Taxi drivers

Sandwell taxi drivers still awaiting reforms seven months after protests

Sandwell taxi drivers gather outside Sandwell Council House, Oldbury, to protest against long delays in acquiring private hire licenses, in August 2021

Imran Mahmood Qureshi, secretary of the Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association, said members were still awaiting the taxi reforms that were promised in December last year.

A Conservative candidate in the next local election, he said taxi drivers were ready to protest again about the lack of communication: “It’s frustrating for us as a profession. They publicly announced that the proposal would be accepted and implemented by Christmas 2021. But due to the change in management, we had no choice but to be patient and wait.

“Seven months is a long time to wait for the reform of taxis. Other taxi drivers now travel to other councils to get their licence.

Sandwell taxi drivers protested outside Sandwell Council House in August last year, citing long delays in license renewals and a lack of communication between the licensing office and themselves.

It takes between nine and 12 months for new private hire license applications to be processed at Sandwell.

For Wolverhampton Council, it takes about three weeks.

A one-year-old taxi plate costs £353 for a vehicle less than five years old and £399 if older, if the vehicle is registered with Sandwell Council.

Other councils, such as Dudley and Birmingham City, charge £235 and £185 for any aged vehicle.

Former council chief Rajbir Singh told the association he was “listening to the concerns of drivers”, and said the licensing office was open five days a week.

But Mr Qureshi said they were considering staging a protest against the ordeal and claimed new council leader Kerrie Carmichael was ‘unaware’ of their concerns.

“In January, I had correspondence with the chief’s office. Eventually, they agreed to a meeting this month to answer our questions.

“We thought if she gave us fruitful answers, that was good. Otherwise, we will continue to protest until they accept our demands.

“When we went in March, [Kerrie Carmichael] told us she was unaware of our problems or what was going on. Mr. Mohammad Niwaz, the president of the association said to himself, “Okay, let’s go on strike”, but one of our colleagues who attended the meeting said, “No, don’t go on strike, just give us a little more time.”

A Sandwell Council spokesperson said: ‘The Taxi Licensing Service has made a number of improvements to its service in response to concerns raised by the taxi industry, including the introduction of new licensing software to enable online applications and payments. Further phases of the new software system are underway and will be introduced this year.

“A fee review was undertaken last year and no fee increases were made. A further review will be undertaken when the new licensing system is fully operational to assess any impact on fees.

“Progress on this and other enhancements is regularly shared with the Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association via the Sandwell Taxi Licensing Forum, which currently meets on a monthly basis.

“A meeting was held between representatives of the Sandwell Private Hire Drivers Association and the Chief of Council on March 8, 2022, during which the Chief agreed to review certain issues raised. It was agreed that a new meeting would take place in four weeks and this is being organised.