In the meantime Mr Melville says he has urged Rod Wallace to call a meeting of the taxi liaison group, comprising elected members and officers of the city council, the police and representatives of the trade, to canvass opinion.

“I think the first commitment the committee should have is to protect licence holders in the city,” said the councillor for Maryfield. “I have written to Rod Wallace requesting a meeting with the taxi liaison group which I believe last sat in May 2010.

“We should have more regular meetings in the future to help address such issues.”

Meanwhile Stewart Hunter, councillor for Strathmartine, says more discussions are needed before a decision on taxi numbers is made.

“It would be interesting to hear how limiting the number of taxis would work,” he said. “I know with other authorities some have a cap and some don’t. But I would like to hear from taxi drivers and operators to listen to what they have to say.”

Tony Waters described the councillors’ stance on the issue as “great news”, adding, “We know the board can introduce a cap on taxis legally. Other cities have already done so. The perfect example is Perth and Kinross. This really is a welcome development.”

In Dundee there are currently 576 hackneys and a further 200 private-hire vehicles. But with around 1600 taxi badge holders, drivers are becoming increasingly concerned that supply is outstripping demand.

Chris Elder of Unite says his organisation is aiming to avoid this scenario.

“It’s great to see the SNP backing the trade,” said Mr Elder. “I have sent emails into Rod Wallace highlighting the need of a cap.”

In the aftermath of next month’s committee meeting councillors may choose to advance the idea of a cap with a demand survey, which could take as long as six months to complete. This survey would help decide the top-line figure for taxis permitted in the city.

But Mr Elder said that if plans did advance to this stage he would expect there to be a wave of new taxi applications before the door closed.

“We are concerned that during that time we will record a steep rise in the numbers of people going for a licence before numbers are limited. Legislation is available to do this and we would like to see it brought into force,” he said.

Mr Wallace, Conservative councillor for Broughty Ferry, said his fellow councillors had “jumped a bit ahead of themselves” with their comments.

“It is no secret that there is a lot of lobbying going on behind the scenes, and that is not surprising,” he said.

Mr Wallace added that if a cap were progressed then the committee would be unable to dismiss applicants out of hand without a valid reason.

“Mr Elder’s suggestion not to allow new applications before the cap came into force would not hold any water,” he said. “Any application we refuse within that period without good reason could be appealed to the sheriff court, and I believe those appeals would be upheld.

“The likely outcome would be that the city council would end up paying the costs.”


Striking cabbies bring rush-hour Coventry ring road to standstill

STRIKING cabbies blockaded Coventry city centre yesterday causing a rush-hour headache for other motorists.

A “go-slow” line of black cabs clogged city centre streets and the ring road from 4pm to 6pm.

About 40 taxis were led by a police escort from Coventry railway station, past the Council House and onto the ring road.

From there, they crawled along at a snail’s pace, causing delays for people heading home from work.

Some of the worst-hit areas were near Swanswell Pool and the ring road exit for Holyhead Road.

As the strike entered day two yesterday, taxi drivers’ leaders claimed the stoppage had been a success with 98 per cent of drivers refusing to work.

Earlier there was frustration at taxi ranks blockaded by stationary cabs, where only disabled people had a chance of getting a taxi.

As the deadlock continued with council chiefs refusing to bow to the drivers’ demands, many furious cabbies sought public backing, claiming their livelihoods were being ruined.

They said they had reached breaking point after years of demands for the council to limit the number of taxi licences and provide more ranks.

That view was partly backed, with Labour’s council leaders, who came to power last May, blaming the previous Conservative administration.

Labour councillor Lindsley Harvard, cabinet member for city services, said his planned three-month independent review into cabbies’ concerns would be the first examination since 1997 – if cabbies pay the £40,000 fee. His own party was in control until 2004.

About 100 cabbies protesting outside the Council House on Monday voted unanimously to renew last month’s strike, after council leaders ruled out an immediate temporary cap on licences.

Cabbies claim there could be up to 300 more taxis on the roads while the review takes place.

All 950 black cab and private licence drivers have been ordered not to pick up passengers, including for school runs contracted with the council, for as long as it takes until the council gives in.

Imran Zaman, of Coventry Taxi Association, said other councils, including Leicester, had issued emergency caps without reviews, a claim disputed by Coventry council leaders.

Coun Harvard said lawyers had advised that a temporary cap would leave the council open to potentially costly legal challenges from taxi-maker LTI or new taxi drivers who had ordered or bought vehicles.

Cabbies contested that claim, saying they had support from LTI.

Taxi drivers, all self-employed, say the council is breaching government guidelines that cabs should be limited to two per 1,000 people, and there are only 130 rank spaces.