Stoke-on-Trent taxi drivers caught in the middle of fare war
A TAXI price war is leaving drivers struggling to make a living.
At least two Stoke-on-Trent private hire operators have cut their fares in recent weeks, in order to stop rivals poaching customers.
But some cabbies say they are now struggling to earn a living, with fuel and insurance costs ever increasing.
The price war started with the launch of Ace Private Hire last year. Ace, based in Longton, offered a minimum fare £1 cheaper than rivals.
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Since then two other Longton-based firms, Lucky 7 and Autocab, have cut their minimum fares after customers started flocking to Ace.
Autocab director Asmann Ul-haq claims the situation is unsustainable.
He said: "We've had to change our minimum fare to £1.50, the same as Ace, but our drivers aren't very happy. They can't make enough money.
"But the real problem is the city council issuing too many licences. I've heard that they're getting 100 applications a month, and there isn't enough work to go round.
"I've worked in the taxi trade since I was a teenager, I was brought up in this city. There aren't as many pubs and clubs any more."
There are currently 1,127 private hire drivers licensed by Stoke-on-Trent City Council – an increase on the 1,084 licenses issued last year.
Dave Currie, regional secretary of the National Private Hire Association, believes the price war will only be of limited benefit to customers. He said the council should apply tougher rules for those wishing to set up new taxi firms, in order to make the trade more stable.
Mr Currie said: "We get these price wars from time to time. Their controller tells them they're reducing their rate, which means the driver is earning less. But it's only just a matter of time before things return to the status quo.
"The real problem is it's far too easy for people to get a base operator licence. There are no CRB checks, they don't have to show they have the finance to sustain a base.
"You can't put a cap on it because that would be anti-competitive, but higher standards would ensure more responsible base operators."
But Mohammed Amin, co-founder of Ace Private Hire, believes the city's private hire trade is in a healthy state.
Mr Amin, below, said: "I don't think things are unsustainable. The other firms could have dropped their prices to these levels years ago.
"We didn't set up Ace to make money for the owners, but to secure jobs for drivers. It's better for the customers as well.
"Our drivers are happy with the way we're doing things. They may make less money on each job, but whereas before they got 20 jobs a day, now they're getting 30."
Councillor Janine Bridges, cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and community safety, said the authority was now allowed to limit the number of licences.
She said: "As the licencing authority we have a duty to treat all private hire applications equally.
"The licencing committee looks very closely at each individual application and drivers have to meet strict criteria.
"The city council doesn't have any involvement in how much private hire vehicles charge their passengers and journeys are not metered. The industry sets its own prices."