COUNCIL bosses have said that an unwillingness by local taxi drivers to work later shifts is impacting on the town centre’s night-time economy.
Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said there is ‘no doubt’ that the town centre needs a larger cohort of drivers as revellers have begun to shun the area – which in recent years has undergone a £200m regeneration – due to a shortage of taxis and longer queues being encountered as a result.
Barnsley-based drivers have bemoaned out-of-town taxis encroaching on their patches – with some being licensed as far away as Wolverhampton during recent council spot checks – as well as a lack of safety when dealing with intoxicated passengers.
“We are seeing a loss of income coming into the town because people fear they can’t get a taxi home on a night ,” Sir Steve said. “One of the reasons is safety and security, particularly for drivers. That’s particularly the case for those drivers who are not private hire but can pick up off the streets.
“We have seen taxi drivers operate during the day but not on an evening or at the weekend, which are generally the busiest times in the town centre. We’ve got to try and combat that.
“We’ve asked for funding to provide free cameras in every vehicle we have licensed – about 70, I believe – which will provide that extra security, helping both drivers and customers.
“I’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure it is agreed by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) and hopefully we can sit down then with the taxi associations and look at how we maybe can expand that even further. One of the things – clearly for any taxi driver these days – is being able to go to work knowing you will be safe.
“The free cameras is a small step but it’s hopefully one which will provide an inducement for drivers to work on nights and weekends.”
One daytime and two night checks were carried out in the run-up to Christmas by the council’s licensing officers, with stark differences being noticed in those plying their trade.
During the day, all 12 vehicles were Barnsley-registered, but every taxi stopped as part of the night-time checks were licensed by other local authorities.
Seven were from Sheffield, four from Calderdale, four from Rotherham and six from Wolverhampton – which is a 97-mile distance from the town centre but labelled as an ‘easy place’ to obtain a licence. Others were from Leeds, Chesterfield, Wakefield and Bradford.
Licensing chair Coun Steve Green added: “We’re addressing concerns and have had discussions with Veezu, which is now the town’s largest operator.
“They’ve told us that Barnsley-based drivers are prioritised if a fare comes in, but if there’s a ten-minute delay the job goes elsewhere.
“The customer demand is there, though, but as ever the principle consideration is public safety.
“Other councillors have raised concerns about the amount of taxis working in Barnsley over the weekend, and also the number of drivers licensed with other local authorities working within the borough.”