No, it’s not your report card... it’s just that the words were too long for fitting into the headline. They are the dubious, distressing and dangerous debt dilemma decisions which aren’t being made, and as a result of which many drivers out there are on the brink of abandoning the trade, or just going bankrupt.
The reason that I’m writing this article is to try and urge both sides of the industry to move on a little bit, and this mostly on the grounds of safety. At this moment in time, Wolverhampton private hire drivers are beating on the doors of three main private hire operators to demand that they raise their basic 1.3 miles from £2.80 to £3.50. Similar complaints have reached us from Hyndburn, and even the Uber drivers in London.
The guys are just not earning enough money, and it appears to be the case that the setting of fares in numerous areas of the country is based on two issues and two issues only: firstly, private hire fares as compared with hackney carriage fares; and secondly, the undeniable evidence of private hire firms wanting to undercut the opposition to get more work, and hopefully in the process close down the opposition.
Now we know that this has been going on for many a long year, but at this particular period in time the financial situation is such that the trade is at breaking point in a lot of areas. As readers will be aware, we have run the national League Tables in our paper since 1999. These are the hackney carriage fares, because those are set by councils and can be usually easily accessed. But readers will also be aware that we run company profiles each month, and for the most part those companies show their fares.
So when the phone rings at the Association office, with the caller saying “we’re a taxi association or a local council, and we’re looking at a fare increase – what shall we do?” we have evidence to give them. Alternatively, if a private hire firm phones up seeking advice on fares, or wishing to come into the trade and not knowing how to set the fares, again we have undisputable information.
Because of the two sides, I can clearly see that there is – how can I put it? – a mental split on the hackney side. Many areas check their fares and increase them on a regular basis; others, particularly recently, have gone into freeze mode: “We can’t do anything because we’re being undercut by private hire.” But it is clear that there are quite a large number of areas where the private hire companies charge more than the hackneys.
The one thing that is certain is that drivers are out there more and more and more hours: 12, 14, 16 hours a day, going home and collapsing, getting some sleep and waking up to stagger back into the car again. Really having a wonderful family life... there are some complaints from drivers who say they never see their children.
So is there a way in which you could consider whether you have kept up to date with your fares, or whether you are falling behind? Well, way back in 1981 this very same question was raised by the London taxi trade, as a result of which the Home Office – which in those days was in charge of transport, up until 1986 – handed this question to a firm of accountants, who dreamt up a calculation table, including all the expenses involved in the running of the vehicle: maintenance, fuel, insurance, licence fees etc etc. And that formula has been used by the London taxi trade from that date to the present time.
Now we have all the records of theirs from 1999 onwards, and we can work out – and do work out – the percentage rises that have taken place. London, the only area that is working on a professionally calculated formula, has raised its fares by 80 per cent in that time.
As you know, we divide the country into areas; let us look at the averages for the country as a whole. East Anglia’s percentage rise over the same period was 81.53 per cent. Go to the Midlands: their rise was 79.8 per cent. On to the North: 78.5 per cent. South: 80.99 per cent. South West: 82.49 per cent. Scotland: 81.16 per cent. And finally Wales: 79.17 per cent.
I haven’t got a degree in higher mathematics, but all of those averages – which outside of London were run without formulas – are pretty damn near 80 per cent. Give or take a nudge here or there, we’re all in the same ball park. Interestingly enough, the Retail Price Index has only gone up by 54 per cent since 1999. The trade doesn’t do much retailing; the trade’s main purchase is fuel, and amazingly, diesel has gone up 83.98 per cent since 1999. If you want that in English, the cost of diesel has gone from £3.29 per gallon to £6.05.
So there is a sort of footprint here. Looking at my percentages, there are indeed a number of councils that have raised fares by over 100 per cent – but again, history shows that when we first started doing these league tables, they were well behind and have been on catch-up.
Remember – this is hackney carriage. What have private hire done? Well, I suggest very strongly that they won’t be far behind. If for argument’s sake – and I use London because we are effectively using their calculations – in 1999 their two-mile fare was £4.00 on Tariff One. It is now £7.20. Don’t think for one minute that I am suggesting that every PHV in London should be on £7.20!
If we look at the national table, London is in fifth position currently. Newark and Sherwood are in 233rd position; in 1999 their fare was £3.00. And it is now £5.40 – a rise of exactly 80 per cent. So the point is that over the 15-year period London has looked at their fare levels, and so has Newark and Sherwood. But the fare footprint is strictly related to their financial district. So I am in no way suggesting that Newark and Sherwood should be at £7.20, but their 80 per cent appears to be in line with all the national and local standards.
I have mentioned Wolverhampton and Hyndburn. Since 1999 Wolverhampton’s rise in hackney carriage fares is 69.7 per cent; Hyndburn’s is 38.2 per cent. And if we look at their hackney footprint, Wolverhampton has gone from £3.30 to £5.60; they did have a rise in January 2013. Hyndburn, however, has moved from £3.40 (which was a good position compared with the Northern average in 1999 at £2.93), have only gone to £4.70 today. Their last rise was in May 2008.
There is a question: Whilst local authorities can and do set taxi fares, mostly at the request of the trade, how do we go about getting private hire companies to consider their fares – when all they want to do is be the biggest and most successful supplier in any area.
There is a legal problem about private hire firms putting their heads together and charging the same fares. That amounts to a cartel, which is clearly unlawful. Many years ago in our local area of Bury in Lancashire, the private hire firms got together and decided to charge the same fares. They put the information in the local paper. The (then) Department of Trade and Industry were banging on their doors the very next day.
I have to say that these private hire operators need desperately to look at the footprint of their drivers in their district: are those drivers working excessively long hours? Have you considered the drivers’ safety? The passengers’ safety? If you happen to be a limited company, you are required to do this under the Corporate Manslaughter Act.
Just remember that without drivers, you won’t have any income either. Review it today, before it’s too late.
And finally, there is quite a bit of clear evidence that local authorities can make significant differences. In Wolverhampton they used to have severe and strict conditions of licence which were seriously eating away at the trade. At the trade’s request, those conditions have been slackened.
However, if you go to Hyndburn, the standard of the fleet appeared to be dropping, so the council has introduced even newer and tougher regulations which are hitting the proprietors and drivers even harder than they were before. Amazingly, this is one of the districts that now has numerous out of town hackney carriages from Rossendale working in their streets. Hello, if you’re out there and listening, folks, can we have a review of what is going on, and ensure that the vehicles used to transport the public will not have to be consigned to the scrap yard; and that drivers will not be forced to go to 16, 18, 20 hours a day, and we will then have to spend many hours a week attending funerals.
Let common sense apply.
Until next time, sayonara.