Aberdeenshire taxi firms are on verge of “throwing in the towel” amid frustration over a second hike to licence fees in little more than a year.
An array of costs have been increased and for many firms they will swiftly wipe out any benefit from emergency coronavirus grants.
Bosses said the industry is already “on its knees” amid a crippling lack of trade as most potential customers endure an enforced stay at home.
And some have talked to the P&J of making choices between food and paying the bills and taking additional jobs in the face of an 80% drop in income.
Aberdeenshire Council said consultation had been undertaken in 2019 ahead of a review of fees, with a decision to introduce increases in line with inflation thereafter.
But north-east firms said the “frustrating” decision hits them in the pocket at a time when they are struggling like never before.
Drivers are now having to pay £123.50 for their personal licence – that’s up £29.50 from two years ago.
Vehicle licences, granted once a year, now cost £252 – that’s up from £245 at the last hike and £206 the time before.
Vehicle licence substitutions are also up from £60 to £98.
Paul Anderson, owner of Peterhead-based Central Taxis, said: “On the one hand they are saying they will help the taxi and bus industries, yet on the other they are increasing our rates.
“For the likes of myself with 100 vehicles it’s like banging your head against a brick wall.
“I need a licence for every single vehicle so this is a big increase. It’s frustrating.
“It’s been a difficult time for the taxi industry over the past year when there’s been no pub, club or hospitality trade.
“The council says the rises will happen yearly in line with inflation.
“But how can they be putting up rates during the bad times and not even having the decency to send out a letter letting us know.”
Industry “on its knees”
For many years, until 2019, the taxi licence fee was stagnant at £40 per vehicle.
The hikes come just months after self-employed taxi drivers were invited to apply for a £1,500 emergency coronavirus grant from the Scottish Government, administered via Aberdeenshire Council.
Mr Anderson added: “Unfortunately this is another increase at a time when there’s nowhere near the usual trade for us.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Inverurie-based Station Taxis owner Graeme Gordon, who claims the industry is “on its knees”.
The 61-year-old said: “We are on our knees, struggling to even pay our bills.
“We are being offered a £1500 grant from the Scottish Government with one hand – which only covered my insurance and badge – and delivered hiked-up fees with the other.”
Mr Gordon, who still has two of his three taxis on the road, said that were it not for those relying on him for work he may well have “thrown in the towel by now”.
“I’ve been living off beans on toast some days, it’s been that bad. Do you pay your bills or do you buy food?
“We have lost restaurants, pubs, cafes, events at the conference centre, weddings, funerals and football crowds.
“All the things people use a taxi for have disappeared. We have lost everything.
“Some taxi drivers are saying they don’t know if they’ll continue because of this.”
“We’re in shock”
Mr Gordon, says he is “surviving” by taking on extra work picking up food delivery jobs while on shift, but said an average Saturday night in Inverurie now often brings in just £26 – and that’s after putting £20 of fuel into his tank.
He’s also expecting the council’s recent scrapping of the TaxiCard discount scheme for disabled people to hit the industry hard next month.
“I know one man made £200 a month from the TaxiCard scheme.
“A lot of our regular customers have a TaxiCard and when that’s taken from them they may find other ways to travel.
“I’ve seen my income drop by 80% on the previous year. How can anybody survive on 20% their normal income.
“I just think it’s outrageous the council should hit us with this increase now. We’re in shock and worrying what next year’s increase holds.
“How do you justify racking up fees for an industry that is on its knees during lockdown?”
A council spokesman said the authority carried out a consultation before the 2019 review of fees.
He added: “There were 153 responses.
“The first question asked if it was fair that the council should aim to recover its costs as much as possible through fees – 62% agreed and 38% disagreed.
“Inflationary increases to fees have been implemented since 2017.”
Reopen the scheme
Unite Scotland yesterday demanded that the taxi driver grant scheme be reopened because a third of cabbies have missed out.
The trade union has accused the Scottish Government of “withholding” £19 million in unawarded grants from the £57 million Taxi and Private Hire Driver Support Fund that has now closed.
But Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has instead pledged to give a second grant worth £1,500 to taxi drivers who received the first one – if the SNP government is re-elected.
About 25,333 eligible drivers out of an estimated 38,000 across Scotland applied for the £1,500 grant, according to the union.
Unite’s Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty has also warned of a postcode lottery for a “top up” of coronavirus support awarded to taxi drivers by local authorities.
Several councils have announced discretionary grants, including Aberdeen and Dundee city councils, which will offer additional grants of £1,000 for taxi and private hire drivers, while Angus Council has launched £2,500 worth of extra financial support.
Mr Rafferty said: “Despite the tentative easing of lockdown restrictions, the taxi trade remains decimated by the pandemic and will be one of the last trades to recover.”