Stoke-on-Trent taxis face fines for blocking 999 crews
TAXI drivers who block key roads into the city centre could soon be fined after being accused of getting in the way of the emergency services.
Now Stoke-on-Trent City Council is considering designating more areas within the town for drivers to pick up night-time revellers and ease congestion on the road network.
Taxis have been accused of regularly clogging up junctions close to Trinity Street in Hanley as they wait for trade in the early hours.
The authority says it may use its CCTV vehicle to pinpoint and fine offenders after the police admitted over-stretched officers are often tied up dealing with incidents elsewhere in the town.
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A taxi marshal system in Stafford Street allows Hackney carriages to park as they wait for customers.
However private hire vehicles can often be found elsewhere in the area after being unable to access certain roads due to bus lanes – routes which, unlike Hackney licensed taxis, they are banned from using.
Superintendent Jeff Moore said: "There are issues where police officers and ambulance staff, with the their lights on, can't always get through the Trinity Street and Marsh Street area which is unacceptable.
"Dealing with the drivers is resource-intensive and we find that when we move away the activities return."
Mr Moore claims the current set-up, with taxis congregating at the junction of Trinity Street and Marsh Street, means customers are free to head from one driver to the next as they seek the cheapest fare.
He added: "Come 4.30am we see customers going to taxis and bartering for the best price and this can lead to conflict between drivers and customers along with drivers and drivers."
The city council is currently gathering evidence as part of its review of Hanley's night-time economy.
At the weekend councillors visited the city centre and Newcastle where they were able to compare the provision of taxis in both towns.
Councillor Matt Wilcox, a former nightclub DJ, said: "The biggest difference we found was the dispersal – Newcastle had a very well organised system. In Hanley some taxi drivers are clogging up the main arteries into the town along with blocking crossings.
"When they were told about it a few of them didn't seem bothered.
"In Newcastle it was like a conveyor belt of customers getting picked up and dropped off.
"That town has a bus station by the bars which we don't and we need to be innovative on what we can do here.
"We will look to take enforcement on those who don't operate as they should. We have the CCTV vehicle and this is about educating people as well."
Dave Currie, regional secretary of the National Private Hire Association, said: "Newcastle is buzzing and they have a good system where people are dropped off and picked up by taxis.
"That sort of scheme is not only key to a successful Hanley at night but also in the daytime.
"It would make more sense to have an area for taxis and somewhere like one side of Marsh Street could be suitable."
Last year the council trialled a pick-up area on its Clementsons Mill car park. However staff claim the project failed once drivers began to drift to other areas in order to guarantee trade quicker.