Wirral Hackney cab drivers slam charges to update their tariffs

Hackney carriage drivers have called an up to £40 charge to update their tariffs “a slap in the face.”

Black cab drivers across Wirral are having to update their meters to new tariffs that are being brought in by Wirral Council after they were passed by councillors at the end of January. This decision will mean the rates people pay during the way won’t change but other fares like bank holidays and nights will see an increase.

Many drivers who work during the day told the LDRS they see this as a pay cut given rising prices of fuel and other increases related to vehicle maintenance though some oppose a rise, concerned it will put customers off.

However, even drivers who only work during the day which won’t see any change, they still have to pay to update their meters.

Depending on what meter they have, drivers are now being asked to pay £25 or £40 to update the meter even if they won’t see a change in earnings. This charge was £15 previously and some drivers said they are so angry about the significant increase they have threatened to not go through with the update.

Shaun Marnell Ltd who is in charge of recalibrating meters said the rise was needed to help the company break even due to VAT charges and microchip shortages. Wirral Council said it has no role in setting fees for meter updates.

Driver Dave Faulkner said, “It’s ridiculous, last year it was £15 and now it’s £40 but I get no benefit whatsoever because I only work days.” Another driver said, “My honest answer are words you can’t put in the paper.”

Les Powell said, “Everybody is kicking off about it but at the end of the day if you want your licence, that’s it because they would have you in and inspect your cab. I have paid for £40 to get mine changed and I have only earned £30 today before I’ve even put fuel in.”

Chris Clarke said, “I am annoyed we have to pay for a fare increase that isn’t a fare increase. I only work days and that’s exactly the same as it was before,” adding: “It feels like a slap in the face, very much so. Do as I say, not as I do. [Our rates] are governed by the council so what can you do?

“We are still being forced into getting this tariff changed, like from my point of view I am minus £25 and I would have to pay for it again [if there was another tariff increase] and I would have to pay another £25.”

Several drivers called on the council to engage actively with traders when it came to setting fares with several saying they didn’t feel that Unite the Union, which put forward a fare rise proposal in 2023, represented them. After objections were received over Unite’s proposal, councillor Stephen Bennett put forward a different proposal that was later passed on 31 January, though he acknowledged he had not consulted with taxi drivers on it.

Bob Kelly criticised this, adding, “He proposed it and generally that isn’t the way it’s done. Either it’s put back to the trade or they say there is no increase. Councillors do not usually get involved in discussions of what the increase should be. It’s crazy what they have done, it’s bang out of order.”

Taxi drivers getting their meters recalibrated following a change in tariffs by Wirral Council. Credit: Edward Barnes

Cllr Stephen Bennett said councillors had carefully examined the proposals, adding, “The committee considered the drivers’ need for a raise due to increasing costs, while weighing the impact on the public, the taxi trade and taking into account the proposed increase would make Wirral taxi fares the highest-priced in the Liverpool city region. Taking all factors into account, the committee reached a compromise.

“This compromise involved increasing fares for taxi drivers, maintaining competitive daytime rates and implementing raises for evenings, bank holidays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day fares.”

The number of drivers represented by Unite has never been publicly disclosed despite questions from councillors. Barry Bolton said, “We have got people representing us who don’t represent us. They do not see us as small independent businesses. If the council turned around tomorrow and say you had to paint your cab sky blue you would have to do it.”

Unite did not respond to a request for comment.

In response to the criticism, managing director of the firm responsible for the charges Shaun Marnell said, “As a taxi dealer for many years, the company discounted the cost of the tariff update, as this was more of keeping in touch with the trade and back when we started being a meter agent, we were not VAT registered.

“As we have been VAT registered since 2015, with the cost of having to purchase the tariffs we too have had to charge accordingly. To take a mechanic, myself and another staff member to complete tariff updates has cost the company in losses more than what has been made.

“With an hourly rate of £50 per hour, we had to cancel a full day’s work for the mechanic to achieve this service. If we add in the VAT element into the charges you will see Digitax £25 (£20.84) and Cygnus £40 (£33.33).

“So, if we factor in eight hours at £50 + VAT for one mechanic and the same for myself and another staff member to administrate you can see the costs involved. We received 71 updates on the day and appreciate the cost of living rises but staff and wages have to be covered, to achieve that level of service @ £15.00 per hour is impossible.

“Cygnus have not made meters for some time due to the microchip shortage and are charging a lot of money for the tariff and we should just about break even when we have completed all the taxi tariff updates.”

Lead image: Les Powell with the receipt showing he paid £40 to update his meter. Credit: Edward Barnes

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