Taxi business in a small town like Abingdon is seasonal and cyclical, with weekend footfall to the town centre taxi rank dropping by as much as forty per cent in school holidays and at half term. It is the quiet season at the start of the year, after Christmas and trade does not start picking up again appreciably until we are approaching Easter.
Friday though, was an unusually busy day, with a small number of random high value jobs, which saw me travelling over an extensive area of southern Oxfordshire to Wantage, Oxford and twice to Didcot, both at the beginning and at the end of the day. High value jobs outside Abingdon are not as profitable as most taxi drivers seem to think they are, though. You are invariably either travelling to your destination, or coming back from it, empty.
When you first become a taxi driver, they never tell you about the dead mileage, nor about the long hours of waiting on the taxi rank in Abingdon – or at home, for those who live in or near the town – for the telephone to ring, or for a random person to walk up to the taxi rank. You have to discover these things for yourself and that on Friday night, the queueing time to get on to a more than six times oversubscribed taxi rank is one hour and forty minutes, at eight o'clock in the evening.
Recently, some of my waiting time on the taxi rank had been spent reading a few doctoral theses about quantifying taxi supply in medium sized and small towns, like Abingdon. Currently, the number of Hackney Carriage licences issued in Vale of White Horse is not restricted. Anyone who meets the requirements can have one.
Many, perhaps even now the majority, are not working in the Vale at all, but using a loophole to work legally for private hire companies in Oxford and then over supplying the Abingdon taxi rank on the weekends.
There is a proper scientific process, a quantitative case study for measuring the supply of taxi services. Nobody seems to know when the last study was carried out in Vale of White Horse, if ever and it is not currently the policy of the district council to restrict the number of licences issued. This policy is reviewed every five years and a review is due soon.
However, there is a price to pay, as licensing regulation is paid for by the licensees, ring fenced from Council Tax and other sources of income. It is an argument which is often used by council officers who don’t want to commission studies and it is a powerful one, because nobody wants to add an increase to their already significant fees to pay for it.
So we are stuck in a situation where the amount of income which can be earned from proper taxi driving is going down and the number of hours spent waiting is increasing inexorably.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 15 February 2017
- Licensing Policy for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire (PDF, 975.5 Kb), Vale of White Horse District Council, South Oxfordshire District Council, 26 February 2015, retrieved 07 February 2017