Change in taxi laws could call time on Wolverhampton's 'out of control' licensing system
Wolverhampton Council could lose out on millions of pounds under Government proposals to change the rules over taxi licensing.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has launched a consultation on new licensing guidelines, including plans to stop drivers from operating hundreds of miles away from where they are licensed.
And the move would serve as a major blow to Wolverhampton Council, which has licensed thousands of private hire drivers around the country through its cheap, streamlined licensing system.
Council bosses at the Labour-run authority say the change would be unenforceable, but it has been backed by opposition Tory councillors.
Conservative group leader Councillor Wendy Thompson said: "The council has brought the city into disrepute by using licensing as a way to fill its coffers. It is completely out of control, with drivers from Wolverhampton operating all over the country.
"It is time for more local accountability, and that means moving away from this finance-driven system."
The DfT consultation comes in the wake of a Government report that found the laws regulating drivers were not "fit for the modern world".
It is examining a range of proposals, including making taxi and private hire drivers take enhanced criminal record checks in a bid to improve the protection of vulnerable passengers.
The DfT also plans to introduce national minimum standards for drivers and set up a national licensing database.
The current system allows someone who is denied a taxi licence by one council to apply for a license with another, which could be more lenient.
Wolverhampton Council's licenses are the cheapest in the country and its licensing course takes the shortest amount of time to complete.
Over the last three years the city has handed out thousands of licenses. This has prompted a wave of complaints from other local authorities who have found their streets flooded with cabbies licensed in Wolverhampton, while local drivers have mounted a series of protests, claiming the system was hitting their livelihoods.
In the year to last June, the council supplied 9,388 licences bringing in £2.2 million, with drivers operating in more than 50 towns and cities including Weymouth, Rotherham, Coventry, Nottingham, Manchester and Winchester.
On the new proposals, Wolverhampton Council's licensing chief, Councillor Alan Bolshaw, said: "They are talking about all journeys having to start in the area where the driver is licensed, which would appear to be unenforceable.
"If a driver takes a passenger to the airport that is outside the area where they licensed, they would effectively not be able to pick up a return fare.
"It would seem to be a monster of complexity."
The authority has defended its licensing system, insisting it was an attractive proposition due to its "state-of-the-art online system".
Last year drivers licensed in Wolverhampton were among those snared in Liverpool during a crackdown on enforcement breaches.