Cheshire West and Chester Council are proposing some changes to taxi and private hire licensing conditions to help current drivers and those wanting to enter the trade which will see extensions added to certain criteria usually required to be completed before licensing.
In a report to licensing committee members, details of the current state of the industry stress that the borough's taxi trade has seen a 15% reduction in the number of drivers and a 20% fall in licensed vehicles due to the pandemic which has impacted the industry hugely over the last 12-15 months.
Serious driver shortages have been flagged as a concern as the night time economy begins to come alive again. Local police have even stressed that waiting times can lead to issues with members of the public who may have been drinking and congregating while waiting for taxis.
The report, written by the council's regulatory services manager Andrew Rees, says: "Officers note that there has been a significant reduction in the number of available licensed drivers.
"In addition, because of the pandemic, a hackney carriage/private hire driver has been recognised as being in a high-risk occupation.
"Being recognised as such, may deter some potential new applicants from entering the trade. Some existing drivers have also chosen not to work during the pandemic for this same reason and on health grounds.
"The private hire operator has stated that other Licensing Authorities have relaxed some driver entry requirements and has therefore requested that we do the same. Members will have the option to determine any possible policy changes."
Before a new driver can be licensed, the current policy requires that they pass both The Cheshire West and Chester Council Licensed Driver’s Qualification and The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Driving Assessment (private hire) or other Driving Assessment Scheme approved by the regulatory services manager.
To counter this issue, the council is proposing that all applicants be given a 12-month period extension to pass these qualifications.
The report also highlights vehicle licence renewals, stating: "In recent months officers have had to reject a number of renewal applications for vehicles that were licensed up until the pandemic but subsequently the licence has been allowed to expire.
"These specific vehicle renewal licences were being applied for up to a year + after the original licence expired. As such, they must be treated as a new application and as the vehicles were more than five years old, they did not meet the entry requirements and therefore could not be licensed.
"In all cases if the vehicle licence had been renewed at the time of expiry, subject to meeting all the other licensing criteria, they would have continued to be licensed until they reached the relevant exit age."
To help drivers, the council is now proposing that any vehicle previously licensed as a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle whose licence expired after March 23, 2020 would not need to meet the current entry age policy.
This would be subject to any such vehicle not being older than the relevant exit age policy and being a suitably qualifying vehicle that meets all other licensing requirements.