Cabbies hang up their keys as licence fees rise

Wokingham taxi drivers
Wokingham taxi drivers pictured in Cemetery Junction, Reading. The image was taken under covid-safe conditions during the first lockdown Picture: Phil Creighton

TAXI DRIVERS across the borough have been struggling through the pandemic. And a licence fee hike hasn’t helped.

More than 20% of Hackney Carriage drivers have handed in their licence since covid hit the borough. And private hire licences have also dropped by 15%.

It comes as last year, Wokingham.Today reported taxi drivers were turning to the foodbank to keep their families from going hungry.

Cllr Rachel Burgess, Labour councillor for Norreys and a member of the licencing committee that approved the hike, said she was against the rise.

“The taxi trade has been one of the worst affected by Covid-19 with incomes plummeting and reports of taxi drivers resorting to food banks – and yet incredibly the Conservatives are expecting them to pay even more in fees next year,” she said.

“The taxi licence fee has almost doubled in the last three years. I proposed that the licensing committee should freeze taxi driver fees next year – a decision that would not be material to the council’s finances but would be to the individual drivers – but disappointingly the Conservatives voted against this. They voted against supporting our drivers.

“They voted instead to make it harder for small businesses and self-employed drivers to recover after the pandemic.”

Earlier this month, the council’s licensing committee discussed the findings of a consultation with cab drivers. The annual fee had already been increased by 17%.

Cllr Burgess called the consultation “a sham”.

“It was simply a tick box exercise to fulfil legal obligations rather than a meaningful consultation,” she said.

 “One of the respondents to the survey stated that they felt their comments would make no difference – as the decision on fees had already been made, they were absolutely right.

“For nearly three years now I have seen taxi drivers continually frustrated by the lack of real engagement from the Conservatives on the many issues they face — it’s time the Conservatives stood up for our taxi drivers instead of continually ignoring their legitimate concerns.”

Cllr Sarah Kerr, of the Lib Dem group, said the taxi drivers have been “let down” by the council.

“At a time when the earnings of taxi drivers are significantly suppressed, and many have been forced into poverty, or out of business, putting up the license fee is not only cruel but demonstrates the lack of compassion coming from this council.”

Cllr Lindsay Ferris, leader of the Liberal Democrats, questioned why the consultation was not brought forward, in line with the fee review.

Cllr Ferris said: “Both Lib Dem and Labour councillors on the licensing committee voted to freeze the licence fee, but all Conservative councillors voted against it.  Instead, they have chosen to delay any action, if at all, until the summer. 

“This will be too late for many who already feel let down by the council, and are likely to leave the profession for good.” 

Cllr John Halsall, leader of the council, said it was difficult for him to comment, as he wasn’t in the meeting.

“I don’t know what the arguments are, but it’s a cross-party committee who presumably agreed an increase,” he said.

“Thhe taxi drivers will have self-employment grants from the government. If they’re not self-employed, they would have been able to tap into further support.”

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