Despite a slump in passenger numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic, cabbies in Brighton and Hove face even greater competition in the coming year as more licences are made available.
The move was agreed by Brighton and Hove City Council’s Licensing Committee last week and prompted outrage from the Conservatives.
The party voted to suspend the issuing of new plates because, they said, the market was over-saturated.
And their criticisms come as taxi and private hire drivers say business is worse than it’s ever been, with two national lockdowns and other restrictions wiping out trade.
Councillor Dee Simson, who speaks for the Tories on licensing, said: “The council has increased pressure on taxi drivers already struggling to survive by not suspending the release of a new batch of licence plates.
“At a Licensing Committee meeting last week, Greens and Labour voted to proceed with the annual increase in new taxi plates, adding five new licences to an already over-saturated market.
“A decision was made outside of the Licensing Committee to defer the council’s forthcoming ‘Unmet Demand Survey’ due to the pandemic.
“The Conservatives proposed suspending the issuing of any further ‘hackney carriage’ plates until the ‘Unmet Demand Survey’ is completed and the results with recommendations are brought to a future committee for consideration. This was voted down by the Greens and Labour.
“Taxi drivers were clear that now was not the time to be adding capacity to a market already stretched to its limit.
“The council said that these were tough times for the industry in its report but after speaking to taxi drivers we actually believe this is the worst time that taxi drivers have ever experienced in terms of business.
“You just have to look around the city to see taxis over-ranked, with drivers sitting around all day and little in business coming their way.
“Last week we were sent photos of not one or two but five or six taxis parked up on the double yellow lines outside Budgens in Queen’s Road waiting to pick up passengers walking out of the station when there were other vehicles waiting at the approved rank at the rear of the station.
“Drivers are spending large parts of the day sitting on ranks with no work coming in. One taxi driver said that they had spent the whole day working and only taking £5.30 in fares.
“Another example I saw myself was nine taxis over-ranked outside the hospital. All of the ranks are full of drivers with very little work.
“The last thing taxi drivers needed was more plates being issued. It really is a pity that five have already been issued this year.
“But we felt that we should call a stop to it now and not issue any more until the ‘Unmet Demand Survey’ has been completed and reported – whenever that may be.
“What’s the point of putting more cars on the road when there’s not enough work for those that are already there?”
Conservative councillor Samer Bagaeen, who also sits on the council’s Licensing Committee, said that the excuses given by Greens and Labour for their stance did not stack up.
Councillor Bagaeen said: “The excuses of Labour and the Greens do not stand up to basic scrutiny and will certainly not be accepted by struggling taxi drivers in our city.
“Claims that only council officers can make a decision on such matters are highly questionable.
“Similarly, claims that new plates are needed now because the fleet needs modernisation are also off the mark, given that the fleet is already 50 per cent accessible.
“It is a shame the committee declined to support our amendment. The Greens and Labour are out of touch and clearly not listening to the concerns that taxi drivers have.”
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