Councilors to the General Licensing Committee yesterday discussed a proposal from hackney taxi drivers in Torfaen who want to raise fares. The debate centered on the impact an increase would have on customers versus how drivers had to ‘deal with’ fuel cost increases and cost of living pressures.
A report from Claire Howells, head of the council’s licensing and trading team, said a group of drivers met with the council on August 2. Their proposal would see tariffs increase “by about 20%”.
Councilor Giles Davies, Abersychan Ward and chairman of the committee, said: ‘I was really torn about this. On the one hand, the increase in fares is going to affect some of the most vulnerable people in society who depend on taxis, but on the other hand, if we do not increase them, businesses also suffer, we will be left without taxis. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last two days since I received the agenda, personally I don’t think I have any other option but to follow the recommendation, otherwise we might risk putting the taxi companies out of business and long term we won’t have taxis and everyone will be stuck. We will be in a catch-22.
Cllr Liz Haynes, St Dials Ward, said: ‘I run a small business myself, nothing to do with taxis obviously, but some of my costs have gone up by over 200 per cent, but most small businesses have the option to raise their prices as needed, but hackney carriages, as claire said, they haven’t raised in over four years. They’ve taken on their extra expenses and the restrictions caused by covid, they’ve taken on the pretty dramatic increases in fuel so far and they’ve taken on their own cost of living increases as well.
“So while I’m a bit embarrassed by an increase because of the impact it will have on my residents at a really difficult time, I also understand the need, so I too will be supporting the request in the report.” She added that without the hike, drivers could leave the business and go deliver food for “JustEat and Uber who are making enough money right now, speaking like someone who knows this business.”
Cllr Lynda Clarkson, Abersychan Ward, said: “These drivers also have to earn a living, so we really are between the devil and the deep blue sea here. I don’t think many people will be surprised by the increases because it’s widespread, is it? We see it in everything and if we don’t get that balance between supporting businesses and supporting residents, we’re going to lose valuable taxis and there’s not much to replace them.
Cllr Norma Parrish, Panteg Ward, said: ‘The poorest in our society are the ones who are going to feel the pinch with taxi fares. I have huge sympathy for the taxi companies, yes they should have their fares increased but we could do a little less than they suggest? »
In response, Cllr David Thomas said taxi drivers know their business “inside and out and must keep operating”.
Cllr Karl Gauden, Llanfrechfa & Ponthir Ward said: “It’s tough because we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I can see both sides of the coin here. The report’s analysis focuses on our vulnerable residents’ reliance on taxis and school transportation in particular. I think those are the two main important things that we rely on. But our vulnerable residents who depend on transportation have the same cost of living as taxi companies. He said a GP practice in his ward was closing and the increase would mean his residents had to pay extra to visit a doctor.
He pointed out that the report shows that if drivers cannot earn a “decent” living, there will be fewer drivers on the roads and added: “Everyone is under the hammer with the cost of living, so I don’t necessarily think we need to be in a hurry to do it. You have to think carefully.”
Cllr David Thomas, Llantarnam Ward, said: “I think this is long overdue for the taxi business in Torfaen so I would just like to say I think this is something we should accept.”
Cllr Jon Horlor, Trevethin & Penygarn Ward, said: ‘I have no objection to the price increase. It’s inevitable. He added that he had researched other councils and found that some had linked a fare increase to requiring drivers to accept card payments as well as cash. Claire Howell said it was not council policy for drivers to have a card machine, but she knows many drivers allow it. She said they would consider making a policy change if the trade demanded it.
Councilors voted to send the report to Cllr Mandy Owen, Executive Member for the Environment, who would put it out for public consultation for 14 days. Cllr Parrish voted against.