Greater Manchester spearheads call on government for help to support taxi and private hire trade
Date published: 26 February 2021
Greater Manchester recently carried out two major consultations on proposals for a Clean Air Zone, and Minimum Licensing Standards for taxis and private hire, and the responses are currently being analysed by an independent organisation
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has asked government for an urgent meeting, following concerns from the taxi and private hire trade that the impacts of the pandemic combined with current government policy may threaten livelihoods and the sector as a whole.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, the Mayor joins other regional leaders in calls for an immediate review of government policies – and adequate funding to ensure there is enough support for the trade.
Concerns are raised that current policy may significantly reduce convenient and wheelchair accessible hackney carriage provision, in a sector that forms a key part of the transport network and lifeline for many, including people with mobility issues.
Co-signatories Birmingham City Council, Portsmouth City Council and Sheffield City Council have all, like Greater Manchester, been directed by government to introduce Clean Air Zones to tackle nitrogen dioxide levels on local roads – affecting taxis and private hire vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards.
The local authorities all support the case for better air quality and are driving forward region-specific plans.
They are also urging government to ensure funding levels support drivers and operators to move to the more expensive lower emission vehicles required for hackney cab services in Clean Air Zone areas.
There is also a renewed call to close the legal loophole that jeopardises passenger safety by allowing private hire vehicle drivers and vehicle owners to dodge more stringent local driver and vehicle regulations by being licensed anywhere in the country.
Greater Manchester recently carried out two major consultations on proposals for a Clean Air Zone, and Minimum Licensing Standards for taxis and private hire, and the responses are currently being analysed by an independent organisation.
A Greater Manchester-wide Clean Air Zone – the largest in the UK outside London – is expected to be introduced in spring 2022 to tackle air pollution on local roads.
Mr Burnham said: “The pandemic has hit the taxi and private hire trades hard and they have told us that COVID-19 – alongside government policies – poses a very real threat to the future of the industry.
"And when you factor in the potential costs of upgrading to Clean Air Zone vehicle standards, and the competition from out-of-town private hire services, there’s an even bigger impact on thousands of drivers who have families to support in what has been an incredibly tough year.
“Of course we are absolutely committed to improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions and improving standards for our locally licensed fleets.
"We’re taking action locally, but we need the government to come to the table and discuss ways it can properly support the sector.
"We need the right regulatory tools and funding to support the trade to move to cleaner, more accessible vehicles, and protect customers by making sure local private hire is regulated locally.”
Last year the Department for Transport introduced statutory guidance to review taxi and private hire licensing standards.
The proposed Greater Manchester Minimum Licensing Standards incorporate national standards, and will help deliver improved safety, customer focus, higher environmental standards, and accessibility.
Greater Manchester is also aiming for a high quality, entirely zero-emission-capable hackney cab and private hire fleet by 2029, but needs government support to achieve this.
Greater Manchester hopes that developing the standards alongside the Clean Air Plan will offer a clear improvement programme for the taxi and private hire sector that is supported by government Clean Air Plan funding, which would not be available were the standards introduced separately.
Sara Todd, Chief Executive of Trafford MBC and GM Lead for Minimum Licensing Standards, added: “We need taxis and private hire services to keep on playing their role in Greater Manchester’s plans for a fully joined-up, accessible and environmentally friendly transport system, and we want to support them in doing this.
“As we’ve developed the proposed minimum licensing standards, we’ve engaged extensively with the trade to understand the impact of COVID-19. Now we’re reviewing all that important feedback and I expect a report on the consultation outputs no later than the summer.
“We’re committed to continuing to engage and work with the trade as we consider how and when to introduce the standards across the ten Greater Manchester local authority licensing areas.”
In many urban areas, hackney vehicles have been licensed to a higher standard than private hire, typically requiring them to operate wheelchair accessible, ‘London’ style black cabs.
Up until now this has given drivers and owners a predictable business model, and the general public access to a versatile and accessible fleet.
Under government Clean Air Zone vehicle guidance, hackney drivers face a big capital outlay to upgrade vehicles, while the private hire trade will also be directly competing for a similar customer market.
However, it’s currently effectively impossible for local authorities to require wheelchair accessible vehicles across the local private hire fleet.
Anyone who chooses not to, can simply seek a driver and vehicle licence anywhere in the country and continue to serve the local market using a standard saloon car.
The hackney trade has been seeing reduced customer demand for some time, with competition from new app-based private hire business models.
Both the taxi and private hire sectors have been hugely impacted by the economic consequences of COVID-19.
Local authorities have asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State and government officials at the earliest opportunity.
Visit: cleanairgm.com and gmtaxistandards.com to find out more.
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