Taxi drivers from across the north of the county say they could strike over planned increases to fares that they say could have a devastating impact on their trade.
According to the Northamptonshire Telegraph, at a meeting earlier this week, North Northants councillors voted to harmonise fares across the whole unitary area.
It means that passengers in Corby could see the cost of some journeys double. Those in Wellingborough will also see huge price hikes. Kettering fares will also rise while some East Northants fares are expected to drop, despite increasing fuel prices and the rising cost of living.
Maximum taxi fares were previously set by the four separate borough councils operating in North Northants.
Out of 355 areas across the country, Wellingborough is one of the cheapest in 339th position with a cost of £4.90 for a two-mile journey. Corby passengers pay the same £4.90 fare, while East Northants is slightly more expensive at £5, in 330th position.
Meanwhile, Kettering fares are significantly more expensive with a two-mile journey costing £6.
To reflect the higher cost of living, Corby Hackney Owners’ Association had asked for their two-mile fare to be increased to £5.60, Kettering drivers had asked for a raise to £7.20 and East Northants drivers wanted an unspecified raise. Wellingborough Hackney Owners’ Association asked for fares to increase to £6.10.
A proposal went before licensing committee members at a meeting on Monday 9 May, to harmonise fares across the four borough zones to Kettering’s levels. This would mean that the two-mile fare would be £6.80 across the whole of North Northamptonshire.
However, this also means that ‘extras’ charged in Kettering will be applied across all areas. These include add-ons for having more than five passengers in the cab and 50 per cent higher fares for all journeys on Sundays and all journeys between 11pm and 6am. Some of these extras have never previously been implemented outside of Kettering.
Ahead of the meeting, Corby Hackney Owners’ Association secretary Neil Rielly and other representatives from across the north of the county had written to councillors on the licensing committee to plead with them to make a small increase to fares.
But members voted to go ahead with the proposal to harmonise fares across the area.
Neil said: “We went into great detail to justify the small increase but to come out with what they’ve said is just unthinkable.
"You can charge less if you want but that means that there might be a load of drivers on the rank charging different amounts.
"The whole point of hackney cabs is you know what you’re going to have to pay.
"Prices in Corby have been historically low so taxi use has been high. We have 114 black cabs operating here. We used to have 280 drivers but that’s now lower because of the change in licensing laws.
"East Northants drivers are actually going to get a 21 per cent pay cut, which is awful for them given the rising costs of living.
"There are lots of people in this town and the others who rely on taxis. This is just not workable.
“We want to be fair to our customers, but how can we be?”
The drivers will now hold their own meeting to consider a strike, which may involve them blockading George Street in protest at the fare rises.
Wellingborough drivers are also angry at the proposals, with one telling this newspaper: “None of the taxi associations or companies asked or wanted what the council pushed through in the licensing meeting.
“We all asked for increases far below what has been put through. The thing is the public will blame the drivers, not the councillors as we are customer facing, not them.”
At Monday’s meeting, a report to councillors stated: “Members should be mindful of the fact that there is a balance between the interests of hackney carriage operators and that of the travelling public.. All parties will be impacted by the cost of living pressures.”
The proposals will now go out to public consultation for 14 days once notices are placed in the Northants Telegraph. All objections will need to be considered before a final decision is made.
How the fare increase could affect Corby passengers
Corby drivers provided three examples of how the fare increases could hit locals in the pocket
If a customer calls a taxi at 5.30am to go from Danesholme to Max Park industrial Estate, it would cost him £8.20. Taxi drivers wanted to increase this to £9.10. The harmonisation fare will be £18.60. That’s an increase of 127 per cent, due to the change from Corby ‘extras’ to Kettering ‘extras’. Corby has an extra charge of 50 per cent from 11pm to 5am so as not to charge those going to work early shifts a premium. Kettering’s extra charge runs from 11pm to 6am.
If a woman goes out with four friends on a week night at 7pm to travel two miles to a restaurant it would currently cost her £4.90. The drivers wanted to increase this to £5.60. The new harmonisation fare would be £10.20 – an increase of 108 per cent. This is due to an extra charge applied to five or more passengers in the cab which is normal in Kettering but has never been applied in Corby.
A lady travels one mile to go to the bingo on a Sunday afternoon. It would currently cost her £3.40. Taxi drivers wanted to increase this to £4. The harmonisation fare is £6.60, an increase of 94 per cet. This is due to an extra charge of 50 per cent applied to all journeys on a Sunday.