Agenda item

Proposed Changes to Wiltshire Council's Hackney Carriage Fee Structure

The report of Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) seeks to provide the Licensing Committee with the relevant information to make an informed decision on whether hackney carriage fares in Wiltshire should be raised or remain at the same level.



Mr Adrian Berridge of Starline Taxis in Warminster attended the meeting to make a statement in relation to the proposed changes to the Hackney Carriage fee structure and highlighted the following:


·               Their concern was the low 5% proposed tariff one increase which they did not feel would touch the sides to help them keep afloat with all of the rising costs and they would be suggesting an increase of 20%;


·               If their losses continued they would only be able to use their overdraft for so long before they would be forced to make a hard decision as to whether they could continue to trade;


·               They had been carrying out a number of PTU contracts since 1990 and they were aware that because of the low numbers of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) in Wiltshire it was the case that children were late for school because of the lack of vehicles.  It was the case for them that they had to run empty from Warminster to Melksham to collect children and young people who required a WAV.  Other operators who had WAV’s were quoting large fares.  For each operator every 10th vehicle has to be a WAV and Starline were one of the main suppliers of WAV in a 20 mile radius


·               Starline Taxis rely on the PTU contracts, but the Council’s requirements for them to have a vehicle less than 5 years old means that this is a cost of approximately £15k for each vehicle and the costs associated with the driver obtaining a licence and the relevant checks;


·               Starline currently worked across two counties and they were aware that Mendip put vehicles in Wiltshire and there was also the issue of the cost of second hand cars arising as a result of the Covid pandemic and for WAV there was a minimum spend of £25k per vehicle;


·               With the current tariffs at 10:30pm Wiltshire is the most expensive provider, but from 11pm they are then not the most expensive;


·               That they had only had a 30p increase in the last 7 years; and


·               Because of the microchip shortages and then knock on effect of prices for cars, could the Council look at any possible leeway for the age of cars being admitted on first registration?


A Committee Member asked if the Council’s current policy on cars having to be less than 5 years old on first registration could be reviewed as he was aware that the Police use cars that are older and can have 200k miles on the clock.


Tom Ince responded that Bristol City Council ask for 3 years at first registration and that allowing older vehicles would be contrary to the Council’s climate emergency and would be a step backward.  The Chairman encouraged Mr Berridge to put forward all of his concerns and suggestions into the consultation as if there was a request and rationale for a review of the Policy (collected via the consultation) then there would be more evidence of a need for this review to be undertaken.


The Chairman thanked Mr Berridge for his statement to the Licensing Committee.


Tom Ince referred to the report that was circulated with the Agenda which sought to provide the Licensing Committee with the relevant information to make an informed decision on whether hackney carriage fares in Wiltshire should be raised or remain at the same level and highlighted the following:


  • A number of operators/drivers had approached the Taxi Team as the recent fuel crisis was having an effect on them and that they wished for the mileage rates to be increased, not having had such an increase since 2015.  Officers had carried out a benchmarking exercise to see where Wiltshire sit compared with other neighbouring local authorities and if there was scope to look to increase the taxi fares.  After reviewing the data they found that Wiltshire was bang on average with them being neither the most expensive or cheapest;


  • The research showed that at 10.30pm and at 2am the cost of a 3 mile journey in a standard vehicle saw them at the highest and top half of charges.  They felt that there was scope to increase the tariff 1 fare as they would cover the largest percentage of journeys with tariff 1 covering 7am to 10pm.  They had considered a rise of 2.5% but felt that there would not be much of an impact for this charge increase.  They then agreed to put forward a suggested rise of 5%.  The Committee were reminded that they also need to take into account the public feedback that and they would say that taxis are already too expensive.  Whilst Mr Berridge had suggested a 20% increase it was felt that this was too high as there has to be a balance of the needs between operators and customers;


  • It was felt that tariff 1 covered the bulk of the journeys and in current times there was less night time economy and need for taxis later on as people were not going out as much as they used to.  The graphs shown on pages 73 and 74 showed that when the proposed 5% increase was added that Wiltshire was still not the most expensive, nor would they want to be.  They wished for the taxi provision to be viable and sustainable for operators and cost effective for the public too.  They would need to balance both sides of the argument and that is why they were recommending the 5% increase;


The Chairman wanted to raise that the Council don’t legally have to consult with the taxi trade in relation to a fare increase, but thought that this was important in this case and would loke to seek the views of the 800+ drivers but that they did need a starting position and at the present time this was a  5% increase.  The Chairman would wish for Officers to go out to consultation later this week as it was hoped that any changes could be put in place as soon as possible.


A Committee Member stated that he would be concerned to vote against what the taxi service representative was saying as he would not wish for there to be a collapse of their services and that he felt common sense would be to go out to consultation at the figure of 20% as they suggest and that it was very important to consult with the trade.


Tom Ince felt that some operators/drivers would be in support of the rise and so would not be, and that if a 5% increase would not touch the sides then they may need to rethink that figure. 


A Committee Member noted that the benchmarking was undertaken between March and May 2022 and that since then there had been a rapid fuel price increase having an impact and suggested that perhaps there could be some flexibility for exceptional circumstances for instance if fuel prices were to reach £x that could trigger an increase in fares and then they could fall again if fuel prices drop – would that be possible?


Tom Ince advised that for legal compliancy they would need to advertise any proposed changes for two weeks and also to consider that if the tariff 1 was to be increased by 20% this would also have to be factored into the PTU contracts so they would need to be aware and conscious of other knock ons of increases.  So whilst there was flexibility to change the fares, this would have to be advertised and there was also the cost for drivers to change the meters.  They did not wish to make this onerous for drivers but did want to get it right for as many as possible.  There was scope to review the tariffs and it was suggested that this be done on an annual basis.


The Committee Member highlighted that the PTU contracts were subject to negotiation, but acknowledged that any increase to the costs of the Council would not be budgeted for and that they did not wish for this to undermine the consultation feedback.


A Committee Member felt that something needed to be done now and asked about the costs/practical aspects of implementing a change with the costs to the Council and the operators.


Tom Ince reported that for a Council owned fleet vehicle there was a cost of 33p per mile to run that vehicle.  Taxis were able to charge £2.40 per mile on top of the flag rate.  The Committee Member thought that it would be useful for operators to share their running costs with the Council as that would be more meaningful to Officers as they don’t know what those costs are.  Although Tom Ince felt that these would vary from operator to operator.  There was a risk that if there was no increase there would be no taxis running as it become financially unviable for them or it could be that it rises would mean that some passengers could not afford to use a taxi.


A Committee Member suggested that a 10% increase proposed would give operators something decent to work with and of course that could be the maximum that they could charge, and they were able to agree a lower price for fares. He felt that only a 5% increase would see a similar request come to the Committee in 6 months time and that it would be better to put forward the 10% proposed increase now.


A Committee Member suggested that the use of older vehicles could bring down the operational costs.  Tom Ince reported that the Council had declared a climate emergency and they wished to drive up the standards of vehicles and not use older cars with likely more emissions.


Tom Ince felt that they needed evidence from the trade, with figures based on their operational costs and would wish for them to make a suggestion on a percentage increase.


A Committee Member reported that one of his constituents that lives in rural area with no bus service was currently having to spend £90 on taxis.  A 10% increase to that person who is disabled and on benefits could mean that taxi travel was no longer an option.


A Committee Member was concerned that there was not a level playing field issues with the issues.  Because of the number of owner drivers, this was not helping with the provision of WAV as this is only needed for operators over 10 vehicles.  Because we are the Local Authority responsible for providing the PTU journeys he was concerned that contracts could be returned and not being able to transport our young people and vulnerable adults.  Whilst he was not happy with the proposed 5% he was not sure what he would be happy with and felt that this was a difficult decision.


The Chairman reminded that the consultation was a key element to all of this and then it would need to be given due consideration.


A Committee Member reminded that the proposed tariff increase only related to hackney carriage journeys and that was the maximum fare that could be charged.  Journeys with private hire vehicles could be negotiated.  Her priority was to consult with operators for the minimum of 2 weeks and then look to get something in place for operators which may impact residents – a fuller consultation to all residents would delay any changes and that would be a whole new piece of work to start.  She felt that it was prudent to do something now and consider that there may be more work to do, this could be phase 1 and phase 2 could be a deep dive to look at the work and consider the a relaxation on the age or mileage of vehicles and look at other factors to make the Wiltshire taxi offer more sustainable.


A Committee Member asked about the consultation timescale.  Tom Ince reported that they would look to work with the Communications Team to get the consultation out as soon as possible, but that it would be at least July before they would be reviewing any responses.


A Committee Member felt that an evidence led consultation should be carried out and that the Licensing Committee should review the findings as it was acknowledged that different operators would have different costs. She felt that something should be done now and then a date set for a detailed report to come back to the Licensing Committee to consider.


Tom Ince reminded of the cost to the Council to implement any changes (advertising of proposed changes etc) and the cost to operators to make those changes on their meters. 


A Committee Member felt that the Council were reacting slowly and after hearing that one of Wiltshire’s providers is losing £5k a month it may be that operators will be lost if there is a delay.  He felt that it was important to make the right decision as soon as possible.  Tom Ince agreed that the any decision made has to work for the licensing trade.


A Committee Member asked for there to be a second part to the recommendation to include asking the trade/operators/drivers for ideas on how running costs could be reduced and then consideration could be given to what changes could be made to our policies/procedures to assist taxi drivers with this.


A Committee Member proposed that the consultation be carried out on the basis of a recommendation to raise tariff 1 fares by 10% and this was duly seconded.


After it was put to the vote it was




  1. That the Licensing Committee ratifies the Taxi Licensing team decision to increase Tariff 1 fares by up to and including 10% for Hackney Carriages and that this proposal is put out to a 14 day consultation.


  1. That the Taxi Licensing Team look at what additional support they can provide to help operators reduce their operating costs with possible amendments to the Council’s policies and procedures.

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