Taxis: Scale of driver shortage in Harrogate revealed as cabbies quit for new jobs due to Covid impacts
There has been a drop in the number of taxis on Harrogate's roads in what drivers have blamed on the pandemic forcing them to abandon the trade.
Several cabbies quit during the lockdowns and many have now found new jobs with little desire to return as figures suggest around 60 fewer drivers are operating in the district.
Richard Fieldman, who runs A1 Cars Ripon, said his business only survived the pandemic by the "skin of its teeth" and that it has now continued to struggle.
"Times are still difficult for the trade," he said.
"We are not back where we were before Covid by any stretch of the imagination and we are not going to get there any time soon.
"As a driver for 29 years, I thought about packing it in myself during the lockdowns as this period highlighted to me how vulnerable we are.
"I personally managed to ride through this period, although I did end up in debt because of it.
"A lot of drivers have now realised there is very little reward in this trade."
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With fewer drivers on the roads, it has also had an impact on customers who could be left waiting on taxi ranks or unable to book journeys during busy periods.
That is a warning from Kevin O’Boyle, owner of Central Taxis and the longest holder of a taxi licence in the district, who also believes the lengthy process that it takes to become a driver could be a reason why he is now finding it "impossible" to recruit them.
"I'm offering £600 for five shifts with tips and I don't even get people coming through the door," he said.
"Trade is still slow and the only reason people are making a living now is because the number of taxis on the roads have been diluted.
"We are involved with services for the NHS and if it had not been for these contracts we would have gone under during the pandemic, I have no doubt about that."
The figures that around 60 fewer taxis are on the roads was revealed in a Harrogate Borough Council report which has proposed no increase for taxi licence fees for the second year running.
Prior to this period, the council increased fees by 10% during 2020/21.
Mr O’Boyle said the proposed freeze for the next financial year would be "greatly appreciated" if approved by the council's licensing committee today, but added it only went so far to support the trade.
The report to the committee said: "Every year the licensing committee reviews the fees and charges for these licences. However, as a consequence of the impact of Covid in 2020 there are now 60 fewer private hire vehicles.
"The proposed fees are set on a cost recovery basis and are not at a level that would discourage the trade investing in quality standard and accessible vehicles."