North Norfolk cabbies issue warning after council passes fee hikes

A decision to hike taxi fees across north Norfolk has been hailed as 'unfair' and prompted warnings they will drive cabbies off the roads.

The cost of applying for and renewing a driver's licence and vehicle licence is set to increase after North Norfolk District Council's licensing committee rubber stamped the changes.

Compulsory medical exams are also set to be introduced along with a controversial three-year licence, which the council was keen to see all drivers sign up to.

But after outcry from cabbies, who said the longer-term licence would price new drivers out of the trade, members agreed to continue to provide a 12-month permit.

The concession however did little to quell the concerns of drivers who attended today's (Monday) committee meeting.

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Ashley Colman, chairman of the North Norfolk Taxi and Private Hire Association - which was formed in a bid to get the fee increases thrown out - said members' decision was 'disappointing' and drivers had hoped the increases could be deferred for further consultation.

'Most of us have been told by staff, particularly part timers, if this goes ahead and they have to pay out for medicals, they're not going to renew,' he added.

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'The part time drivers are the back bone to the work we do. Evenings and weekends would suffer and companies would be shutting the doors at 6pm leaving people struggling to get backwards and forwards.'

Under the changes the cost of applying for a one-year permit will rise from �102 to the likely fee of �170 in three annual increases up to 2014. Over the same time period the cost of renewing a vehicle licence will go up from �138 to �190.

Mr Colman, who owns Anglia taxis based in Sheringham, said fees had been hiked annually since 2004 but in that time there had only been three fare increases and added: 'It is very important to us that we keep our part time drivers. They don't earn the sort of money they feel they could pay these fees.'

But the council said the increased fees have been brought in to make taxi licensing 'cost neutral' so tax payers would not be subsidising the process.

If drivers decide to swap to a three-year permit the drop in administration is expected to generate a 'surplus' which the authority said would be re-invested within the licensing department - and could result in fees later coming down.

Members also moved to reassure the association over changes to taxi drivers' working policy, that are being introduced through a revised drivers' handbook, including a new penalty points system for enforcement of minor breaches to licence conditions

Steve Hems, environmental health manager, said: 'We have already had dialogue with the association and we will continue that. I can assure you we'll look to work together, we may not always see eye to eye but it's for the authority to set the rules.'

The hikes will be recommended to full council on May 30 and if passed will come into effect in July.

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