Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Haverhill taxi drivers strike

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Surviving with incomes reduced by Covid and risking his life in a profession with high virus death rates, Brandon-based taxi driver Marc Barnes has worked throughout the pandemic but says he lives near of the bread line.

And the Buzz Cars boss isn’t alone – several of his colleagues, from Bury St Edmunds, Haverhill and Newmarket, have used Universal Credit to make ends meet as dozens of drivers quit the business for good. .

“We are hemorrhaging drivers,” he said. “Some of us are on the bread line – yes, we can get universal credit, and that has been helpful in some cases.

“But my turnover is down 87% – and I haven’t stopped working. We’re all struggling, a lot of the time.”


Taxi drivers revolt against rule changes in West Suffolk
– Credit: Archant

During Covid, workers at several West Suffolk taxi companies say they did not receive support grants under various government programs.

An access to information (FOI) request submitted by Mr Barnes to the West Suffolk Council (WSC) found that only 14 drivers had received grants as of March 26, 2021 – a year after the start of the pandemic.

Relations deteriorated further after a separate FOI revealed that the licensing department – which drivers said was ‘bad’ at communicating during Covid – employed two agency workers both costing around £ 1,400 per week.

Mr Barnes said it was a “kick in the teeth” given the worsening financial problems of drivers.

Next Monday, the drivers of Hackney Carriage of Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds go on strike over “costly” vehicle testing adjustments, a 10-year age rule on cars and a phasing out of “sedan” cars from the market. taxi ranks in favor of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Many fear that the latter will incur huge bills, push drivers into more debt and go bankrupt.

Council bosses said at the end of July that they had paid 85 subsidies to support taxi drivers and private rental companies. They said the authority sent emails to let people know, posted on social media how to apply, and listed contact details on their website if anyone was unsure.


The West Suffolk Council cabinet has agreed to several changes to its taxi licensing policy.  Image: ARC

Council bosses say they appreciate the important role taxis play in the local economy
– Credit: Archant

Mr Barnes and several of his colleagues say they haven’t received any emails asking them to apply – and when they followed the advice to contact the managers, their emails were bounced or the drivers were referred to the council’s website.

Others received emails and received the council’s standard down payment of £ 1,200 and just over £ 500 as a second payment.

Specific grants have been put in place for taxi drivers and private drivers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Those in England were invited to apply for a combination of programs, including the Additional Restrictions Grant, which opened from January to March 2021.

Responding to concerns about communication under the licenses, a spokesperson for the WSC said they communicate with taxi drivers through the email addresses and phone numbers they provide.

When the emails were bounced back to the team, they said they went out of their way to get new contacts via email – adding that on occasion they were turned down.


Taxis in Newmarket.  This color scheme could be deployed for all Hackney cars in West Suffolk

West Suffolk taxi drivers say they suffer financially after Covid-19 pandemic
– Credit: West Suffolk Council

The bosses confirmed that they have two temporary workers on the licensing team, adding: “There is a need to ensure that there is the right specialist support in the short-term department.

“Given the pandemic and the demands it placed on the team, it was critical that these temporary workers were in place to avoid creating a backlog.

“However, we have a new structure agreed upon for the licensing team and we will be recruiting into it in the coming weeks.”

Bosses added that the new 10-year age rule and mandatory semi-annual taxi tests – which drivers pay out of pocket and are similar to MOTs but include VAT – relate to the “safety and integrity” of the business .

“The mid-term taxi test is an important test given the number of kilometers a taxi has traveled although it can be carried out at the same time as a technical check if the dates allow it,” added the carrier. word of the board.

In late July, around 30 drivers stormed a Newmarket council meeting to pressure councilors over another round of changes they said could force them all to use wheelchair-accessible vehicles. (WAV).


Phil Richardson of Foxy Cars Bury St Edmunds

Phil Richardson of Foxy Cars Bury St Edmunds showing the height of a ramp in a “wheelchair accessible vehicle”
– Credit: ARCHANT

Hackney Carriage driver Mark Goodchild of Goodchild Cars fears this could push vehicle prices up to £ 20,000 – and claimed the proposals had been abandoned to them without proper consultation.

“These WAVs are going to cut our business in half, you can’t get in these vehicles,” he added.

Jon Last, of Getaway Cars in Bury, added: “There are a lot of older people with severe mobility issues who cannot get in these vehicles and they are not being taken care of. “

Alex Williams, of Pride Cars in Haverhill, said many passengers already prefer sedans to WAVs at taxi ranks (where Hackney Carriages does most of their business) because they are easier to access.

He claimed that a phasing out of sedans could result in unlicensed traders and went so far as to warn: “I can see this ending the taxi trade in West Suffolk.”

Council bosses are now committed to conducting a review to ensure the service meets the needs of all taxi users.

They added that the requirement that all new vehicles be wheelchair accessible is an existing policy that has been in place since 2019.

“Taxis and private rental vehicles are a vital link in transportation and it is important that people with disabilities have access to them,” added a spokesperson.

“This is the 21st century. Is it fair that a person who uses a wheelchair is limited or should specify that they need a wheelchair accessible vehicle?

“Or should they, like any other taxi passenger, just be able to book a vehicle, get in and be taken on their journey?” “


Newmarket Councilor Andy Drummond.

Andy Drummond, a member of the West Suffolk Council regulatory cabinet, said he wanted to work with drivers on the proposed changes.
– Credit: Amy Drummond

Andy Drummond, WSC Regulatory Cabinet Member, added: “As a council, we want to make sure that all people in our communities have access to the services they need and to ensure that authorized taxis in use in our area meet the needs of people with disabilities is essential.

“We are committed to helping taxi drivers achieve high service standards, ensuring our communities have confidence in the professionalism and integrity of the profession.

“We announced that we would conduct a review to ensure that the service meets the needs of all taxi users and that people with disabilities are not discriminated against and can use taxis which are often essential to help them make a living. autonomous.

He added: “In helping to shape this policy, this review will look at challenges faced by all sides, as well as current disability discrimination law and guidance as well as best practices.”

The bosses have said they hope to conduct the review within the next month.


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