Over 200 Black cab drivers took to the streets of Central Manchester this afternoon to protest the amount of ‘illegal’ private hire drivers that have flooded the city in recent years.
Luckvear Singh, 47, a Manchester driver of five years, said: “This is having a big effect. They are coming into Manchester because there is more business but they need to have a Manchester licence.
“We have lost a lot of revenue, 30 to 40 per cent, a lot of drivers are now struggling to make ends meet and some are giving up. Manchester City Council needs to take action against this and take our protest seriously. The public also needs to be aware what is happening.”
The deregulation of taxi licensing along with cutbacks to local authority funding enables drivers to apply for a license from a Council that has the least stringent rules and operate in Manchester which has the highest demand for private hire cabs within the region.
This is especially true with a large number of Uber drivers in the city, which hold a license from Rossendale Borough Council in rural Lancashire — a district that lies 17 miles north of Manchester’s city limits. This influx has caused discontent amongst local drivers who feel they are being undercut and that loopholes in licensing regulations are being taken advantage of. This also raises concerns that drivers that come in from outside of the City do not know the areas they are working in, causing a race to the bottom in skills and knowledge.
It is also worth noting that Manchester City Council can only stop and check drivers who are licensed within the city, which poses safety and welfare concerns. After an investigation into the licensing regulations in Greater Manchester, Trafford Council’s website states that prospective drivers need to have a GCSE equivalent in English and there is at current a two year waiting list for a licence. Rossendale Council however has no such requirements or limitations. As the occupation usually attracts those who have recently arrived into the country, that have little knowledge of the language, it is not surprising that drivers are going down the Rossendale route for a quick way to a licence.
It is clear, then, that is Uber that win from this. By pointing drivers in the direction of loopholes in local authorities taxi licensing laws and signing up cheap, unorganised labour they are a symbol of the flaws of this neoliberal approach to taxi licensing in Greater Manchester. These flaws are only apparent due to the inequality in economic activity and distribution of wealth in the region.
Uber drivers aren’t amassing over on Newton Heath high street are they? They are concentrating on the City Centre and more prosperous Southern districts of Manchester, and if Greater Manchester addresses this it will only ease the animosity, rather than the only solution be a mass of new regulation on who can and can’t drive a cab. For drivers to come over 25 miles for jobs shows the concentration of demand and it is easy to see why local drivers are disgruntled.
Central and local government also has to urgently address why there is such a high demand on private hire taxis. Why do the trains stop at 11.30pm on a Friday and Saturday night? Why is it cheaper for four people to get a taxi than it is a bus? These are all the questions that we need answers to.
Andy Burnham professed at his manifesto launch in May that he understood the transport and logistical nightmares Mancunians face, but with him rubber stamping 6 per cent a year Metrolink fare increases on Friday, the Bus Services Act white paper probably stuck under a pile of Brexit negotiation memos and the byzantine ‘Get Me There’ travelcard that has half been rolled out it honestly doesn’t look rosy for public transport to provide a solution anytime soon.
The 200 Manchester black cab drivers rolling out across town today may just be the start of a fightback against deregulation and the power that Uber wields in cities across the North, now that they’ve fallen in London. Watch this space.