Bury taxi drivers are struggling to ‘make ends meet’ as they grapple with a number of issues such as the cost of fuel spiraling out of control.
Private Drivers Hire Association Bury vice-president Raja Naveed Aijaz said those on the front lines of the industry are suffering due to a number of factors, including soaring petrol station costs.
Minimum licensing standards in Greater Manchester and looser rules in Wolverhampton and Sefton Council also lead to drivers getting their license in those authorities rather than Bury, Mr Aijaz said.
Mr Aijaz, who works for Uber and has been in the industry for about five years, said: “It’s very tough on the industry.
“As well as the increased cost of petrol, there are vehicle expenses and costs, which must also be under five years under minimum standards rules in Greater Manchester.
“Drivers have to pay £20,000 for their cars, which can cost thousands of pounds to hire, and then they’ll take a big loss when they sell them.
“Insurance is increasing, as are all car parts.
“People have left the industry because they can’t make ends meet.
“Drivers who previously paid £100 a week to refuel are now paying up to £250.
“Some only earn £300-400 a week and after expenses it drops to £150-200.
“They go to other jobs like working for Amazon.”
Mr Aijaz said the number of licensed drivers in Bury had dropped over the past two years amid the struggles of the pandemic and some were registering in other places such as Wolverhampton and Sefton in the Merseyside, where the rules are less restrictive.
Uber and other companies in the region have operator licenses in Wolverhampton which also allow drivers to work in Greater Manchester, he said.
He added: “In Wolverhampton you can have a car for up to 12 years so drivers getting their license there don’t have to spend so much money on their cars.
“With these rules people can spend £4,000-6,000 on cars instead of over £20,000.”
Bury Council-licensed drivers are therefore losing business in the borough to taxis registered in Wolverhampton and Sefton, Mr Aijaz said.
He also said the implications of the restrictions had been brought to the board in several meetings.
Another issue drivers face is the uncertainty of clean air zone plans in Greater Manchester, it remains unclear whether it will be introduced across the region or just in the city centre.
But Mr Aijaz said that although the area is restricted to the city centre, it will still hit drivers in Bury hard, as they regularly take their vehicles there for work at weekends.
He also warned that if drivers continue to leave the business, Greater Manchester’s public transport system will be hit hard.
Bury taxi company Magnum Whiteline said there had been pressure to raise fares as fuel rocket prices.
Manager Damian Robinson said a slight increase in fares was implemented earlier this year but since then costs have continued to rise, making it very difficult for drivers to earn a living.
He said: ‘Obviously that’s a concern.
‘It now costs drivers £100 to fill their car up from £70 before the increase.’
Mr Robinson also said the company was struggling with a ‘massive shortage’ of drivers following the effects of the pandemic and increased fuel with fewer staff able to cover the workload .
Bury Council said its number of registered drivers has risen from 1,172 since the start of 2020 to 969 at the start of this year and realizes the pandemic has affected commerce.
The local authority said minimum licensing standards had been agreed in Greater Manchester to ensure it has a “safe and highest quality” taxi and private service.
A spokesperson said: “Bury Council has agreed the minimum licensing standards after extensive consultation with the public and the taxi trade, and some specific changes to the Greater Manchester proposal have been made locally in Bury.
“Delay any decision to implement a ‘GM approved’ bonnet sticker in Bury for a period of two years while more work is carried out with Commerce and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to address the concerns raised by trade regarding anti-social behavior, and submit an additional report to the Licensing and Safety Committee before any changes are agreed to the vehicle’s livery.
“Only implement the policy that all cab vehicles must be black for new and replacement vehicles, not for existing fleet vehicles.”
The council said it is also committed to supporting industry players.
A spokesperson added: “We have regular liaison meetings with drivers and operators, which are held in conjunction with GMP.
“We also have a dedicated agent to assist the trade and have kept them informed throughout the MLS process.
“We help trade in many ways. For example, we have just opened a second vehicle test center, which the profession demanded.
“During the Covid pandemic, we have also put in place measures to help with the cost of licenses.
“We also produced a video showing drivers how to apply for Covid support grants, and supported individual applicants with any questions and directed them to wider business support.
“Enforcement action was also taken at the recent Parklife event, dealing with unlicensed taxis, for which trade officials thanked us.
“Private taxi and hire drivers provide an important and much-loved service, and by working together we can ensure the industry continues to thrive in Bury.”
Regarding licensed drivers in Wolverhampton and elsewhere, a council spokesman added: ‘This has been an issue for many years, long before current proposals to have minimum licensing standards in the Greater Manchester.
“We, and Greater Manchester, continue to press the government to pass new laws that would enable us to address this issue and ensure high standards for Greater Manchester.”
Uber said it follows the same regulations as all other private rental operators and every driver who uses its app has been board-certified.
Wolverhampton Council, Sefton Council and Transport for Greater Manchester have been contacted for comment.