The Newcastle Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Association (NHCDA) has been formed to represent the Hackney Carriage industry, to address ongoing challenges and to establish support and unity within the trade. Hackney Carriages are crucial to the city’s infrastructure, transporting members of the public around the city centre and its various regions. They are legally able to accept a fare from the street without a prior booking and to be referred to as a ‘Taxi’ which Private Hire vehicles are not, on both counts.
There are approximately 780 Hackney Carriage vehicles licensed by the City of Newcastle Licensing Department and drivers are of diverse ethnicity, backgrounds, cultures, faiths, age groups, mostly male but with some female members and with varying levels of experience within the trade.
Although the NHCDA are currently in negotiation with members of Newcastle City Council, including Councillor Nick Kemp, Member for the Environment and Councillor Arlene Ainsley, Transport and Air Quality, drivers held a Go To Work Day on Thursday 23 August 2018 to emphasise their concerns and frustration with Newcastle City Council policy. It has become increasingly apparent that Newcastle City Council have their own transport and fiscal agenda whilst claiming that they want to work with the trade.
In order to obtain a Hackney Carriage licence each driver has to pass a locality test to demonstrate their knowledge of the city and surrounding areas. A private hire driver used to be required to pass a similar test as part of their licence application until approximately three years ago, which co-incided with Uber being granted their operating licence within the city. Since that time the criteria for obtaining a private hire licence has been relaxed and made easier.
This change in policy has resulted in a threefold increase in private hire vehicles causing many problems for traffic movement within the city. The numbers of private hire vehicles illegally plying for hire, flooding into the city centre and parking up, particularly at weekends, and taking non pre- booked work is untenable. This in part, is due to the fact that their designated operators do not have sufficient work to distribute.
The problem is not exclusive to Newcastle upon Tyne as many inner cities throughout the UK are dealing with similar issues and have challenged their region’s existing policies.
The NHCDA request that the council re-instate the locality test in full when applying for a private hire licence in parity with applying for a Hackney Carriage licence.
Councillor Arlene Ainsley made a press announcement last week that the local authority are unable to impose a cap on the numbers of private hire vehicles. The NHCDA would like to emphasise that they have never requested a cap on private hire licences and acknowledge that there has never been one. However, Councillor Arlene Ainsley and the Licensing Department are deliberately misleading in their statement as the lowering of criteria for the attainment of a private hire licence has expanded the numbers of private hire vehicles to an unmanageable and unpoliced level.
The NHCDA insists that it is the local authority’s responsibility to ensure private hire working is lawful and regulated.
The NHCDA would fiercely argue that the council have put revenue and the desires of private hire operators before public safety, public well-being and the environment.
Furthermore, Operation Sanctuary with it’s subsequent prosecutions within the private hire sector, highlighting the vulnerability of young women, emphasised the absolute necessity of ensuring that the criteria for issuing licences should be heightened, not lessened, to protect public safety and hopefully public confidence.
One of the most challenging problems faced by Hackney Carriage drivers is the lack of sufficient inner city rank spaces due to the historic and recent removal of ranks, especially The Gate, with other ranks under threat.
The NHCDA object to the removal of The Gate rank based on it’s popularity, accessibility and convenience for members of the public and the council’s reluctance to propose a viable alternative.
Ironically, drivers have been officially advised by taxi enforcement officers that if there are no available rank spaces they should drive around the city until a space becomes available which, of course, increases carbon emissions.
The current restricted access for Hackney Carriage vehicles does not work and prevents drivers from using certain bus lanes and gates. Consequently routes within the city have become longer, more expensive to customers and have created significant problems for traffic congestion and traffic flow, ultimately impacting on pollution and carbon emissions. This situation is counter- productive to Newcastle City Council’s stated aim to protect the inner city environment.
The NHCDA want Hackney Carriages to have the same access as buses to all streets, bus lanes and gates in order to keep the city moving. The majority of Hackney Carriage fares begin within the city centre and the access given to Hackney Carriages should reflect this. In response to Councillor Arlene Ainsley’s comment that last Thursday’s Go To Work Day disrupted the journeys of hundreds of members of the public, the NHCDA would stress that the congestion and chaotic gridlocking of traffic, particularly at weekends, has an enormous impact on public safety and the ability to be transported around the city, including the movement of buses/public transport and is exacerbated by current policy.
Finally, Hackney Carriage drivers are profoundly keen to have the respect and support of the public, and would like to be viewed as ambassadors of the city, easily recognised and identifiable. We ask for public support whilst in negotiation with Newcastle City Council in the belief that we have the genuine interests of Newcastle at heart and pride in our great city.