Council set to INCREASE taxi age limits by five years and DROP WAV policy after consultation results
Updated: Jul 16, 2022
West Suffolk Council’s mandatory wheelchair accessible taxi proposal is set to be dropped alongside a welcomed INCREASE to taxi vehicle age limits from ten years to five.
Changes also include a shift in West Suffolk taxis zones. Much of the policy changes have been supported by the trade and members of the public, and are to be decided next week in front of the councils Cabinet.
The first short term change would see the current policy that requires all new taxis or replacement vehicles to be wheelchair accessible (WAVs), removed for the time being.
This proposed change was put forwards following a survey carried out during Autumn 2021 which found that many disabled passengers preferred not to use WAVs and that a mixed fleet was required. The current policy does not allow for this, as it requires all newly plated hackney carriage vehicles to be a WAV only. And an independent study found there was an imbalance of WAVs across the district - with too few in Mildenhall and Newmarket and a potential surplus in Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill.
Overall, around 70 per cent of both the public and the taxi trade agreed to the policy being removed. While two respondents representing disability networks in the district opposed the WAV policy being removed, the consultation found that the majority of passengers who identified as having a disability, were in favour.
While Cabinet will be asked to agree its removal, the Council will carry out another survey by 2025 to assess if there’s any unmet demand, such as from people needing more WAVs. Alongside this the Council will work with the taxi trade to explore the different types of WAVs available. This is part of the Council’s long-term commitment to ensure it has an accessible fleet, recognising as outlined in the survey feedback, the need to be flexible to cater for a wide variety of taxi customers.
Alongside the WAV changes, Cabinet will be asked to agree to the two taxi zones covering the former St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath areas to be replaced with a single West Suffolk zone. This move would be permanent.
The majority of the taxi trade and public backed the move. Taxis would then be able to pick up fares in parts of the district that are outside their current zone. This also offers the opportunity to balance out the existing WAV provision across the whole of the district to better cater for demand. It will mean that a driver taking a passenger for example from Bury St Edmunds to Newmarket, would then be able to pick up a fare going the opposite way, something that is currently not allowed.
Finally, Cabinet will be asked to extend the current maximum age of a taxi to 15 years for the time being. This is because a large proportion of the fleet, including a third of WAVs, would need replacing in 2025 when the Council’s vehicle age limit of 10 years comes into effect.
The Council is committed to achieving a greener and accessible fleet. But it also recognises from feedback from some of its own electric vehicle taxi drivers, that the charging infrastructure needs to be improved to support this as does the availability of electric WAVs. Increasing the maximum age of vehicles to 15 years will remove those taxis emitting the highest carbon emissions from the roads in 2025 while it will allow more time for advancements in EV charging technology, infrastructure, and vehicle options to be explored with the trade.
The move was backed by two thirds of consultees including 82 per cent of the trade.
Cllr Andy Drummond, Cabinet Member for Regulatory and Environment which includes licensing, will be seeking the backing of Cabinet colleagues on Tuesday 19 July. He said: “We have sought the views and listened to both taxi customers and taxi drivers. Our long-term aim remains to ensure that we have a safe, accessible, green, and thriving fleet and we will need to keep our WAV provision under review as we work towards achieving this.
“If these recommendations are accepted by my Cabinet colleagues, we will then look to establish a passenger group and carry out another survey in 2025, to check the impact of these changes and ensure that customer demand for all needs, including people with disabilities or mobility issues, is being properly met.
“We will also look to work with the industry to explore the best options for WAVs in our fleet as well as for environmentally friendlier vehicles, in line with our commitment to reach net zero by 2030.”