Cab drivers in West Suffolk take to the streets of Bury St Edmunds in protest over changes brought in by West Suffolk Council which would see new vehicles have to be wheelchair accessible
Dozens of cab drivers from across West Suffolk took to the streets in Bury St Edmunds as part of a protest against changes brought in which would see them having to make new Hackney carriage taxis wheelchair accessible.
The changes, which came into effect in 2016 but have recently met criticism among cabbies across Brandon, Haverhill, Mildenhall, Newmarket and Bury, were brought in by West Suffolk Council's licensing department.
In a show of protest, cab drivers set off from Olding Road, in Bury, at 8am this morning, ending up at West Suffolk House, where West Suffolk Council staff are based, to hand over a general statement detailing their frustration at the policy.
West Suffolk Council has defended the policy, and within the next month said it would be carrying out a review, engaging with people with disabilities and taxi owners and businesses.
Mark Goodchild, a taxi driver in Bury and one of the main organisers of the protest today, said making all new vehicles wheelchair accessible was 'ridiculous' after many cabbies had struggled through the pandemic.
"We are going to lose so much trade, because we can't pick up the elderly or the disabled," he said.
"In Bury, over 50 per cent of the vehicles are wheelchair accessible."
Mark added while around 60 cab drivers had had financial support over the last 18 months, the rest, over 500, had not.
Another cab driver, John Farthing, already has a wheelchair accessible vehicle.
He estimated implementing the changes had cost him around £40,000, but considered making all vehicles wheelchair accessible was not worth it.
"I've got a wheelchair access bus and in the three years that I've been on the rank with the bus, I've took about two people off the van," he said.
"So there's no point really.
"Most people with wheelchairs will book in advance so we can't see the point of that."
John said he knew other drivers who were considering leaving the industry if they were faced with making the changes to their vehicles.
"Most of them are within five years retirement age," he said.
"So they are looking at sort of 'I might as well give up, it's not worth splashing out on other (things)'."
Cllr Andy Drummond, cabinet member for regulatory and environment at West Suffolk Council, said: "West Suffolk Council has always been committed to engaging with its licensed trade which is why we have the Taxi Forum.
"It is important that people are able to let us know their concerns, so I thank the trade for this general statement that we will now look at in more detail and we will update the general statement organiser with what steps we intend to take.
"As we have previously outlined, this policy has been in place for a number of years now and we have already announced a policy review which will involve engagement with wheelchair users, disability forums, taxi drivers and their customers."
A West Suffolk Council spokesperson added it had paid out Covid-19 grants to 85 taxi and private hire drivers.
They said taxi drivers were emailed about the grants and the council communications team also posted about how to apply for the grants on their social media and issued press releases to the media including the Bury Free Press. There was also information on the council website.
"We communicate with taxi drivers through the email addresses and phone numbers that they supply and where emails have bounced back to the team we have made every effort to obtain new email contacts and have on occasion been refused," the spokesperson said.