Guarded welcome from Wigan drivers to taxi shake-up

A Wigan hackney cab
A Wigan hackney cab

A representative of Wigan drivers says a proposed major shake-up of taxi services “sounds good on paper” but has urged authority bosses to deliver on the detail.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham recently revealed plans to make taxis safer, greener and subject to more consistent licensing regulations.

A public consultation is under way with proposals including a suggestion to make vehicles more distinctive, with New York’s yellow cabs as a blueprint.

Charles Oakes, borough representative for the Hackney Drivers Association, said colleagues would welcome the principles behind the move but will wait for further details on how it would be implemented.

He said: “I don’t think you’ll find a taxi driver that is against it in terms of the big objectives but there are concerns about it.

“The issue from the trade here is from town to town and city to city there’s a vast gap with the policies and drivers come to us and say ‘why can’t we have that, and they can?’ In that sense it’s good.”

“But are we getting all 10 councils to sign up to it? Are we going to have the odd one not supporting it? There’s a lot of questions that need answering,” he added.

The reforms could see standardised rules for drivers themselves, as well as operators, vehicles and enforcement practices.

This could include tougher thresholds around driver qualifications and prior convictions, as well as on the age and emissions levels of individual vehicles.

Mr Burnham said he is calling on ministers to close a loophole which currently allows private hire drivers to operate in GM despite being licensed in other areas with ‘less stringent standards’.

Each council in GM’s 10 districts will consult with taxi and private hire operators and drivers later this year on the introduction of region-wide minimum standards.

And members of the public are being urged to take part in a Transport for Greater Manchester survey about current services.

Mr Oakes said: “My position is we’ll support anything on the grounds of safety. If that’s what they want, we’ll support that and make it fair for everybody.

“There is a proportion of drivers in this trade that shouldn’t be in this trade as they’re just here for what they can get and spoil it for the vast majority who are there to give a good service and earn a living.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating, let’s see what they come up with. We don’t think it should be different across different authorities.”

On the prospect of common livery for vehicles across GM to make them more distinctive, Mr Oakes – a taxi driver of more than 30 years experience – voiced concerns about the cost.

He said: “I can understand it but don’t forget black or white is a premium colour and you pay dearly for that.

“I hope they’re sensible about it because it could put a lot of cost on drivers.

“I think, if they want that, and existing drivers have to change then (the authorities) pay for it. New applications are different.”