Protesting Sandwell taxi drivers bring roads to a standstill

Traffic was brought to a standstill in Sandwell today as protesting taxi drivers marched from West Bromwich to Oldbury Council House.

Protestors hold up traffic in West Bromwich
Protestors hold up traffic in West Bromwich

More than 100 drivers, many carrying placards and banners, chanted "justice" as their long running dispute with Sandwell Council entered its 11th month.

The Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association (SPHDA) warned Sandwell Council and local residents that the tailbacks caused by the march was just a taste of what they can inflict on the borough if the dispute enters a second year.

The drivers are demanding that the council reduces licence fees, cuts the number of car safety checks, improves health provision for drivers and allows MOT checks to be carried out by local mechanics instead of being forced to use the authority's one garage, which they claim is unfit for purpose.

Taxi drivers prepare for their march in Spon Lane, West Bromwich

SPHDA spokesman Mohammed Niwaz said: "We have been ignored by the council since last August and drivers are leaving Sandwell because nothing is being done.

"In the last year, the number of licensed taxi drivers in Sandwell has dropped from over 2,000 to 1,000 because drivers are sick of being ripped off and are getting licensed elsewhere, which is affecting local residents because they are having to get taxis from outside the borough which obviously take longer.

"We have been protesting every week and every council meeting but this is nothing, we only wanted 100 drivers on the protest because we know people still rely on their local taxi drivers.

"The pandemic showed how important local taxis are, but if we keep on getting ignored then we will show how important we are. Taxi drivers are self employed, we do not have to have a ballot to strike, we can just all decide individually not to work."

Taxi drivers hold up traffic in West Bromwich

Mr Niwaz added: "It would be absolute chaos if we pulled all our drivers off the roads of Sandwell. The council would have to get the police in to drive disabled kids to school, vulnerable pensioners would miss hospital appointments and so on. We obviously do not want to do that because we are responsible and at the moment are just showing through our protests we need to be listened to."

As the march snaked down Bromford Lane, West Bromwich, tempers flared as a white van driver pulled alongside Mr Nazir's lead car and yelled four letter words describing the traffic being caused by the protest.

Near Sandwell and Dudley Railway Station a Mercedes sped past the marchers and overtook the lead car before weaving dangerously close to oncoming traffic.

However, several motorists tooted their support to the men, who had strengthened their resolve for the walk with samosas and sugar-filled tea before they departed Spon Lane car park at 11.30pm.

Further explaining their grievances, Mr Niwaz said: "We have to pay the highest licence fee around, nearly £400. We can't just go to a doctors for a health check but through the council's occupational health service which can take months, where in Birmingham and Wolverhampton they get seen by doctors straight away.,

"If we have a problem with our cars we have to go to Sandwell Council's own garage, and drivers have to wait weeks, which means they are losing money whilst off the road; whereas Wolverhampton Council has three approved mechanics in Sandwell which their drivers can go to and get their cars fixed and MOT'd but we cannot.

"Sandwell Council are killing the taxi industry in the borough. Our costs have rocketed recently. I have been a taxi driver for 40 years and have never known it so bad. It used to cost me £45 to fill my tank but now it is £70, so knowing we are paying out hundreds of pounds out more because we are in Sandwell than drivers in Dudley, Wolverhampton and Birmingham is disgusting."

Mr Niwaz, who drives for Bolt, complained they have had to deal with changing council leaders and civil servants throughout the dispute.

The association had been invited to meet Sandwell Council leader Councillor Kerrie Carmichael two weeks ago but failed to turn up due to the invitation ending up an email junk folder.

Councillor Kerrie Carmichael said at the time of the last protest: "I was surprised to see the protest outside the Council House just an hour after representatives failed to attend an arranged meeting inside the Council House about the dispute at 11am."

Mr Niwaz said they have since been offered another chance to meet with Councillor Carmichael in the last week of July.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News