Harrogate council removes limit on wheelchair taxi licences despite 'deregulation' concerns

A limit on the number of wheelchair accessible taxi licences in Harrogate has been removed despite concerns from cabbies that it will have a "devastating" impact on trade.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 12:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th June 2021, 12:36 pm
Taxis on the rank outside Victoria Shopping Centre in Harrogate town centre.

Harrogate Borough Council's licensing committee yesterday agreed to the move which aims to support disabled people in the district who campaigners say have been “cut off from society” and left suffering with "social isolation and frustration" because of a lack of travel options.

But some taxi drivers are against an unlimited number of licences and urged the committee to reconsider sticking to a previous plan to introduce 12 extra plates or risk "deregulating" the trade.

Speaking at a meeting yesterday, Richard Fieldman, who runs A1 Cars of Ripon and Harrogate, said: "When there are only 10 applicants for the proposed 12 wheelchair accessible plates, why are you considering a proposal to unlimit the number of them?

"This would not only be devastating to the trade but also to the council and its road traffic problems as there is not enough rank space to accommodate this."

Kevin O'Boyle, owner of Central Taxis and the longest holder of a taxi license in the district, also said in a letter to councillors before the meeting that the move risked Harrogate "losing control" of how many taxis are allowed on the roads.

"If you decide to deregulate, you, the council, will lose control and will be letting the genie out of the bottle. A genie I fear that once out, will be impossible to put back," he said.

In September last year, the licensing committee agreed to double the number of wheelchair accessible taxi licences from 11 to 23 after a council-run study concluded disabled people were suffering from a “great deal of anxiety” over worries they could not get around.

However, the authority says has since run into difficulties over creating a "fair and lawful" system to distribute just the 12 additional licences, and it believes it could be left vulnerable to legal challenges from disappointed applicants.

Currently there are 22 wheelchair accessible taxis operating in the district - a figure which has declined over recent years. This decline is something the council believes is partly down to the costs of purchasing a wheelchair accessible taxi - and it these costs that it says will "self-regulate" the number of vehicles on the roads

Councillor Victoria Oldham, chair of the licensing committee, also told yesterday's meeting that the council was not expecting a "surge" in licence applications and that it had not been made aware of any rank space issues.

She said: "The purpose of these proposals is to overcome the provision for customers who require wheelchair accessible vehicles. We know from the work that officers have done that the current provision by the trade is insufficient and does not meet the need.

"Based upon the expression of interests received in January 2021, there is no indication at this stage that there will be a surge in applicants.

"What the proposals will facilitate is the market meeting the existing demand. Numbers will also be naturally limited by the cost in purchasing and upkeeping a wheelchair accessible vehicle."

The licensing committee voted in favour of the proposals with two amendments to conditions which mean a review will be carried out in a year rather than five, as well as a requirement for drivers to complete a disability training course within one month of being approved rather than six.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter