Northampton drivers win battle against unsafe taxis

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Taxi drivers have won a battle over proposed rules that could have seen an influx of old, unsafe vehicles into Northampton.

Drivers had protested at plans to scrap the three-year rule, which currently means taxis have to be less than 36 months old when brought into service.

They feared loosening the rules would open the door to unscrupulous drivers who picked up a vehicle cheaply.

Members of Northampton Borough Council’s licensing committee changed the plan after passionate representations by drivers at a meeting this week.

But the compromise still means taxis aged up to five years old can start working in the town after 2015.

Jonathan Hills, the secretary of the Northampton Hackney Drivers Association (NHDA), said: “Relaxing the rules on older taxis will attract drivers from other towns who can pick up a £500 vehicle somewhere. It increases the number of drivers trying to make a living out of passengers in town.”

The association argued that numbers of passengers had fallen, as will the number of rank spaces at their busiest pick-up point, Northampton train station, when building work starts.

With drivers paying off debts on their new cars, they would have to work longer hours, making them potentially dangerous, Mr Hills said.

He instead wanted five years’ grace for Northampton drivers to pay off vehicles already purchased on credit.

But senior licensing officers, advising the committee, said a car’s age was not the best indicator of its safety, as new cars could develop faults because of high mileage, whereas older cars driven carefully could still be safe.

They said the council’s proposals to monitor tyre treads and do more frequent tests were more reliable measures.

After the drivers had spoken, councillors went into private session then decided to amend the NHDA’s request.

Mr Hills wanted the age limits staggered until 2017, but the councillors’ offer of a three-year period was still greeted with applause.

Councillors said they had been persuaded by passenger safety concerns.

Terry Wire (Lab, St James) said: “The last thing we want is some £500 cab aged about 15 years old coming up from London and picking up people here.

“The whole reason for this committee is to look after the welfare of passengers, and getting rid of an age limit would not serve that purpose,” Councillor Wire added.