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Two new taxi policies threaten the viability of the trade and service within Lewes district

Two new contentious taxi licensing policies could threaten the future of the taxi industry within Lewes according to an industry representative. James Kiernan, the Unite the Union Shop Steward for Lewes District Hackney Carriage Drivers, shed light on the pressing issues faced by drivers in the Lewes district. As a seasoned driver with over 20 years of experience, Kiernan highlighted two major concerns that he believes need immediate attention; the restrictive vehicle colour policy and the implementation of CCTV.

One of the primary concerns raised by Kiernan is the colour policy imposed by the council, which dictates that all new hackney carriage vehicles must be white. While trying to replace his written-off vehicle, Kiernan discovered that white vehicles were not only scarce but also considerably more expensive, with price differences ranging from £4,000 to £6,000 compared to vehicles of other colours. Unable to afford a new white 9-seater vehicle, he reluctantly purchased a 6-year-old model for £19,000, significantly more than what he paid for a similar 18-month-old vehicle back in 2018. This forced him to switch his council vehicle and driver's licence type to private hire, thereby losing his established customer base developed over two decades. Kiernan emphasised that many other drivers have faced similar difficulties and are being compelled to change their licence types. This policy, in turn, is undermining the local taxi trade, which consists of fewer than 100 Hackney carriage vehicles across the Lewes district. The reduction in available taxis puts vulnerable individuals, including lone women, more at risk by limiting their access to taxis late at night.

Another pressing issue highlighted by Kiernan is the impending implementation of CCTV in licensed vehicles. Despite the results of a 2021 consultation that indicated opposition to the measure, the licensing committees decided to go ahead with the implementation. Although the Department of Transport (DfT) currently only ‘recommends’ the use of CCTV, the committees set a deadline for installation, initially by October 2022, which was later extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic to October 2023 for Lewes and November 2023 for Eastbourne.

Kiernan explained that the trade is already burdened by the ongoing cost of living crisis and recovery from the pandemic, with minimal support. The request for an extended deadline was denied, and despite the potential for external funding discussed between David Lawrie, a representative from the National Taxi and Private Hire Association, and Jo Dunk, lead for regulatory services, it was revealed through a Freedom of Information request that the council never applied for funding. Kiernan, suggested that their presentation of the request did not follow the guidelines provided, as it focused on subsidising the trade instead of emphasising public safety.

The issues surrounding both the vehicle colour policy and the implementation of CCTV affect drivers heavily in both the Lewes District and Eastbourne Borough Council areas. As the trade continues to face significant challenges during a time of economic uncertainty, it is hoped that action will be taken to address the concerns and ensure the sustainability and safety of the local taxi trade.


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