By Bill Heaney

The taxi trade plays a vital role in Scotland—it gets people from A to B; it protects vulnerable passengers; and it provides mobility to those who otherwise might not be able to access key services, Jenny Gilruth, the Scottish Transport Minister told the Holyrood Parliament this week.

And she gave this commitment on behalf of the SNP government: “The Government has absolutely committed to improving our air quality through the roll-out of low-emission zones. We will continue that important work, and we will continue to support the taxi and private hire trade, which makes a vital contribution to Scottish society. We will continue to support the sector as best we can.”

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill had asked parliament to recognise the contribution that taxi drivers make to the economy, connectivity and cultural life of Glasgow and the Greater Glasgow region.

“And that taxi drivers provide a vital service to people who have mobility problems that make other forms of public transport unsuitable; understand that the service that taxi drivers provide does much to support what it sees as Glasgow’s important night-time economy and hospitality industry, as well as provide the transport options which contribute to making Glasgow a UNESCO World City of Music; recognises the longstanding charity work carried out by Glasgow’s taxi drivers through events such the Glasgow Taxi Outing To Troon.

She added: “Recent years have brought unprecedented challenges to taxi drivers, with the COVID-19 pandemic reducing passenger numbers, and significant regulation changes from Glasgow City Council mandating vehicle changes which, it believes, are unaffordable to many within the industry; notes the campaign from some taxi drivers for a fair implementation of new regulations, and congratulates the sector for all it contributes to the city.”

Pauline McNeill urged MSPs to consider that the time had come to stand up for taxi drivers across the country. “Taxis are a vital part of our public transport system. In fact, the taxi sector has become more vital in recent years, due to unreliable train and bus services, which I hope will get better over the years,” she said.

Ms McNeill chose to make her chosen Members’ Debate at Holyrood about the plight of taxi drivers “because the industry needs our focus and immediate action”.

Along with many Scottish Labour colleagues, she spoke about the contribution that they make to the city’s economy, connectivity and cultural life.

She said: “I believe that they were neglected throughout the pandemic and are being neglected now, with their concerns about the low emission zone that is being introduced in Glasgow—I cannot speak for other cities—being ignored so far.

“Glasgow taxi drivers have said that they support the principle of LEZs; all that they have asked for is a short delay of a year to give them time to comply with the scheme. Even if that happens, it will not be enough time for many.

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, wheelchair users and SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

“Black cabs, in particular, have been an iconic feature of Glasgow city centre, and I do not understand why any city administration would, seemingly, go out of its way to ignore that important fact.

“As we know, around 1,000 cabs out of the fleet of 1,420 are not Euro 6 compliant. In other words, there are 1,000 taxi drivers who, at the moment, would not be able to enter the LEZ in Glasgow. One can already begin to see the extent of the problem.

“Although 200 cabs have been given an extra 12 months, people in the rest of the taxi sector have been left to find thousands of pounds that they simply do not have during a cost of living crisis.

The worry, therefore, is that many will just leave the trade and will not be replaced. With the high cost of a new electric vehicle, at approximately £60,000, and the average age of a cab driver being nearly 60 years old—believe it or not—the finance option for a new vehicle is, for many, not a viable solution.

“Due to global supply chain shortages, the second-hand market is sparse, too, which means a significant lack of options for compliance. As we can see, there are layers upon layers of problems. The LEZ will have a devastating impact on traders, taxi drivers and low-income and older drivers who are unable to buy new cars.”

Labour MSP Martin Whitfield said: “One of the services that taxis offer is transportation of particular groups of young people to and from school. Without an adequate replacement, those young people are going to lose out on their education.

“Taxi drivers are asking for only a short pause, so would it not simply be realistic for the Scottish Government and, in particular, Glasgow City Council to accept that request so that, as a result, the expectation with regard to education will be delivered?”

Pauline McNeill said: “I could not agree more. There are so many dimensions to the issue that impact on the Scottish economy, including how people, particularly young people, get to school and to work.

“Steven Grant of Unite the union’s Glasgow cab branch has said that the ‘situation will have a devastating impact on the trade’, which is why the union has called for a delay for all cabs with regard to the LEZ scheme until at least June 2024. I support Unite’s call and I hope that the Government is listening to the cab drivers who work day in and day out in our city.”

Her Labour colleague, Pam Duncan-Glancy, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, said:  “Taxis are important  to me and other disabled people. Most types of public transport in Glasgow simply are not accessible to me, as a disabled woman.

“I cannot use the subway because most of the platforms have steps and no lifts, and even where I could get to the platform, the trains are not accessible for wheelchair users.

“Buses have a one-wheelchair rule, which means that I cannot travel on a bus if a wheelchair user or a pram is already on board, and I cannot travel on buses with my partner, who is also a wheelchair user.

“I told members this story earlier this month. It not only hampers my ability to get around; it is dangerous. I also told members of the experience that I had when I had to travel on my own at night and was followed home.

“Not even ambulances are fully accessible in the city of Glasgow.

“When I fell last year, there was no space in the ambulance for me to take my wheelchair with me or for my husband to come. It was taxis that stepped up. This is a crucial issue for disabled people and women.

“I am not alone. Research carried out by Transport Scotland shows that disabled people are less likely to have a driving licence than non-disabled people and less likely to have a car available to their household than non-disabled people.

“Accessible public transport is vital in ensuring that we can travel around freely and participate in society as our peers do, but we are not there yet.

For most disabled people—me included—taxis are by far the easiest and most accessible form of public transport available. Disabled people make twice as many taxi journeys a year as non-disabled people.

“Right across the region, black cabs help disabled people to get to school, go to work, see friends and access hospital appointments. They even provide an emergency service.

SNP Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth promised: “I am committed to work with our trade unions and the city council to reach a resolution.”

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