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Coronavirus: Harrogate taxi drivers denied fare increase

Coronavirus: Harrogate taxi drivers denied fare increase

Published by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 11:13am 2nd April 2020.

Taxi drivers in Harrogate have been denied a fare increase after a lead councillor said it would be asking customers to pay over the odds during the coronavirus crisis.

  • Drivers had been pushing for a 2.94% hike 
  • They said they needed the increase to get them through the pandemic 
  • But the council disagrees 
  • They say increasing prices would be unfair for customers 

Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and safer communities, Coun Mike Chambers, signed off the decision not to give cabbies a boost on their meters from the start of this month.

However taxi drivers – who had been pushing for a 2.94% hike – said a fare increase is just what they needed to help them get through the virus pandemic.

Kevin O’Boyle, owner of Central Taxis, and the longest holder of a taxi license in the district, said in a message to the council:

“I am a little disappointed to say the least regarding your decision to not give us a fare increase.

“Due to the present climate, this is exactly what we needed.  A little help is better than no help at all.

“During the past weekend I know of one driver who worked on Saturday night and earned £4.10 for six hour shift.  The average was £25 for a 12-hour shift.

“This will only get worse.”

The setting of fares is a statutory duty placed upon the council whose responsibility it is to strike a balance between setting a fare that is acceptable to both customers and cabbies.

The cabinet member for housing and safer communities, Coun Chambers, has the final say on decision making.

Summarising the decision not to increase fares, a council spokesman said:

“With the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic impacting on all areas of society and business we have decided not to increase taxi fares.

“The position will be reconsidered in six-months’ time.”

In a decision notice, Coun Chambers also said the move not to increase fares had been reached whilst taking into account the current reduction in fuel price – which in some areas have seen their biggest weekly fall since current records began.

The average cost of a litre of petrol was £1.12 on Monday, compared with £1.20 seven days earlier.

Also, Coun Chambers concluded a fair increase would have an unfair impact on wheelchair users who are currently facing a shortage of wheelchair accessible vehicles in the district.

Taxi rank in Harrogate
Harrogate taxi rank

 

But despite discussions being held between councillors and officers, as well as plans to consult both disabled people and taxi drivers on how this issue can be resolved, Coun Chambers said in a decision notice the problem “does not appear to be being addressed in any meaningful way.”

Mr O’Boyle said cabbies have seen a big decline in business as the Harrogate population follows government advice to stay at home unless journeys are essential, but added his taxi firm was managing to survive on bookings to supermarkets and hospitals.

He said:

“Everybody thinks taxi drivers are making a fortune.  If you took the time to visit the taxi ranks any day of the week you would observe taxis queuing for 2.5 hours before getting a job for maybe £4.00; then coming back and doing this all over again.

“Unless you take the time to establish the facts you would never know that a taxi drivers works on average 80 hours per week.”

“I don’t see you rushing to give us an increase when fuel prices rise.

“These may seem like strong words, but it is my wage and every other driver’s wage that you are denying.  I do not feel you are being deliberately unfair, but that you are unaware of the facts, and are not making any attempt to establish the facts by communicating with the trade.

“The taxi trade is an important part of the town’s infrastructure, and should be treated as such.”

The now-rejected fare rates increase would have come into force this month, but will now be reviewed by the council in September.