Taxi crisis looms locally

South Gloucestershire is at risk of running out of taxis – and council chiefs are so worried that they could scrap the rule that every taxi must be accessible for wheelchairs.

The number of hackney carriages, which can be flagged down by passengers on the street, has plummeted from 300 taxis in 2016 to just 81 this year.

Seven years ago, the local authority introduced a policy that all taxis must be wheelchair accessible. But it has been pushed back twice and has never come into force, and only 25 of the current fleet have the necessary ramps and facilities. The biggest concern is that it costs drivers and operators tens of thousands of pounds to convert a vehicle, and many have already given up on the profession.

Now councillors have agreed to delay it a third time to June next year while officers review the authority’s licensing policy and ask the public for their views on ditching the requirement.

A report to South Gloucestershire Council regulatory committee said: “The current number of Hackney Carriage taxi vehicles has reduced substantially and now represents less than a third of the number when the policy was first agreed.

“This does raise a concern that should the trend continue, South Gloucestershire runs a risk of having no, or so few, Hackney Carriage taxi vehicles that any policy would be ineffective and be of detriment to all members of the public in the future.”

The report said: “The wheelchair accessible vehicles that proprietors are required to purchase at this time remain in the main diesel vehicles. There is genuine concern that drivers will once again be required to upgrade these to hybrid/electric vehicles in a few years’ time if the council’s goal is for all licensed vehicles to be electric by 2030. Wheelchair-accessible electric vehicles remain currently prohibitively expensive.”

It said that, by law, the council could not impose the requirement on private hire vehicles: “Hackney Carriage taxi vehicles provide a valuable public transport service in the district, particularly in rural areas, and at times when other modes of public transport are not available. In order for this service to remain viable it is important to maintain a viable fleet.”

Imploring councillors not to scrap the rule, David Redgewell, of South Gloucestershire Disabilities Equalities Network, told the meeting: “We’re very concerned about the level of wheelchair accessible taxis in the district. We only have 25 to cover an area from Filton right up to Wickwar, Charfield and the villages. It’s very difficult to get a wheelchair taxi in South Gloucestershire. We would urge you not to go backwards.”

Council service director for place Andrew Birch said the committee was being asked to defer implementing the current policy rather than change it, pending the review.

He said: “We are due to do a full-scale review of the whole taxi policy in 2024 which will include 12-week public consultation including engagement with the travelling public and disability groups.

Cllr Keith Cranney (Conservative, Stoke Gifford) said: “The trade says there is not that gigantic amount of people wanting to have a taxi for a full-blown wheelchair. Most people with disabilities use a smaller aid – it could be a Zimmer, it could be a very small, collapsible type of chair. If you’re a person facing a disability, it has to be accepted that you have to prearrange your journeys, you can’t just rely on a hop. How can you just hail a taxi and expect them to have a wheelchair ramp and hoist and everything else on board? It comes at a great cost.”

Under the proposals, existing taxi owners could choose whether to make their vehicles wheelchair accessible while any new ones would still need to meet the current condition.

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter