More than 500 black taxi cabs could be run off the road by stringent new anti-pollution measures in what has been called a ‘catastrophe’ for the trade.
Details of the new clean air policy were debated by councillors and taxi industry on the day the European Union issued a final warning to the UK over dangerously high pollution levels in 16 cities, including Birmingham and London.
Poor air quality in Birmingham is reckoned to be responsible for 520 extra deaths a year in the city, with vehicle pollution in the city centre and M6 motorway corridor the most affected areas.
The Government has already ordered the city to set up a Clean Air Zone around the city centre by 2020 or face a fine of up to £60 million. Under this high polluting commercial vehicles such as taxis, buses, lorries and coaches could be charged to go within the middle ring road
And now taxi drivers have been dealt a second blow after being told that age limits on their cars could be slashed in December to ensure they are using newer and cleaner cars. This means 530 of the oldest and highest polluting hackney cabs, 43 per cent of the 1,233 on the city’s streets, will have their licenses removed.
A further 1,428 private hire vehicles, or minicabs, out of 4,200 on the streets, would also be barred under the proposals.
But black cabs face particular problems as the new cleaner range of electric cabs produced by the London Taxi Company in Coventryare not due to go on sale until the end of this year.
Ivan Boon of TOA Taxis and the RMT union said it would be a disaster for the industry and passengers.
“Everybody wants cleaner air but this is a catastrophe for the trade. We are talking about taking five to six hundred taxis off the road by December and the new vehicles are not yet available.”
He said the expected cost of £55,000 for the new cab is an investment beyond the reach of many drivers, especially as their existing cabs will now be heavily devalued or even worthless as working vehicles.
Birmingham City Council currently allows black cabs of up to 14 years to be newly licensed and older if they are having the license renewed. It is thought to have one of the oldest fleets in the country due to its previously ‘lenient’ policy.
Government grants of £7,500 are available to drivers buying a cleaner black cab, but drivers also want more help and more time to adapt to the new rules.
Licensing committee members have agreed to 12 weeks consultation over the measures and to write to Government asking for more funding to introduce clean air measures and ease the burden on drivers.
Cllr Basharat Dad (Lab, Stechford and Yardley North) said: “We are not just talking about thousands of cars, but the livelihoods of thousands of drivers and their families.”
But cllr Habib Rehman (Lab, Springfield) reminded the committee why they are looking into the issue: “ When you go to inner city schools you see how many children are taking inhalers with their lunchboxes, its rising.”