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Taxi drivers raise concerns as limit to be lifted on cab licences

David Norbury reports on restrictions on the number of cabs operating in Ellesmere Port and Neston being lifted in the summer

Ian Cooper
Taxi drivers in Ellesmere Port pictured last year when they were concerned over plans to restrict the age of cabs to 10 years. Now they face the prospect of restrictions on the number of cabs operating in the town being lifted

The move to life restrictions on the number of cabs operating in Ellesmere Port and Neston this summer, hotly opposed by the trade but welcomed by the public, follows consultations by Cheshire West and Chester Council.

At present the town has 51 hackneys which cost £36,000 each new.

Councillors heard that on an interim basis there are three hackney carriage zones across the new borough which correspond to the former district councils - Ellesmere Port and Neston, Chester and Vale Royal. 

There are no restrictions on the number of hackney licences in both the Chester and Vale Royal zones.

In Ellesmere Port and Neston, all 51 licences are currently issued.

Two options were on the table, to continue to restrict the number of licences, subject to the outcome of an unmet demand survey or to lift the restriction.

During the consultation 60% of the public wanted to remove restrictions and 65% of the trade wanted to keep them.

A further consultation with the trade found 70% of drivers in favour of retaining a restriction with 13%  backing the removal of any limit on the number of licences issued.

More recently a citizens panel survey resulted in 37% of respondents against continuing the restrictions and 36% in favour of maintaining them.

Locally the trade believes there are ‘far to many taxis in Chester’ and Ellesmere Port should not suffer the same.

There is no need to deregulate and it has not worked in Chester with problems of over ranking - too many cabs on the road for the number of rank spaces available.

The current number of 51 licences is said to ‘work well’ and the public do not have to wait.

It is argued there is no demand for more hackneys in Ellesmere Port and there are already too many hackneys and private hire vehicles.

More vehicles cause more emissions and traffic problems it is pointed out.

Drivers say they would be working longer for the same reward and only just make a living now.

And some areas which deregulated are returning to limits again.

Comments in favour of lifting the restrictions include a counter claim that people are having to wait too long for hackneys.

It is also suggested that Ellesmere Port is part of the council and if the other two zones are not restricted neither should Ellesmere Port.

The view of the Department for Transport that hackney numbers ‘tend to find their own levels’ has been raised.

Asked for the special circumstances which would justify maintaining the restriction in Ellesmere Port and Neston, it was suggested that without a proper survey any increase in vehicles would adversely affect the people in the trade.

The town was seeing more and more businesses shutting down resulting in fewer customers and not enough work available.

The change would ‘devastate’ existing owners and drivers and there could not be a worse time to do it.

The move would be detrimental to safety and would put drivers out of work.

“It has not worked in Chester, look at the chaos it has caused there,” was one comment.

Ellesmere Port was not a city and had no tourism. The town was a small place where people knew the drivers and trusted them.

“Why change something that works?” was one comment.

Councillors were told licensing officers had recommended the removal of restrictions for hackney licences in the Ellesmere Port and Neston zone. 

Reasons given were that guidance from the Department of Transport did not recommend restriction and local authorities should be able to demonstrate that this would be in the public interest.

The two other zones in the borough were currently deregulated and to derestrict in the Ellesmere Port zone would help in the ‘harmonisation’ of the three zones.

There was no strong public support to retain restrictions, it was said, although the trade strongly supported their being maintained.

In answer to councillors’ questions, officers explained that if there was an increase in hackney licences there would usually be a decrease in private hire. 

Potential drivers would need to invest in a vehicle that was up to three and a half years old and complete the Cheshire West and Chester driver qualification.

There was no waiting list and it would be difficult to predict potential demand.

A vote to continue the restrictions was defeated and one to lift the limit was approved.

It will come into force on July 1.

 

 

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