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PROTEST PLIGHT


WEST SUFFOLK TAXI DRIVERS COME TOGETHER TO SHOW OPPOSITION TO COUNCIL POLICY


Taxi drivers from across West Suffolk held a demonstration on Monday 23 August against issues including a West Suffolk Council policy which could see their cars switching to WAVs. Suffolk News reports that drivers joined a parade of cars and after driving around the town, the drivers convened at the council’s building in Western Way where Bury St Edmunds cabbie, Rob dorling, handed in letters of concern and an offi- cial 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 addi- tions with very little knowledge of the history of the taxi industry in our area. “The lack of support during Covid has been a particular con- cern, 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 documen- tation 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 WAVs. 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 and an e-petition have been set 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,


SEPTEMBER 2021


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 representa- tives from all groups. While this is happening the council said the licensing team was working with the trade on appli- cations on a case-by-case basis. Mark Goodchild, a taxi driver in Bury and an organiser of the protest, 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 peo- ple off the van. So there’s no point really,” he said. “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 leav- ing 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)’.”


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