Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Protect the taxi trade

Unite Cab Section members are stepping up their campaign to protect the taxi trade, a service highly regarded by the public.

This follows the May release of a 253 page consultation report by the Law Commission, who were charged by the Government with bundling together all the acts relating to Hackney carriages. 

Professional driving standards and roadworthy vehicles are now threatened by plans to introduce a national licence to wait and pick up anywhere and allow minicabs to advertise as taxis. There will be an end to local authorities ability to control numbers through licensing, without which there will be no funds to ensure enforcement of any regulations. All of England and Wales will be affected. 

A similar scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s saw a multiplicity of buses dangerously competing on overcrowded roads to collect passengers. Bus driver’s wages and conditions dropped dramatically.  

Determined to protect their pay, conditions and high-standards of service, taxi drivers have defeated three previous deregulation attempts over the last 20 years. 

As part of the latest campaign, Unite organised a Parliamentary lobby on 10 July. Hundreds of taxi drivers attended to speak to their MPs, before convening to hear from some who back Unite’s opposition, including Maria Eagle, Shadow Transport Minister and Louise Ellman, chair of the Transport Select Committee. 

Paul Landau, chair of Leeds Hackney Carriage Unite branch, was “heartened by seeing so many people there.  It shows Unite can make a difference.”  Leeds branch opposition to the Law Commission has won the local council’s backing after a recent report concluded there was no unmet taxi need in Yorkshire’s largest city. The Council has also agreed to Unite’s campaign to allow taxi drivers access to bus lanes, further proof says Paul “that we are making progress in defending our members.”  These successes have been rewarded by an increase in the numbers of taxi drivers joining Unite. 

“We are now working hard to persuade the public of our case by building links with user groups” says Unite member Quentin Cooper, who started on the taxis 28 years ago. 

Many disabled people rely on the door-to-door Hackney Carriage service. Seventeen years ago Leeds City Council licensed the first fully accessible vehicle. This costs £25,000 more than the standard saloon. Without a guaranteed income, Landau believes obtaining such an amount from the bank in the future is unlikely. 

That concerns Tim McSharry, who is partially sighted and secretary of self-help disabled people’s organisation, the Access Committee for Leeds who says, “Hackney Carriage drivers provide an excellent service. Many disabled users testify to drivers going that extra-mile by assisting people into their homes. We have worked alongside the council in giving drivers a greater understanding of disabled people’s needs and we would not like to lose what is an essential service for many people.”

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