Today’s guest blog is written by Cllr Ruth Pickersgill, Chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.
On Wednesday, taxi drivers and operators and city partners from across Bristol came together for Bristol’s third taxi conference at City Hall, chaired by Alex Raikes of SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality).
As Chair of the Public Safety Committee and the Taxi Forum, I regularly meet with drivers and understand the huge barriers and frustrations they face in this economic climate and with many national out-of-date regulations. Drivers were really pleased to hear directly from the Mayor, Marvin Rees, that he is committed to supporting them, and the clear message from all speakers was that we must work collaboratively to develop a taxi system that is a safe and accessible part of our public transport network, and contributes to our ambitious targets for improving air quality.
I was pleased to be able to outline some of the progress made since the last conference on refurbishing and improving the signage on existing ranks, as well as introducing a new ‘super rank’ on the Centre, and starting the process to establish new ranks in key areas suggested by the Trade. We have also improved the licensing regime to make the team more accessible to drivers with queries, and have reduced the average waiting times for licenses to 7 days for new drivers and less for renewals. Drivers are pleased that communication has improved and they now get regular newsletters and WhatsApp messages from the ‘Taxi Cop’, and they appreciate his vigilance in dealing with illegal activity. They also really appreciated the support of SARI who support drivers who suffer hate crime or discrimination.
Following the announcement the day before of our proposals for a Clean Air Zone in Bristol, ahead of Cabinet on 5 November, the drivers raised important questions over how this would affect the trade. Marvin reassured drivers and operators that as long as their vehicles are Euro 6 diesel or Euro 4 petrol standard and above, which our licensing policies have already moved them towards, they would not be charged to enter the Clean Air Zone. Any non-compliant taxis would be liable for the £9 daily charge to enter the zone. Taxis are not affected by the proposed diesel ban area. They will be able to operate as usual within the proposed zone. They are recognised as an essential element of public transport, particularly for older and disabled people without cars, and we are committed to continuing to work with the taxi trade as we look at the detail of the plans.
Questions were asked by the first Hackney Carriage driver with an electric vehicles about the charging infrastructure. Cllr Kye Dudd, our cabinet member for transport, reiterated our commitment to social as well as environmental justice – meaning we’re making switch to ultra-low emission vehicles as accessible and achievable as possible. We have recently secured more than £300,000 to install four rapid charging units near the M32, and are offering subsidies of up to £3,500 for drivers who wish to retrofit their vehicles. There is still work to be done and we hope to take learning from other cities on how we can improve our electric vehicle offer to the taxi trade.
Another key discussion point was the issue of cross-local authority border licensing, and the fact that the number of private hire vehicles licensed in South Gloucestershire, for example, has gone up 305% in 3 years. I was able to talk about the recommendations of a national Task and Finish Group, chaired Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, which recommends that all journeys should start and/or finish in the area they are licensed, and also for the introduction of national minimum standards for licensing which, if adopted by the Government, would address the most pressing concerns of the Trade. I urged them to keep lobbying MPs, as I often do, to get these issues tackled quickly by bringing in the legislative changes we need.
I am passionate about the rights of drivers to make a decent living and to have reasonable working conditions, and want to work with them to address some of the barriers they face. I am also proud of the high standards we have in Bristol for safeguarding passengers through rigorous checking and training of drivers and vehicles, and of the key role our drivers play in keeping people safe (particularly in the night time economy). We won’t let our standards drop, but have to continue to press the Government to act to ensure others are forced to improve theirs.