Taxi drivers fear for business after Stoke-on-Trent City councillors deregulate number of Hackney carriages
TAXI drivers fear they will no longer be able to make a living after councillors voted to deregulate the number of Hackney carriages on the roads.
Newcastle Borough Council's public protection committee has opted against holding a survey on demand for taxis in the area.
This means the council will no longer be able to limit the number of Hackney carriage licences it issues, bringing it into line with many other authorities, including Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
Committee members believe more Hackney carriages will help reduce town centre anti-social behaviour caused by revellers on Friday and Saturday nights.
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But members of Newcastle Hackney Carriage Association say the current limit of 51 taxis is needed in order to protect their livelihoods.
They claim that there is not enough work to go around as it is, and more drivers entering the trade will make it impossible for them to make a living.
Teresa Jones, secretary of Newcastle Hackney Carriage Association, said: "I'm totally disgusted at this decision. It's going to lead to a very bad situation in Newcastle.
"All those applications for Hackney carriage licences are coming from private hire companies. As soon as they get them they will be selling them off.
"This is going to have a devastating effect on the current Hackney carriage drivers.
"The situation in Newcastle on Fridays and Saturdays is the same as in any town or city in the country. But in Newcastle it only lasts a few minutes, and then all the people are gone. I've spoken to the police who say there isn't a problem with taxi numbers."
A licensing authority can only limit Hackney carriage numbers if it can justify it by conducting an unmet demand survey every three years.
The borough council last carried out such a survey in December 2009, and it is expected that conducting another would cost up to £30,000.
There are currently 51 people on the borough council's waiting list for Hackney carriage licences.
Some committee members felt a new survey should be carried out, but argued that at least some of the cost should be passed on to the taxi trade.
Conservative Councillor Ian Matthews said: "There is no option but to have a survey. The problem is who will pay for it. It has to be like last time, and split 50-50 between the council and the taxi drivers."
But the committee voted against carrying out a survey funded by drivers' licence fees.
Labour committee member Tony Kearon said the decision to deregulate had been made in the interests of public safety.
He said: "First and foremost our concern has to be for the safety and wellbeing of the people of Newcastle.
"It is regrettable that taxi drivers think this will have an impact on their livelihoods, and it is not a decision we have taken lightly.
"But we have a situation where large numbers of people wait for taxis in the town centre. It's obvious there aren't enough drivers."