Wealden taxi drivers call for more lenient licensing rules
In a report due for discussion next Friday (September 22), Wealden District Council’s licensing committee has been asked to review the rules on what vehicles can be used as Hackney Carriages and private hire cars.
The report, from the Wealden Drivers Association, asks the council to consider both extending the age limit on what vehicles can be used as taxis and removing a condition on the tinting of windows.
The drivers association says both conditions are becoming impractical and too expensive to maintain in their current form, particularly given current economic pressures.
In the report, a spokesman for the Wealden Drivers Association said: “Since 2018, drivers’ income has been severely curtailed due to covid restrictions, income is starting to recover slowly to pre-covid levels but many had to use savings to continue to live their daily lives during the pandemic.
“More recently we have seen increases in the cost of living, such as gas,electric and food prices to name a few, as well as council tax. Drivers are self-employed and do not enjoy the luxury of annual pay increases.”
Under the council’s current rules, vehicles must be less than nine-years-old to secure a licence for use as a Hackney Carriage or private hire car. The drivers association says the council should consider extending this restriction, pointing out how neighbouring councils have more generous age limits.
The other disputed condition currently requires the tint of a vehicle’s rear windows to be “no darker than the front tinted side windows”.
The drivers association says this condition has become impractical as modern vehicles typically have darker rear window as a factory standard. This requires drivers to fit lighter windows after purchase, a measure the association says can prove costly as untinted windows for modern vehicles can be difficult to find.
In light of these requests, Wealden council officers are recommending changes go out to public consultation. The recommended changes do not exactly line up with what the drivers association has requested, however.
For vehicle age limits, officers suggest that the council should consult on allowing a vehicle licensed for the first time from April 1st 2024 to be used until it is 10-years-old, as long as it meets fuel emissions standards. Electric, hybrid-electric and wheelchair-accessible vehicles would be given a more generous 15-year lifespan, if this new condition were put in place after consultation.
Their advice on window tinting is less flexible, however.
Officers say the tinted vehicle condition exists to protect passengers, allowing them to see that a taxi’s back seats are empty before entering and to allow outside observers to check the car is not overloaded.
As a result, officers suggest the council keep the condition, but consult on introducing an exemption for vehicles which have a CCTV system installed. Officers suggest this exemption be limited, however, with drivers not being allowed to use films to darken windows, even if they do have CCTV systems installed.
While not called for by the drivers association, council officers are recommending a further condition should also be considered if the requested changes are put out to public consultation.
This would be a new requirement for all Hackney Carriages to be painted white. Officers say this new livery would make it easier for passengers to identify licensed Hackney Carriages.