Corby taxi drivers say their businesses are on the line as fuel costs soar amid fare rise delay

Corby cabbies could see their trade ‘decimated’, says local councillor

Director of Sky Cabs, Ian Robb and Corby Hackney Carriage Owners' Association Secretary Neil Rielly
Director of Sky Cabs, Ian Robb and Corby Hackney Carriage Owners' Association Secretary Neil Rielly

Corby cabbies are set to speak out publicly on Thursday (July 28) as they say a series of new measures are crippling their businesses.

They will present their 1,700-name petition against the harmonisation of fares across North Northants to councillors at the full council meeting at the Corby Cube.

Taxi drivers in the town say that the proposed ‘harmonisation’ of fares across the four former borough ‘zones’ will hit them the hardest. And on top of this, they are concerned that in the future a new ‘knowledge test’ for North Northamptonshire could cover a staggering 382 square mile area.

Now taxi bosses say that they don’t believe being a hackney carriage driver in the town will be sustainable in the long-term.

Corby has historically had a comprehensive taxi network and, combined with relatively low car ownership, cabs have been a vital part of the transport offer in the town.

What’s the problem?

Struggling with the rising cost of fuel and living, Corby’s taxi drivers asked North Northants Council to consider a fare rise back in March. But that was then packaged up with the row over harmonisation of fares which has been delayed after drivers raised serious concerns, and so no decision on fare tariffs has been made. Drivers are still using fares drawn up four years ago when the average price for a litre of fuel was 50p cheaper.

They also say that a public consultation into the issue has been fudged because the form is complicated, inaccessible for most people, and drivers cannot reply via the council’s website – only emailed or paper copies are being accepted. Owners claim that the consultation was pre-determined and that it is a box-ticking exercise by the council, which has already made up its mind.

What are local drivers saying?

Chair of Corby Hackney Carriage Owners’ Association Neil Rielly said: “Fare rises should be done regularly. We’ve not had one for four years now. Everyone needs a fare rise. Our businesses are on the line here.

“It’s so hard to get a licence because of the number of hoops you have to jump through. You have to pay for a DBS and to do the knowledge test - which is going to be impossible to do if they bring in a new one and it covers the whole area.

"The knowledge in London is six square miles – North Northamptonshire is a 382 square mile area. You don’t just have to know where everywhere is, you also have to know the shortest route to get there.

"It’s an ageing industry.”

Drivers are now also having to liaise with council officers and members who inevitably don’t have a thorough knowledge of the town since the borough council was scrapped. Respected senior officer Damian Wilkins, with whom drivers had a good relationship, has also recently left the authority, which is struggling to retain and recruit staff.

Ian Robb is director of Sky Cabs, which represents dozens of owners across Corby, he said: “The consultation is just a series of statements asking you to comment on them. It’s not a consultation. The logistics of it are a nightmare.

"Added to that, because of the cost of taking a taxi out on the road, drivers are now cherry-picking shifts so there are times we don’t have enough available. We can’t get 50 per cent of drivers out during school times so supply is being hit.”

Mr Rielly added: “As a taxi driver I’m finding it difficult to understand the consultation so God knows how a member of the public would fill it in.”

Cllr Alison Dalziel said she’d recently been told that there had only been one successful reply to the consultation, adding: “This is going to decimate the industry in Corby.”

And what do trade bosses think?

David Lawrie, Director of the National Private Hire & Taxi Association, said emails sent to drivers in Corby from council staff suggest the matters have already been decided, adding that there is a case for ‘predetermination’ because the council is trying to introduce changes before they’ve properly been considered by the licensing committee.

One email, seen by this newspaper, suggests that members are ‘firmly resolved’ to remove the old zones set around the geography of the former borough councils.

The current proposals before the council do not suggest removing the zones – but they do suggest that the fares across all zones will be the same.

Mr Lawrie added: “It is extremely clear that this policy has merely been thrown together as it appears to be a pick and mix of various other appendixes and ideas in the hope that throwing them all together would work, which in this case, it clearly hasn’t.

“The suggestion to set a generic pricing structure across the board has the completely undesired impact of the majority suffering a pay cut at the hands of this policy.

"This is simply because some will see their metered prices lowered while, even those who may on the face of it, see a meter price increase, actually results in being less affordable to the elderly and infirm who rely on the services the most. Worse than that, it leads to conflicts with passengers who see the increased costs, which in effect places drivers in harms way as a direct result of local authority decisions.”

Drivers are also worried that their trade will not be able to attract new candidates because of the cost of new vehicles and new rules that mean older cabs must be taken off the road as soon as they fail checks – with no option for a re-test.

What does the council say?

A North Northamptonshire spokesman said that there had been some confusion over the current consultation, which they say is not a proposal to remove the current hackney carriage zone but rather to consider the hackney carriage fares and apply them to each zone.

They added “It is not a discussion/decision about de-zoning. With the formation of North Northamptonshire Council this is an opportunity to achieve fares parity for a wider section of the travelling public in its area by providing consistent fare rates across the whole of the new council area.

"Implementation of fare rises has been delayed as a result of concerns raised by the trade.”

The spokesman added that the issue had been considered by the licensing committee and was due to go before executive last month but the report was withdrawn after the concerns were raised by the trade.

They added: “The authority has been working to try to address those concerns and has just finished a two week consultation with all licensed Hackney Carriage drivers on some potential options. The legal and democratic process for the setting of fares is not a straightforward one and must follow the formal approval route.

"There is no legally permitted short cut to this process.”

The council spokesman added that the consultation accepted both postal responses and emailed responses and that comments about any future knowledge test were ‘pre-emptive.’