Changes to West Suffolk taxis zones and a policy on wheelchair accessible vehicles, supported by the trade and members of the public, are to be decided next week.
West Suffolk Council, which is responsible for licensing the taxi trade, is working towards its long-term vision for having a safe, accessible, green, and thriving fleet in place.
Next Tuesday (July 19) will see its Cabinet consider making three proposed changes to its taxi licensing policy. These have all been subject to public consultation which took place earlier this year.
The first short term change would see the current policy that requires all new taxis or replacement vehicles to be wheelchair accessible (WAVs), removed for the time being.
This proposed change was put forwards following the survey carried out during the autumn 2021 which found that many disabled passengers preferred not to use WAVs and that a mixed fleet was required.
The current policy does not allow for this, as it requires all newly plated hackney carriage vehicles to be a WAV only. And an independent study found there was an imbalance of WAVs across the district – with too few in Mildenhall and Newmarket and a potential surplus in Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill.
Overall, around 70 per cent of both the public and the taxi trade agreed to the policy being removed. While two respondents representing disability networks in the district opposed the WAV policy being removed, the consultation found that the majority of passengers who identified as having a disability, were in favour.
While Cabinet will be asked to agree its removal, the council will carry out another survey by 2025 to assess if there’s any unmet demand, such as from people needing more WAVs.
Alongside this the council will work with the taxi trade to explore the different types of WAVs available and cabinet will also be asked to agree to the two taxi zones covering the former St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath areas to be replaced with a single West Suffolk zone. This move would be permanent.
The majority of the taxi trade and public backed the move. Taxis would then be able to pick up fares in parts of the district that are outside their current zone. This also offers the opportunity to balance out the existing WAV provision across the whole of the district to better cater for demand. It will mean that a driver taking a passenger, for example, from Bury St Edmunds to Newmarket, would then be able to pick up a fare going the opposite way, something that is currently not allowed.
Finally, Cabinet will be asked to extend the current maximum age of a taxi to 15 years for the time being. This is because a large proportion of the fleet, including a third of WAVs, would need replacing in 2025 when the council’s vehicle age limit of 10 years comes into effect.
The council is committed to achieving a greener and accessible fleet. But it also recognises from feedback from some of its own electric vehicle taxi drivers, that the charging infrastructure needs to be improved to support this as does the availability of electric WAVs.
Increasing the maximum age of vehicles to 15 years will remove those taxis emitting the highest carbon emissions from the roads in 2025 while it will allow more time for advancements in EV charging technology, infrastructure, and vehicle options to be explored with the trade.
The move was backed by two thirds of consultees including 82 per cent of the trade.