Taxi drivers are worried about the future of Nottingham’s black cabs as some drivers move to Uber to avoid having to pay up to £60,000 for new vehicles.
Nottingham City Council wants around 400 of its hackney fleet to be upgraded to low emission vehicles in order to improve air quality.
Drivers had to take out loans to buy the new vehicles, which can cost between £36,000 to £60,000, a sum which one driver described as being like “a second mortgage”.
The council says the changes are a key part of cutting Nottingham’s harmful air pollution levels and help ensure the city does not bring in a congestion charge style ‘Clean Air Zone’.
Chander Sood, 62, of Wollaton, is among drivers who have criticised the system.
A driver for the last 27 years, he is also a former secretary of the Nottingham City Hackney Carriage Owners and Drivers Association.
Mr Sood said he is aware of between 80 and 90 drivers who are considering leaving or have left the trade.
Nottingham City Council said it is are aware of around 50 drivers who have handed in their Hackney plates in the last year.
The local authority said it will not make a U-turn on its policy as it drives to improve air quality across the city.
There are two types of hire vehicles that operate in the city – private hire, which includes companies such as Uber, where drivers are booked in advance, or black hackney cabs which have ranks and can be flagged down in the street.
Mr Sood said: “Because of the city council’s policy we had to switch over the old fleet to the new fleet and the difference between the electric cabs and the normal cabs was huge in terms of cost.
“It is like a second mortgage.
“There is a lot of drivers that have left the trade – the price of the new vehicles is the main reason. The reason drivers are switching to Uber is you can buy a hybrid worth £15,000.”
Mr Sood said he is paying £827 a month on his £60,000 new LEVC (London Electric Vehicle Company) car and said the only help he had from the council is a one-off £400 payment to help during the pandemic.
“During the first lockdown I do not think I was taking even £20 a day,” he said.
“I could have ended up in big trouble. How much support did we get? £400 grant, which was a humiliation.
“The new cars are a huge burden and we were just not expecting that silly price.”
Mr Sood said drivers fear for the future of the traditional black cab and whether it will continue to operate in the city in the near future.
“Hackney cab is a symbol, an icon, a tradition, and they have given free rides to the NHS to the Queen’s Medical Centre. We will lose them. Drivers will leave because we can’t afford that type of expensive vehicle.”
Councillor Sally Longford, Portfolio Holder for Climate Change, Carbon Reduction and Sustainability, said: “The past year has been difficult for everyone and we do understand the impact on taxi drivers in Nottingham.
“We’ve worked closely with the trade to explain our plans around moving towards a fleet of low-emission vehicles and this forms a key part of our wider carbon-neutral ambitions.
“This commitment to continually reduce air pollution has helped us avoid a charging Clean Air Zone, which have been introduced in other parts of the country.
“Around 150 drivers have already made the change and we have adopted a flexible approach throughout.
“There was a lead-in time of more than two years to respond to new rules requiring only Euro 6 diesel or ultra-low emission vehicles to be eligible for a licence to operate in Nottingham.
“Every driver licensed with the city council was given a £400 grant to help during the Covid lockdown period which was in line with other local authorities around the country.
“This was in addition to the Government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme which we have helped them to access.
“Around 50 people have handed back their Hackney plates in the past year, but some of these have retired while others have continued to operate as taxi drivers but switched to private-hire work.
“We’re aware of a national shift in the market which has seen passengers frequently gravitating towards drivers who take card payments – many Hackneys have remained cash-only.
“We are not going to reverse our policy on clean vehicle requirements, since this helps us meet our duties under the Clean Air Act to improve air quality and bring health benefits, and it would be unfair to those who have already invested in new vehicles.
“We are all committed to improving the quality of the city’s taxi services and improving air quality and these changes will benefit both the local trade and our residents in the long run.”