A shortage of taxi drivers across the Lancaster and Morecambe district is being tackled with a recruitment campaign and other action by Lancaster City Council including an appeal to former drivers with expired licenses to return and cut-price training courses.
The shortage of hackney and private hire taxis is creating risks to public safety, people getting home safely, and disorder and crime, according to a licensing team work plan and report being reviewed by councillors on the district’s Licensing Committee.
Other issues such as the impact of Covid-19 on taxi drivers, rising fuel costs hitting drivers’ earnings and firms’ profits, the level of passenger fares, vehicle tests and driver training courses are among factors being looked at.
Councillors on the Licensing Committee are being asked to approve a licensing team work plan for 2022. It highlights various issues relevant to taxi passengers and drivers, gives updates on recent work and suggests priority tasks for next year.
Local authorities regulate the taxi trade which includes fares and checking the that drivers are ‘fit and proper’ persons. Checks include drivers’ character and history, their right to work in the UK and criminal convictions, cautions or reprimands.
The transport and driving sectors are undergoing various changes, with shortages seen locally and nationally with long distance HGV drivers and bin lorry drivers hitting the headlines.
Regarding taxi drivers in Lancaster and Morecambe, the city council’s Licensing Committee report states: “There is a reduced number of drivers, locally and nationally. One project has been to increase the number of licensed drivers operating in the district, both hackney carriage and private hire. The scope of this work has been to promote the role of becoming a taxi or private hire driver and to work alongside partners to assist applicants.
“A college course is full in November, due to reduced cost of £100 instead of £220. The council wrote to all expired drivers, 97 of them, and asked them to use a fast-track application procedure. A social media and Job Centre campaign is highlighting the work.”
A shortage of staff in the city council’s own licensing team is another priority issue, the report states. The team aims to fill the post by February 2022.
Taxi vehicle tests represent another factor which might be putting off drivers. The current system is described as labour intensive with excessive steps in the process. Changes are needed to the city council’s on-line vehicle test booking system to make it easier for drivers to book tests. The council will also reintroduce a paid service called Licensing Direct and personal licensing courses. with the aim of re-launching in April 2022.
Taxi ranks on streets are also being looked at too.
The workplan report states: “The reason is to improve availability of hackney carriages to the public. Lancashire County Council intends to conduct a review of hackney carriage ranks across the county. The city council welcomes this and would seek to work with the county council and Lancaster’s hackney carriage trade. The trade should be invited to provide written proposals regarding taxi rank provision at the earliest opportunity .”
It adds that road works on central Lancaster’s ‘gyratory’ road system could lead to significant changes which would cause disruptions. So consultation about taxi ranks with the trade should be done as-and-when needed. A number of taxi ranks have already been updated, the report adds.
The city council’s website shows there are currently 373 registered dual-license drivers. The hackney carriage register has 108 license-holders and the private hire register has 38.
The city council has registered with the National Anti-Fraud Network. Its services include providing information on taxi and private hire license refusals and revocations, DVLA driver and vehicle information, number plate recognition, fraud and crime prevention, investigations, credit and bank account checks, and trading standards work.