TEMPORARY measures are being proposed in an attempt to help tackle the current crisis facing the taxi trade as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has put forward proposals to ease the pressure on both the hackney carriage and private hire trades who are currently struggling to meet post-lockdown demand for their services.

In a report to licensing committee members, who will meet on September 7 to consider the plans, it states that the borough's taxi trade has seen a 15% reduction in the number of drivers and a 20% fall in licensed vehicles due to the pandemic.

It also adds:

  • One large private hire operator has reported "a serious driver shortage" and difficulties meeting the needs of "the increasing night-time economy".
  • Cheshire Police have expressed "concern" over the increased queues and waiting times, especially during the late night/early morning periods.
  • The council has received an increase in complaints from the public about delays in obtaining transport home late at night.

The report, written by the council's regulatory services manager Andrew Rees, says: "Officers note that there has been a significant reduction in the number of available licensed drivers.

"In addition, because of the pandemic, a hackney carriage/private hire driver has been recognised as being in a high-risk occupation.

"Being recognised as such, may deter some potential new applicants from entering the trade. Some existing drivers have also chosen not to work during the pandemic for this same reason and on health grounds.

"The private hire operator has stated that other Licensing Authorities have relaxed some driver entry requirements and has therefore requested that we do the same. Members will have the option to determine any possible policy changes."

What are the proposals?

Before a new driver can be licensed, the current policy requires that they pass both The Cheshire West and Chester Council Licensed Driver’s Qualification and The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Driving Assessment (private hire) or other Driving Assessment Scheme approved by the regulatory services manager.

The report states: "A large private hire operator has indicated that the prerequisites for new drivers are both costly and time consuming for new applicants, who may have little or no money to enable them to enter the trade."

As a result, it is proposed:

  • That all applicants be given a 12-month period in which to pass these qualifications.

The report also outlines a further obstacle facing the trade: "In recent months officers have had to reject a number of renewal applications for vehicles that were licensed up until the pandemic but subsequently the licence has been allowed to expire.

"These specific vehicle renewal licences were being applied for up to a year + after the original licence expired. As such, they must be treated as a new application and as the vehicles were more than five years old, they did not meet the entry requirements and therefore could not be licensed.

"In all cases if the vehicle licence had been renewed at the time of expiry, subject to meeting all the other licensing criteria, they would have continued to be licensed until they reached the relevant exit age."

As a result, it is proposed:

  • Any vehicle previously licensed as a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle whose licence expired after March 23, 2020 would not need to meet the current entry age policy. This is subject to any such vehicle not being older than the relevant exit age policy and being a suitably qualifying vehicle that meets all other licensing requirements.

Another issue raised in a separate agenda item for the same meeting highlights the difficulties that licensed drivers are currently facing in obtaining a medical examination, which is required when either renewing or acquiring a licence, as a result of the restrictions in place at GP surgeries due to the pandemic.

Members are asked to consider the following options:

  • Approve the continuing medical self-declaration for a period of no more than 12 months for applicants renewing their licence.
  • For new applicants, the current medical requirements be amended to the council needing a certificate of medical fitness undertaken and signed by their GP, or other registered doctor who confirms they have had access to their medical records. If the medical is not undertaken by their own GP, the doctor must also confirm that they have undertaken an identity check against a valid photo ID document.

The report concludes:

"The hackney carriage and private hire trades need support and assistance to recover from the impact the pandemic has had on their finances and ability to comply with policy.

"Officers recognise that both licensed drivers and vehicle number are reduced compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

"The proposed changes to the application requirements could both encourage new driver applications – by speeding up the application process and reducing the initial financial outlay for the applicant – and allow previously licensed vehicles back on to the fleet; and thereby helping to meet rising demand.

"Officers recognise that these proposals could temporarily weaken the standard of new drivers and slightly delay improvements in vehicular emissions."