Cabbies call for lane ban U-turn
TAXI drivers claim they are suffering from unfair competition because of a ban on them using bus lanes.
Now private hire drivers are calling on Stoke-on-Trent City Council to review its policy which only allows Hackney Carriages to travel on the routes with buses.
The authority is poised to roll out a number of changes to the road network across the city centre as part of a scheme to regenerate the area with a new bus station and shopping development.
And drivers say the authority should also rethink its policy on the designated lanes after revealing they are sometimes forced to take a mile-long detour just to access the centre of Hanley.
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Dave Currie, regional secretary of the National Private Hire Association, said: "The current system discriminates against the customers and the drivers.
"If an extra mile costs a £1, just think how much people would save if private hire vehicles could go through bus lanes.
"Buses are an endangered species and yet there is a station being built and routes set up but the taxis are getting nothing and they have fares enforced by the local authority."
Mr Currie claims that opening up the bus lanes to private hire means older residents and disabled users can use the service and access the city centre as quickly as if they used a Hackney Carriage or bus.
As The Sentinel revealed earlier this week, concerns have been raised by both police and councillors that taxis were clogging up key routes into Hanley over the weekend as they wait to pick up late-night revellers.
Mr Currie believes the authority should consider removing the barriers which are set up on Trinity Street during the weekends.
He said: "When people have had a drink they are vulnerable and they need to be taken home quickly."
Parvez Khan, who runs Hanley-based City Cabs, said: "We are key to dispersal and take the majority of people home but we are being ignored and pushed out of the city centre."
The authority considered relaxing its rules on which types of vehicles could use bus lanes in 2010 before voting against private hire being able to drive along them.
Councillors felt that the vehicles looked too similar to normal cars which could result in non-taxis following the vehicles along the routes.
Pete Price, the city council's assistant director for technical services, said: "Changes are afoot and as part of the relocation of the bus station there are changes to the bus lanes and one-way systems.
"The council recognises the role the Hackney Carriages and the private hire vehicles have.
"We need to design a city centre with the one-way system to get vehicles in and out in a controlled manner."
The new system in Hanley will leave a total of eight bus lanes, with 11 of the current 15 lanes removed, as well as four new ones being created.
Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transportation, said: "The number of dedicated bus lanes will reduce significantly.
"We will monitor the changes to traffic flows, including impact on all taxis, and we will review the regulations for the remaining bus lanes if there are operational difficulties for the private hire drivers.
"We recognise the valuable role that all taxis play in providing late night journeys home, and that we need to secure more ways in which customers can quickly access their taxis."