CORNWALL Council is set to consult with vehicle manufacturers over the size of seats in vehicles in order to set new licensing guidelines.
The council is also set to have further talks with cabbies over the minimum amount of legroom needed for back seat passengers.
At an extraordinary meeting of the council’s miscellaneous licensing committee on Friday officers, councillors and taxi drivers spent more than hour discussing measurements of seats and legroom.
Licensing officers said that seats in taxis should be a minimum of 16 inches (406mm) wide at the widest point.
However they said that there had been some concerns about what that could mean for vehicles with bench seats which might not meet the guidelines.
One taxi operator told the committee that one of his current vehicles has two seats in the front which are 32 inches wide. But he said he was looking at buying a new model which would only be 31 and a half inches wide and asked whether it would not be eligible for two passengers.
Senior licensing officer Sarah Kent said she was not aware that manufacturers were making vehicles with seats under the required width.
She said that the minimum width was to protect against smaller vehicles which sometimes have smaller seats in the middle at the back then on the sides.
Committee member Jim Flashman suggested that it was the taxi drivers’ responsibility to ensure their vehicles meet the guidelines.
He said: “How many of you have gone to manufacturers and then come to the officers to find out what would be acceptable? Why are you wasting money buying vehicles that are the wrong specifications?”
Cllr Flashman suggested that they were “putting the cart before the horse”.
Mike Brown from Parnell’s Taxis in Bodmin took exception to Mr Flashman’s comments and said that the guidelines had been brought in since he had first had his vehicles licensed in 2013.
He said: “They (licensing officers) thought it was a minor problem but this is a major problem. Don’t talk to me about carts and horses, this is a joke.”
Committee member Bert Biscoe suggested that it might be better for the council to have a set guideline but then offer some leeway on whether the seats are considered to be acceptable for the comfort of passengers.
He suggested that the council consult with the taxi trade and with vehicle manufacturers about the best way forward with a report coming back to the committee before it makes any decision. That was agreed unanimously by the committee.
The committee then considered the issue of legroom – the council wanted to set a minimum guideline of eight inches of legroom for each passenger – this would be measured from the edge of the seat to seat or object in front.
However taxi drivers had said that this would not be possible in modern cars where the middle seat often has a central console or air conditioning unit which would mean there is not eight inches in front of the middle seat.
They argued that passengers sitting in the middle would have their feet either side of the central tunnel and so it would not be an issue.
Mr Brown had suggested that the council keep the limit of eight inches for the rear side passengers but six inches in the middle.
He said: “I have no problem with keeping the measurement. It is all about the centre console. If you change it to six inches most cars, not all, will pass.
“But 40% of my vehicles will not pass eight inches and they have all been plated with no problems since 2013.”
He said that would mean that a large number of his vehicles would no long be fit for purpose.
“We have a major problem, not just for us but for the industry as a whole.”
Again councillors suggested that there was a need for manufacturers to be involved in the discussion about what is acceptable.
But Mr Brown said that councillors were missing the point.
“Manufacturers spend millions and millions of pounds on this. If they put three seatbelts in the back of a vehicle then it is suitable for three people in the back.
“If you change the legroom for six inches it should be just for the centre console.”
He added: “You are all missing the point. I have had to sit here and listen to such rubbish.”
Licensing officers had suggested that any decision on legroom should be made by officers when they inspect a vehicle and they could decide whether it would be comfortable for passengers.
If they were not happy then they would refer the application to the licensing committee to decide or they could be given delegated authority to grant a licence for just two rear passengers if necessary.
But councillors were not entirely agreed on that so they asked for officers to instead carry out three weeks of consultation with the taxi trade and other authorities and bring back a report to the committee to make a decision. That was agreed unanimously.
The committee also agreed not to pursue a single set of tariffs for taxi fares across Cornwall after taxi drivers said they would prefer for them to remain as they are.
Cornwall currently has taxi rates which are set by the former district and borough council areas. The council has been looking to create one set of charges across the county.
But taxi drivers said that “if it isn’t broke why fix it” and the committee agreed to continue with six different tariffs.