A decision on merging seven North Yorkshire taxi zones into one has been postponed after taxi drivers and disabled people claimed the move would be a retrograde step.
Opponents of North Yorkshire County Council’s proposed taxi policy had told a meeting of the authority’s executive it would lead to the clogging up of taxis in town centres while leaving sparse cover in rural areas, particularly for wheelchair users.
A meeting of the authority’s executive heard that while a working group of elected members with significant experience of licensing had made a series of recommendations which the council’s officers had “tossed aside like a pair of old slippers” and come up with a series of different proposals.
The meeting was also told claims a consultation over the taxi policy had showed most people were against it and council’s leadership appeared to be reneging on pledge to abide by its results.
Nick Moxon, chairman of North Yorkshire Disability Forum, said: “The suggestion that one zone rather than seven will enable wheelchair users to find taxis on ranks in future lacks any credible evidence.”
The meeting heard concerns that with a dearth of wheelchair-accessible taxis in many areas of the county, if taxis drivers were permitted to sit on ranks miles away, wheelchair users could be left with no means of transport.
Councillors were told there were no or scant wheelchair-accessible taxi services from numerous North Yorkshire stations and buses were not an acceptable alternative as wheelchair users could not safely use many rural bus stops.
The meeting heard while a high-profile policy of the council was to improve transport access for disabled people, there was nothing in the new taxi policy that would increase the number of wheelchair accessible taxis.
One Harrogate-based taxi driver told the meeting his colleagues had said if the policy was introduced they would immediately give up their wheelchair-accessible vehicles as they would not be viable.
He said: “The vast majority, if not all, of the Hackney carriage trade is totally against the proposals to create a one zone authority for the purpose of taxi trading as this will lead to certain livelier areas becoming swamped at peak times, leaving quieter rural areas with no supply at all, leaving residents in those areas vulnerable to getting home safely.”
Karl Battersby, the council’s corporate director of business and environmental services, said the authority was aware of the need for more wheelchair-accessible taxis and that officers intended to review its policies in 18 months.
The meeting heard the proposed policy incorporates the Department for Transport’s taxi and private hire vehicle best practice guidance and statutory standards, to ensure that the public continued to be provided with safe and accessible vehicles.
Councillors heard it would also provide a coherent regulatory framework for the trade across the county and that hackney carriage and private hire licence holders and taxi operators across the county would be treated equally.
The authority’s executive member for open to business, Councillor Derek Bastiman, said the working group’s findings had not been tossed aside.
However, the executive agreed to postpone considering the proposed policy until later this month in order to examine the working group’s recommendation to allow vehicles of up to 15 years in age to be licensed to help during the cost of living crisis.