Cabbies vow to fight reforms

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CABBIES say they will not give in to all-island taxi licensing without a fight.

Manx Taxi Federation chairman Ray Teare said members will protest outside Tynwald next week when the court will vote on another attempt to reform the taxi trade – a vote he described as ‘absolutely critical’.

Under proposals to be brought before next week’s sitting of the court, ply-for-hire cabs will be allowed to operate anywhere in the island, rather than be restricted to one of four districts.

At present taxis can only stand or ply for hire in the district in which they are licensed – either East, North-West, South or Malew (which includes the airport). This means that a taxi dropping a customer outside its own district cannot collect another fare for the return journey.

Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK said: ‘It is a nonsense in this day and age to have taxis running round the island empty because of outdated restrictions on where they can operate.

‘Not surprisingly there are those in the taxi trade who want to protect the status quo. This is indeed a significant change, which is why I have committed the department to review its effects in 12 months’ time. Our priority must be in the best interests of the public, the customer and the environment.’

Ray Teare said: ‘We are certainly not giving up without a fight. We are just beginning to get organised. We will be protesting at Tynwald.’

How they will fight has yet to be decided. But the drivers haven’t ruled out a convoy protest, which could bring traffic to a halt.

Mr Teare said the measure to be brought before Tynwald next week had already been rejected by the court and the latest proposal was ‘no different, just dressed up a little bit’.

Tynwald voted to support a series of recommendations for reform at its July 2009 sitting. But it rejected any proposal to revoke schedule 2 of the Road Transport Act, a provision that maintained on a temporary basis the current system of a fixed number of taxi licences issued in four districts.

Mr Teare insisted cabbies’ livelihoods were at stake and they had already noticed a fall in revenue due to the economic downturn.

He had previously said the federation would not support the latest proposals unless another survey was carried out into whether there was a need to issue new taxi licence plates.

Taxi trade plates in the Douglas area are valued most highly. They are reported to be sold on for around £50,000.

Douglas drivers fear that the new regulations will allow drivers licensed in other areas to ply for trade in the capital and take rich pickings away from them. However, some out-of-town firms have in the past said this was unlikely to happen since they’d prefer to work closer to home.

Mr Gawne said he was committed to delivering an unmet needs survey in autumn 2011 and his department was ‘endeavouring’ to work with the taxi trade to identify additional taxi ranks in Douglas.

But Mr Teare said that having an unmet needs survey after the vote was ‘putting the cart before the horse’ and if Tynwald voted for the order this month, it could not be amended.

He said it was ‘total nonsense’ for Mr Gawne to say he wanted to work with the trade, claiming the minister had walked out of the last meeting with the federation after members expressed their ‘strong views’ on the subject. ‘He got up and walked out – I could not believe it,’ said Mr Teare.

Mr Gawne said there was overwhelming support for all-island licensing in a public consultation completed in November last year.

He said: ‘It is high time government grasped this nettle and started to modernise in line with overwhelming public support. This proposal is no more than a simple commonsense approach.

‘In these challenging economic times it is essential that we continue to modernise all our industries and remove unwarranted restrictive practices. The taxi industry has been subject to temporary measures to protect it from these changes for over 10 years now.’

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