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A ‘RESILIENT’ DROP IN TAXI NUMBERS? UK taxi fleets shrink, but optimism remains post-COVID

Image credit: Ross Campbell

The haunting image of the ‘Field of Broken Dreams’ showing hundreds of London black cabs parked up in a field has become symbolic to cabbies across the UK. With work levels remaining low, only a fraction of the fleet’s wheels are still turning.

In article we break down figures from some of the UK’s most active licensing authorities, to see how the global pandemic has impacted taxi and private hire driver licensing numbers up and down the land.

Kicking it off there’s probably no better place to start than Wolverhampton City Council, who have previously been criticised for the large number of private hire licences issued, especially to those who don’t live or intend to work locally.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic having a hugely negative impact on the taxi and private hire industry, Wolverhampton City Council have seen an increase in private hire driver licences.

Private hire driver licences have risen by 667, from 16,257 to 16,924 (+4.1%). Despite the increase, private hire vehicle licences have seen a drop of 387, from 11,077 to 10,690 (-3.5%).

Hackney carriage taxis licensed by Wolverhampton City Council can’t boast such numbers, with driver licences dropping from 102 to 97 (-4.9%) in the last 12 months. Hackney carriage vehicle licence numbers have also dropped slightly from 170 to 169 (-0.6%).

The council also offers drivers the chance to hold a dual hackney carriage/private hire licence, with numbers currently sitting at 164 which is down 7 (-4.1%) from the same time last year.

Next up we look at Brighton & Hove City Council licensed drivers. Figures released by the council show that both hackney carriage and private hire driver licences have dropped in the last 12 months. Hackney carriage driver licences have dropped by 78, from 1,138 to 1,060 (-6.9%) with private hire driver licences dropping 19, from 252 to 233 (-7.5%).

Private hire vehicle licences have dropped 56, from 493 to 437 (-11.4%), with the only increase across the board coming from hackney carriage vehicle licences. Hackney carriage vehicle licences are up by 5, from 580 to 585 (+0.9%).

Nottingham taxi drivers have proven to be some of the most resilient, with the number of drivers licensed to operator only dropping by 2 in the last 12 months. Figures show that the current number of licensed drivers sits at 2,425, whereas the same time last year, the figures were 2,427.

The UK’s largest taxi and private hire licensing authority, Transport for London (TfL), shows that as of 22 November, hackney carriage taxi driver licences were down by 950 from 22,337 to 21,387. Out of the current number licensed, 18,995 hold ‘All London’ licences and 2,551 hold ‘Suburban’ licences.

Hackney carriage taxi vehicle licences reveal more worrying figures, with licences dropping a huge 3,664 in the last 12 months.

Private hire driver licences have also seen a decrease, with 3,332 fewer licences currently recorded. The current figure stands at 108,434, with data showing that at the same time last year there were 111,766 driver licences on the database.

Whilst the downfall in taxi vehicle numbers has been heavily highlighted, private hire vehicles licensed by TfL have also dropped massively. There has been a decrease of 10,818 licensed minicabs in the past 12 months, from 94,712 to 83,894 (-11.4%).

The number of private hire operator licences in the capital currently sits at 2,022, that’s down 91 on last year’s figures of 2,113.

In Derbyshire, Hackney Carriage licences currently recorded by Derby City Council have also dropped over the last 12 months, with data showing a decrease of 21, to 324 from 345 (-6.1%).

Cabbies licensed with Sheffield City Council, some of which will be receiving a £500 support package if they meet eligibility requirements, have also seen a drop off in numbers. There were 740 licensed taxi drivers licensed in 2019 and now only 697 (-5.8%) licencees remain. For private hire drivers it’s a similar story with 1,878 (-6%) still licensed compared to 1,998 the previous year.

Not all licensing authorities were able to give comparison numbers but have made available current licensing figures.

In Glasgow there are currently 1,420 taxis licensed. Glasgow City Council have confirmed to us that current data indicates that 75 of those licence holders have intimated their vehicles are off the road.

Of the council’s private hire cars, there are currently 3,823 licensed vehicles, with the most recent data showing that 85 of those vehicles are currently off the road.

The council have told us that licences are not being surrendered as such, as since the first lockdown they have allowed licence holders to cancel the taxi element of their insurance and advise that they are off the road. Those licences are then temporarily suspended until such time as the drivers advise that they intend to operate again.

A spokesperson for the council told us: “We have implemented a wide range of measures in support of the taxi trade at this extremely difficult time. We are keeping the situation under regular review and will continue to look for further changes that can ease the pressure currently being felt by licence holders.

“As a regulatory authority, we must remain focused on public safety at all times.”

Looking at these UK cities, the trend is pretty consistent. There is a drop in both driver and vehicle licences, but is the trend caused by the coronavirus pandemic or was this the path the trade was on already?

There also remains a bigger question over the number of drivers who haven’t yet made the decision about remaining licensed taxi and private hire drivers when their next renewal comes around.

However, what this data does show is that there remains a resilience from the industry. Despite one of the worst health and economic crises the world and the trade has faced, there remains optimism that the industry will return.


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