West Suffolk taxi drivers come together to show opposition to council policy
Taxi drivers from across West Suffolk will be holding a demonstration today against issues including a West Suffolk Council policy which could see their cars switching to wheelchair accessible vehicles.
After driving around the town, including in Newmarket Road, St Andrews Street North, Fornham Road and Tollgate Lane, the drivers will convene at the council's building in Western Way to hand in letters of concern and an official statement by the group.
The statement says: "The parade of taxi drivers from all over West Suffolk this morning has been brought about by the lack of meaningful dialogue with West Suffolk Council over the last few years with the taxi industry in the area.
"The licensing department staff appear to be all recent additions with very little knowledge of the history of the taxi industry in our area.
"The lack of support during Covid has been a particular concern, this has led to a shortage of vehicles at peak periods which is of concern to the public. People have left the industry."
The statement also goes on to say licensing departments in other areas have recognised the situation and given discounts on licences and lobbied the case for support grants on behalf of the industry.
It continued: "18 months into Covid, whilst drivers have struggled on, continuing throughout to keep the public transported, the licensing team in our area are still working from home resulting in long delays in processing documentation with emails bouncing back and nobody answering telephones for long periods.
"A huge matter of concern is a decision without meaningful dialogue or consultation that most saloon Hackney cars must change to wheelchair access vehicles. We have a good variety of vehicles to suit all needs in the area already.
"If this policy is enforced people with other disabilities and restrictions of movement will not be able to access a suitable vehicle, a service that cars have provided up until now."
Other concerns from the group included the purchase and running cost as well as the effects on the environment of large, heavy diesel vehicles.
The statement concluded: "For instance, in Bury St. Edmunds we have only nine spaces on our rank for 100 Hackney vehicles. Are the vehicles supposed to drive around until they are waved down by the public?
"The industry needs support at this time, not more expense and regulation that is not well thought through."
A petition, which is receiving signatures during Bury market days, and an e-petition have been sent up and will be kept ongoing the group have said until a meeting between them and the council is announced.
West Suffolk Council is holding a review into the policy, giving the taxi industry and people with disabilities their say.
The council said the requirement for new vehicles to be wheelchair accessible had been in place since 2019, but within the next month it would be engaging with people with disabilities, taxi owners, taxi businesses and representatives from all groups.
While this is happening the council said the licensing team was working with the trade on applications on a case-by-case basis.
Councillor Andy Drummond, the council's cabinet member responsible for licensing, said "Taxis are important to our economy. As a council, we are committed to supporting taxi drivers achieve high standards of service, ensuring our communities have confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the trade.
"We are happy to continue to work with them to ensure their passengers can be confident they are using services that have the highest standard of safety and that people with disabilities are not discriminated against and can use taxis which are vital in helping them live independently."