Wirral’s cab drivers believe their trade is dying as they struggle to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis.
On 31 January, Wirral Council made a number of changes to the rates taxi drivers charge across the borough which will see tariffs at night, on public and bank holidays, and Christmas and New Year go up but the rates people pay during the day stay the same.
Though some fares will rise, these were less than the proposals brought forward by Unite the Union in November 2023 that wanted to see fares go up across the board and a new £5 drop-off charge brought in for Liverpool on top of tunnel fees.
A representative for the union said the £5 charge was needed because Wirral hackney carriages can’t pick up outside of the borough and sometimes get caught up in traffic.
However, a number of objections were received including from some taxi drivers who argued the rise might kill off the trade as they would have become the highest fares in Merseyside. In light of this, councillors proposed a smaller increase to fares calling this something “that works for the public and gives taxi drivers an earning they deserve.”
The current day rate is £3.60 for the first 300 yards and 20p for every 207 yards and this will stay exactly the same going forward. However, the night tariff will now be £3.80 for the first 350 yards instead of the first 300 as previously proposed and will go up 25p for every 165 yards after that.
For public and bank holidays, it will be £4.50 for the first 350 yards instead of the first 300 going up 25p for every 165 yards. For Christmas and New Year, this will be £5.70 for the first 880 yards instead of the first 300 and will go up by 40p every 165 yards, a 21% increase over two miles according to councillors.
While the £5 Liverpool drop-off charge has now been scrapped, people will still have to pay the tunnel toll for taxis there and back from Liverpool.
Outside the ASDA in central Birkenhead, rows of taxis can be seen waiting to pick people up which drivers said is one of the few places left in the town which sees any business come in. Several drivers who spoke to the LDRS, some who said they worked for half the minimum wage, argued a rise was needed to help keep the service going.
Les Powell has been a taxi driver for 20 years but said the current situation was “diabolical” with him often going home with £40 at the end of the day after working a nine-hour shift. He said, “Everyone has pulled out of the town. Iceland, Beatties, Bonmarche, TJ Hughes.
“If Asda shuts down tomorrow, that is us finished. That is why we’re all waiting up here but if customers haven’t got the money, they haven’t got the money.”
He said it often takes him half an hour to get a job while his insurance has gone up, he has to pay £1,500 getting his vehicle an MOT and £160 on medical assessments. The last time he renewed his insurance it cost £1,600 but he expects this to go up again.
Mr Powell added, “We shouldn’t be having to roll up to Asda. The town centre is decimated. I am doing part-time now because I get £200 a week pension and I cannot live on that. I am thinking I am might as well get out. I am 70 and I have been working all my life and it’s hard to just stop.”
William Devine, a taxi driver for 37 years, said he works 60 hours a week but finds costs can sometimes be more than earnings, adding, “It just can’t carry on.”
He added, “Everything in the world has gone up and we have had no rises. They are seriously out of touch. I know people can’t afford it but when I first started it was a luxury to get a taxi.
“It wasn’t really for the day drivers. The day drivers are getting nothing, not even a tuppence. The council are out of touch. No one wants to put anything up but then everything else goes up.”
He said, “I think Uber isn’t good for us, the impact is massive and they get a lot of students. We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. That is where we are. I don’t want to put the customer out of pocket.
“It was busy during the pandemic. We did a lot of NHS work. It was a lot cheaper but we endured our way through it. You put yourself out there and it was thankless. A lot of people were working from home and I wish I could have worked from home.”
Chris Clarke, who has worked in the trade for 38 years, said hackney carriages in cities like Liverpool were faring better but the situation on the Wirral “is just a joke,” adding, “It used to be a good job. I know it’s slated now but it was a good paying job.”
He said, “There are drivers out there who are really, really struggling,” adding, “Our main thing is we do not get included when they decide to put this through. Anyone who looked at the fares would have realised it was a pay cut. It’s been the same for the last 20 years.”
Despite developments brought forward by Wirral Council such as its new offices in the town centre and footfall reportedly increasing in the second half of 2022, many felt the town’s on the decline.
Mr Clarke said, “I’m on the way out now and enough is enough. The way the town is going, there’s nothing here. They are doing nothing to regenerate it. It’s just such a shame, a joke. There are no pubs, there’s no clubs, there’s nothing.
“The Liverpool lads are struggling. The trade is struggling. We are all in the same boat but to do what the council has done in the past 20 years is just a joke.”
Dave Scott said more needed to be done to bring trade back into the town centre, adding, “It’s a waste of time. All they do is put the night rates up and then there is no work around here.
“The only way anything is going to happen is if they start putting things up. New restaurants and entertainment instead of those things here (referring to the council’s new offices.) The docks they have just built those brand new flats, why not just put a restaurant down there?”
A spokesperson for Wirral Council said, “A proposal which had been received from Unite the Union for increases to Hackney Carriage Fares was considered by the Regulatory and General Purposes Committee in November 2023.
“The proposal was approved subject to any objections being received. Following receipt of objections to the proposal the Committee were obliged to review the decision. The objections were reported to members of the committee at the meeting held on January 31.
“The increase proposed would have made Hackney Carriage Fares in Wirral one of the highest in the Merseyside area. During the recent meeting of the Regulatory and General Purposes Committee, a lower increase in Hackney Carriage Fares was put forward by a member of the committee and agreed by a majority of councillors.”
Image: Hackney stand near Asda in Birkenhead. Credit: Edward Barnes