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Taxi bosses hit back in licensing row

By Pete Madeley | Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Taxi bosses have hit back over claims that drivers livelihoods are being put at risk by Wolverhampton Council's controversial licensing system.

Neil Caley of ABC and Jim Sharma of Wednesfield Radio Cars

The city has handed out more than 9,000 private hire licences in the last 12 months, taking advantage of legislation allowing drivers to register in one area and operate in another.

Drivers say it is flooding the market and leaving them without work, a claim which has been rubbished by bosses from the city's biggest four private hire operators.

The owners of ABC Cars, Wednesfield Radio Cars, 24 7 and Go Carz have backed the city council's licensing system and accused drivers of 'flexing their muscles' by putting forward a series of 'unreasonable demands'.

They told the E&S they have lengthy staff shortages and struggle to fill vacancies, with ABC Cars alone currently looking for up to 20 drivers.

Neil Caley, who runs ABC Cars, said: "Drivers say that the licensing system is affecting their ability to make a living, but we see no evidence of that.

"I need to take on between 10 and 20 drivers for the winter and I can't get them in. There is a shortage of drivers willing to work proper shifts, not a shortage of work."

He added that drivers in the city could earn up to £1,000-a-week during the busy winter months, with the summer average lower at £120-a-day.

Wolverhampton Council has come in for criticism for taking advantage of a change in the law in 2015 allowing so-called 'cross-border' hiring, which means a driver can get a licence in one area and work in another.

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The resulting upsurge in licences given out has sparking fury among drivers and some other local councils.

City drivers had planned a 'go slow' protest through the city this afternoon. It was called off after the council threatened legal action, although some drivers said they still planned to protest.

Wednesfield Radio Cars boss Jim Sharma said: "The licensing people Wolverhampton Council were very smart and got ahead of the game when the new law came out. As far as we are concerned the system is the best it has ever been.

"Drivers need to understand that the council is operating within the law.

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"If they have a problem they should be protesting at Parliament, not on Wolverhampton ring road."

The West Midlands Private Hire Drivers' Association, which represents drivers, has submitted a list of seven issues which it says it wants the council to address.

They include licence control, permanent stickers on vehicles, and rules around working exclusively for a single operator.

Mr Sharma said: "We want to protect drivers, it is in our interests. But none of these issues are affecting their livelihoods.

"These are unreasonable demands and the whole thing is purely about them flexing their muscles."

The bosses have also responded to concerns raised over city private hire firms having several out-of-town operators registered at their head offices.

Wednesfield Radio Cars base on Raynor Road has 12 firms listed and ABC's Ettingshall Road headquarters is home to 15 operators.

Mr Caley explained: "We do that to help other operators combat Uber, which also helps us.

"By having a base in Wolverhampton, these operators are able to offer drivers work in cities, where they could otherwise have to wait for months to get a licence."

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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