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‘The public are angry’: Warning over Aberdeen taxi driver shortage

Chris Douglas, co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis, has highlighted an urgent shortage of taxi drivers.
Chris Douglas, co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis, has highlighted an urgent shortage of taxi drivers.

Anger among city centre visitors is on the rise as Aberdeen faces a significant shortage of taxi drivers, a company boss has warned.

Chris Douglas, co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis, claims the city has lost 60% of its drivers during the pandemic with numbers falling from around 1,200 to 500 taxis.

He says the lack of drivers, especially at the weekends, is causing increasing levels of frustration among people who find themselves unable to get home.

Mr Douglas, who runs the firm along with Gavin Johnston, said: “It’s the public who are suffering and that needs to be addressed.

“The public are angry. I’ve not braved going out on a Saturday night and experienced it myself but I’m pretty sure if I did I’d see a different picture.

“Definitely people I’ve spoken to coming into the booking office have been angry and frustrated.”

Test for new drivers too strict

Mr Douglas argues the council needs to fix the shortage by looking at changing training requirements for new drivers which are “antiquated” and like a “brick wall”.

Training for new taxi drivers was shut down during the pandemic adding to the shortage but the strict tests all drivers have to face are also adding to woes.

He said: “For the last 19 months the council have not been doing tests until recently.

Aberdeen has the strictest requirements for a licence. The test is antiquated and a barrier entry which is pretty much a brick wall.”

“Aberdeen has the strictest requirements for a licence. The test is antiquated and a barrier entry which is pretty much a brick wall.”

Anyone wanting to become a taxi driver currently has to sit the street knowledge test which is run by Aberdeen City Council. Unlike other cities, this applies equally to both taxi and private hire drivers. The training can take around eight months which must be completed before the licence is applied for, which takes a minimum of 28 days.

In comparison, Edinburgh City estimates it takes private hire driver applicants 65 days to get a licence with only a series of four online training modules to complete.

Mr Douglas does not want to scrap the test entirely but instead has called for the easing of the pass mark, or the council offering “another incentive to generate candidates to address the skills shortage”.

Since March, 15 candidates have sat the knowledge test and of those 11 have passed, according to the council. A further eight candidates have applied and have an upcoming test date.

There were 30 new taxi driver licences issued in 2019 and 55 issued in 2018, using the same test as now.

Rapidly reducing number of drivers

Figures from the local authority revealed there are currently 1,097 licensed taxi drivers, which is down 144 from October 2019.

Mr Douglas said: “On paper the council stats look good with 1,200 licensed drivers but 700 of them are not working and still holding onto their taxi licence for other reasons.

“The amount of drivers that have left the trade is phenomenal.

The amount of drivers that have left the trade is phenomenal.”

“One issue was going into the pandemic there was around 60% of drivers who were over the age of 60 and hitting retirement age.

“Coming out the other side of things now, those guys haven’t returned to work and won’t.”

Urgent need for new recruits to tackle taxi driver shortage

Aberdeen Taxis currently has 105 drivers on its books but pre-pandemic it was more than 150.

In a bid to try to increase numbers they plan on launching a taxi school but Mr Douglas said it’s likely to take a year for the drivers to gain their license with no “quick fix” in the meantime.

He said: “Arguably we should have a a lot more drivers on top of what we do.

“We are running a bit lean at the moment and I’m sure we aren’t the only company. Locally it’s a massive problem.

“We are turning away a tremendous amount of work at evenings and weekends because the infrastructure can’t sustain it.”

Taxi rank on Back Wynd, Aberdeen, in May 2020.

“Most drivers have returned to other jobs or delivery jobs, because you are looking at taking a year to become a taxi driver.

“You are lucky on average if you get 20 people a year becoming drivers.

“We are trying to make it attractive for people again. It’s a long slog.”

Council admits driver numbers falling

An Aberdeen city council spokeswoman said it was “not possible” to say how many licensed drivers weren’t going out to work as they are self employed, but that the council was aware driver numbers have been falling since the local economy was hit by the oil price crash.

She said: “A number of drivers are not currently working due to Covid and while it is not possible for us to say how many, they remain licensed.

Chris Douglas, co-owner of Aberdeen Taxis is being forced to turn away a “tremendous amount of work at evenings and weekends” due to driver shortages in the city. Picture by Kenny Elrick

“There has been a general reduction in the numbers of new taxi drivers and new licensed vehicles since the oil downturn in 2015.”

She said the council’s aim was to maintain a “high standard” for drivers and confirmed the test for taxi and private hire drivers is reviewed periodically, with the last one held in October 2019.

“The next review is likely to be conducted within the next two years. In addition, the Scottish Government commends as best practice the importance of minimum training requirements for taxi drivers and encourages local authorities to adopt a positive approach to this vocational training, along with stating that mandatory testing of topographical knowledge is best practice.

“We strive for a high standard of taxi drivers knowledge to ensure they are equipped with the information they need to help themselves and their customers.”

Controversial taxi firm Uber walked away from plans to launch its service in Aberdeen two years ago., which could have encouraged more drivers to take to the wheel in the city.

The company was granted a licence by Aberdeen City Council in January 2018 but, the service – which uses an app to book taxis for customers – never picked up a customer in the Granite City.

The taxi hailing company requires its drivers to have a private hire licence from a council that Uber is licensed by.

The Press & Journal revealed in 2019 it was “surrendering” its licence, and would wait for a period of time before applying again.

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