North Yorkshire taxi drivers’ local knowledge test could be adapted

The local knowledge test licensed taxi drivers must pass to carry passengers looks likely to be adapted, a meeting examining a move to create the country’s largest single taxi zone has heard.

Councillors examining issues over harmonising taxi services being run under contrasting rules by North Yorkshire’s seven district and borough councils heard across a 9,020sq km area heard the Department for Transport believed abolishing the seven zones would cut dead mileage for drivers and boost customer choice.

A meeting of the North Yorkshire transition scrutiny committee heard a move to harmonise policies across the county before the incoming unitary council is launched on April 1 aimed to stop inconsistencies impacting on customers and the trade, avoid legal challenges and ensure rules are in place to protect public safety.

At the moment, the district and borough councils all have a knowledge test restricted to their areas, and it is unclear how much knowledge a taxi driver based in Selby would need to have of villages in the Yorkshire Dales.

To ensure customers get good service, taxi drivers wanting to trade in Hambleton district must pick the right multiple choice answer to questions such as: “You are on the rank situated on Northallerton High Street when a customer asks you to take him to Darlington. Which road would you take out of Northallerton?”

Officers leading the proposals said they were examining how the knowledge test could be applied across England’s largest county.

Councillors were told taxi drivers in Harrogate in particular had formed “very vociferous” views over the proposals, which also include not setting a limit for the amount of taxis that can be licensed.

Since North Yorkshire County Council launched a consultation over the proposed changes in October, many taxi drivers have criticised the plans, saying they could be the straw that break’s the camel’s back after suffering a loss of trade due to Covid and high fuel costs.

The meeting heard taxi drivers had raised concerns that by allowing them to operate anywhere in the county would lead to “swamping of key areas at key times”.

However, councillors were told other unitary authorities had found the “migration of taxis” is likely to level out over time as market forces take effect and supply flexes to meet demand, ultimately providing a better service for users.

In addition, Whitehall officials believe restricting the number of taxis would potentially reduce the incentive to deliver a high quality service whilst also creating a barrier to people wanting to enter the trade.

The proposed open market approach would also increase the availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis to some 89 county-wide, but it was recognised there would still be a significant shortage of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The meeting heard, two-thirds of the way through the consultation, respondents’ views were polarised over the creation of a single zone, but it remained a proposal which the council was “continuing to review”.

Councillors were told as only Craven district had mandatory CCTV in cabs to ensure drivers’ and customers’ safety, it was thought to be unfair on drivers in other areas to introduce that policy county-wide.