- Portsmouth calls on government for urgent meeting to discuss concerns from the taxi and private hire trade that the impacts of the pandemic – combined with current government policy – may threaten livelihoods and the sector as a whole.
- Renewed calls to close legal loophole that allows private hire vehicle drivers and vehicle owners to dodge local regulations.
- Concerns about the future availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles without adequate funding support.
Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson asked for the meeting following concerns from the taxi and private hire trade that the impacts of the pandemic combined with current government policy may threaten livelihoods and the sector as a whole.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Cllr Vernon-Jackson joins other regional leaders in calls for an immediate review of government policies – and adequate funding to ensure there is enough support for the trade.
Concerns are raised current policy may significantly reduce convenient and wheelchair accessible vehicle provision, in a sector that forms a key part of the transport network and lifeline for many, including people with mobility issues.
Portsmouth is set to introduce a government-imposed Clean Air Zone, and co-signatories Greater Manchester, Birmingham City Council, and Sheffield City Council have also been directed by government to introduce Clean Air Zones to tackle nitrogen dioxide levels on local roads – affecting taxis and private hire vehicles that don’t meet emissions standards.
The local authorities all support the case for better air quality and are driving forward their specific plans. They are also urging government to ensure funding levels support drivers and operators can move to the more expensive lower emission vehicles required for private hire vehicles and hackney cab services in Clean Air Zone areas.
There is also a renewed call to close the legal loophole that allows democratically determined local safety and environmental standards to be bypassed, by allowing private hire vehicle drivers and vehicle owners to dodge more stringent local driver and vehicle regulations by being licensed elsewhere.
The council submitted a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) full business case to government at the end of last year and is awaiting final confirmation of government funding to implement the zone. This follows a ministerial directive which legally required the council to implement a Class B charging CAZ before the end of the year.
Portsmouth’s Clean Air Zone is expected to launch in November 2021 to tackle air pollution on local roads. Air pollution is a serious risk to public health and the Clean Air Zone is just one of a number of measures being introduced by Portsmouth City Council to tackle the problem.
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: “Many industries have been impacted by the pandemic but for the taxi industry, inadequate national government policies are threatening their livelihoods. Not to mention the inadequate funding that is being provided to help them make their vehicles less polluting so they are not charged to travel in the government-imposed Clean Air Zone that we must launch before the end of the year. The pressure on the taxi industry is relentless and I, along with other local authorities want the opportunity to discuss this with government during one of the toughest years we have experienced.”
The provision of wheelchair accessible vehicles has given the general public access to a versatile and accessible fleet. Up until now this has given drivers and owners a predictable business model. However, under government Clean Air Zone vehicle guidance, private hire vehicle and hackney drivers, particularly those operating wheelchair accessible vehicles, face a big capital outlay to upgrade vehicles.
Both the taxi and private hire sectors report being hugely impacted by the economic consequences of COVID-19. However, the impacts have been keenly felt by the hackney trade which has seen reduced customer demand for some time, with competition from new app-based private hire business models.
Local authorities have asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State and government officials at the earliest opportunity.