Disheartened Plymouth taxi drivers say life in the trade is so dire right now they'd probably be better off claiming benefits.
Tensions are growing amongst city cabbies as they brace themselves for a big rise in the cost of working and keeping their cars on the road.
Those who operate a Hackney carriage - a taxi you don't need to book in advance - are to be hammered the most; with proposed raises of about 96 per cent.
But it's not good news either for private hire vehicles; which could force companies to hike passenger fees to cover extra costs.
Plymouth Live went to one of the busiest ranks in Plymouth today - at the bottom of town along Raleigh Street - to find out what drivers thought of the proposed raises and how it might affect their lives.
In full, a one-year hackney cab licence is set to soar by £114 from £210 to £324 and a driver's badge could set workers back £165 rather than £112.
Ade Smith has been a driver since 2001 - and says it's never been as bad as things are now.
"It's the most difficult it's ever been," he said.
"I've been doing this for 28 years, and what we're earning now is less than minimum wage. About £5 an hour, not much more than that.
"I rent my vehicle, and before you make any money, you've paying out £350 to £400 a week.
"Yet the fares (which the council regulates) won't go up. We've had a 50p increase in the last eight years. We will just have to accept these raises."
Torpoint cabbie Kev Mann, 57, said: "The increases are absolutely ludicrous, horrendous.
"I've got a family to provide for. We're earning less than minimum wage - I don't know how this will hit me.
"I'm having to do extra hours as it is.
"This January is absolutely dire - January and February are usually always the same. But it's bad. We're all up against it."
Kev said drivers are also set to be hit with increased costs for new driver application fees and administration costs.
"I'd probably be better off on benefits," he admitted.
Others say there's little appetite to rally together and fight the plans, set to go before licensing chiefs on January 10 - two days time.
John Turpin, 53, said: "The trouble is, a lot of the drivers don't stick together.
"If they did, we'd probably get things done. As individuals, it's hard to fight changes. We're struggling. I've been out here for 20 odd years, and it's a struggle.
"Obviously, if this goes through, I will have to accept them. I can't do a lot else. I'm too old to go into another job now."
John said the council ordered drivers to replace vehicles that weren't EU energy compliant a few years back - which set them back thousands.
"The council are coming out here making so many demands - yet we've got a job to do," he said.
Plympton man John Donald, 52, said it was a dire time to be an independent taxi driver.
"We are getting poorer by the day," he said.
"I started at 11am, it's now 3pm, I have made £21.30. We're all suffering at the moment, especially with the price of fuel.
"The trouble is, when it involves the council, it's hard to fight them. When they say they'll put the fares up, that's what happens.
"We've all got families and bills to pay."
Another driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was unlikely the council would relax fare regulations enabling drivers to earn more.
"It's shocking," he said. "But we have to accept it. Things are hard enough as it is."
Pete Bailey, 58, of Crownhill, fumed that a party bus laid on for Pryzm clubbers was taking trade away from the taxi rank on Raleigh Street.
"We sit here and watch the money being taken from us," he said. "It's about £1 to use the bus, yet if six people got in the cab they'd all pay £1 each as well."
The planned changes, unveiled by the council's licensing department, would cover holes in the authority's budget.
The black cab account has a deficit of close to £92,000, and while the private hire account is £14,000 in the black, it is argued fees need to raise to stop it going into negative territory.
For hackney drivers, it's proposed that a one-year black cab licence jumps from £210 to £324 and a one-year driver’s licence - which they also need to apply for - goes from £112 to £165.
A one year private hire cab licence for private hire drivers - those employed by a private firm - is proposed to jump from £117 to £170 with a one-year driver’s licence going from £82 to £120.
Though some in the trade suspect council officials are attempting to claw back money they plunder taking drivers to court for disciplinary action.
"The reason they're doing this is because they are taking people to court and keep losing," one disgruntled driver said.
"It's losing them lots of money; so the coffers are empty."
Among other uplifts are increases for new driver application fees and administration costs. And there is a proposal to charge £33 for a “spoken English test” for Hackney carriage and private hire cabbies.
The proposed fee shifts are likely to be unpopular with drivers and passengers, if the experience in other cities is replicated in Plymouth.
In late 2017, private hire fees were raised in London with the Licensed Private Hire Car Association saying it would drive companies to the wall and hit customers.
The GMB union, which represents private hire drivers, said costs would have to be passed on to passengers in the capital.
In Yorkshire, taxi drivers won a High Court battle against Wakefield Council in late 2018 after it shunted up fees.
The changes come after Plymouth cabbies were ordered in early 2018 to smarten up and ditch jeans in an effort to make the trade look more professional.
Plymouth City Council, in a report to its Taxi Licensing Committee, said that fees for licences should be set at a figure which will recover the full cost of the licensing administration including enforcement.
“A new fees structure has been drafted,” the report said. “The recommended fees structure has been designed to achieve an accurate reflection, in the fee, of the true cost of the administration of different licence types; and bringing the Hackney Carriage account into balance by 2024 and ensuring the private hire accounts remain in balance over the next five years.”
The report said that failure to bump up fees would mean the Hackney Carriage taxi reserve account is predicted to be in deficit by £92,000 and the private hire account is predicted to be in surplus by £14,000 by the end of March 2019.
“The proposed fee increase to both trades is projected to ensure the private hire account sustains their balances without going into significant deficit,” the report said.
“The Hackney carriage account will have a reduced deficit, however the fees will have to be increased again next year to ensure this reduction in deficit continues.
“The aim is to get into a balanced account within five years.”
The council said the impact of fee changes will be reviewed annually.
The full report can be found here.