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Taxi drivers force West Berkshire Council to overturn new tariff plan

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THERE were raucous scenes at a packed council meeting this week as councillors reversed a decision which taxi drivers argued would have increased fares.

In March, West Berkshire Council approved changes to the maximum tariffs that could be set by a driver while using a meter, from a three-tariff system to five-tariff.

Three letters of objection were then sent to the council, together with a petition signed by 46 drivers opposed to the measure, out of a taxi population of 173.

As a result of the objections, the council then had to reconsider the matter at a licensing committee meeting held in Newbury on Tuesday.

At the meeting, council officers said there were a wide range of options available, including setting a different tariff, maintaining the proposal passed in March or, having heard all the arguments, keeping the status quo.

The officers’ new recommendation was to not set a tariff at all and let market forces prevail.

Council officer Brian Leahy said: “This recommendation didn’t come easily. I looked at the problems of enforcement, the problems for the trade, and the problems for the customers.”

Four objectors from a large assembly of drivers from Newbury and Thatcham then argued their case.

Paul Westbrook, of Westbrook Cars, said: “The new tariff will discriminate against the people it is supposed to help. The elderly who can’t go very far and can’t carry their shopping ... will be discouraged from coming into town.

“It will lead to active competition and bad feelings at all times of the day because people will come up and ask ‘what tariff are you using’.

“The driver will be at risk of attack because people will say ‘are you robbing me?’

“It will lead to bad feeling across the trade, and if people don’t understand three tariffs they have no chance of understanding five tariffs.”

One independent taxi driver, Mohammed Hussain, highlighted the dangers of the job, and said: “I work most of the night and I have had so many problems in the last five years.

“I have been attacked, both racially and physically so many times just because of the fare. People get into the cab and they ask about the fare and I try to explain it to them.

“We are really concerned about our safety. If you are going to change the tariff you are going to have to think about our safety.”

The room then burst into spontaneous applause from the assembled drivers.

On debating the issue, Paul Bryant (Con, Speen) said: “I find myself very reluctant to support the new tariff because it’s not supported the way we thought it was.”

He then said to loud applause from the crowd: “I would like to formally propose that we keep the status quo.

“It’s well understood by people and the trade, it’s reasonable, it has been in place for quite some time and I think it’s got the support of what seems to be a fairly large number of the trade.”

The issue went to a vote which was passed unanimously by councillors, to the delight of the taxi drivers present.

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