Under a Hackney Carriage licence, drivers can take on pre-booked work, be flagged down from customers on the street or accessed at taxi ranks.
Sunderland City Council is entitled to prescribe the maximum fares that may be charged, with any individual Hackney Carriage driver also free to charge less.
Earlier in 2022, the council’s Licensing and Regulatory Committee approved an application from the Sunderland Hackney Carriage Operators’ Association (SHCOA) to increase fares and some other charges.
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This included increases to tariffs covering daytime and evening hours and ‘tariff three’ – which covers the Christmas and New Year periods and all other public and bank holidays.
Councillors were told that the tariff had been in place for a number of years and was introduced to provide an “incentive” for drivers to work during these periods.
Proposed changes to tariff three included an increase of 40p for a one-mile journey, an extra 40p for a 2.5-mile journey and a 60p increase for a five-mile journey.
Proposals for all tariffs were approved by the council’s Licensing and Regulatory Committee on February 28, subject to a council consultation period.
As one anonymous public objection raising concerns about increased costs on bank holidays was received, the taxi fare proposals were brought back before the Licensing and Regulatory Committee for decision.
At a meeting at City Hall on April 25, 2022, councillors heard that the objector’s proposals, if approved, would change tariff three.
This would allow “enhanced fares” on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and no other dates.
Those representing the taxi trade said the proposals fell against the backdrop of recruitment issues and that failing to bring in the fare rise may impact on the availability of taxis.
Councillors also heard that the percentage increase would be “variable” depending on the length of the journey and would not be a “silver bullet” – but that it would help support the taxi trade.
During debate on the proposals, councillors agreed the increase in fares was needed across the standard tariffs.
However, some raised concerns about the bank holiday fare hike and the impact on residents during a cost of living crisis.
Councillor Usman Ali said all business were struggling with hiring staff and that using recruitment issues to justify a fare increase “can’t come across as a blackmailing tool”.
Cllr Ali said: “I do understand the difficulty the [taxi trade] faces with hiring drivers but that’s part and parcel of business, everybody I know in business right now is struggling with staffing problems.
“That shouldn’t really be a means to an end in terms of [the SHCOA] coming in and getting higher rates, it should just be your recruitment policies maybe need to be looked at.”
Councillor Denny Wilson suggested the councillor was “playing politics” with an important service for the people of Sunderland.
“Cllr Ali keeps labouring the point that he is looking after residents, we are as well, we’re not playing politics here,” Cllr Wilson told the meeting.
He added: “We’re trying to get a service sorted out, a really important service, for all of our residents, some of whom are taxi drivers.”
Councillor Peter Gibson also objected to the use of the word blackmail and said it was “totally unnecessary” – prompting an apology from Cllr Ali.
Cllr Ali added that he supported proposals for enhanced fares on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day only as a “compromise”.
After being put to the vote, the proposed amendments to tariff three failed to win support across the council chamber.
The majority of councillors then backed the original fare increase proposals, which include enhanced fares being applied over Christmas and New Year periods and all bank holidays.
To allow time for Hackney Carriages to switch to the new fare structure, councillors agreed for the new fares to come into force on May 9, 2022.