West Midland councils mustn't make black cab drivers, and passengers, the innocent casualties of their anti-pollution campaigns, according to Beverley Nielsen, the Lib Dem candidate in the regional Mayoral election.
She says local authorities must carefully co-ordinate their efforts, or they could cause hundreds of drivers to lose their livelihoods, boost the cowboy taxi trade, and leave thousands of disabled and vulnerable people stranded in their own homes.
“Improving air quality in our urban areas is a central element of my campaign, but policies designed to reduce pollution need to take every aspect into account,” says Nielsen.
“In Birmingham alone, some 500 cabs are likely to be taken off the road next year, because they are older models which can't meet new emission targets. I understand that the council is desperate to see new taxis powered by electricity or LPG, but it must see the issue from a wider perspective.
“The new TX5 cab made at Ansty by the London Taxi Company, for example, is a tremendous achievement in terms of technology and efficiency, but costs something like £55,000 - twice the price of a current black cab.
“If the owners of these 500 cabs can't immediately afford new replacements, they'll be unable to work, leaving a void which will be filled by cab-drivers acting illegally and quite likely without the insurance which our 'official' black cabs have.”
Nielsen's comments came after she met Manawar Hussain, the chairman of the city's largest taxi operator, TOA, to understand his concerns.
“He knows cab drivers must move to cleaner fuels, as they inhale more toxic particles and more nitrous oxide than anyone else, but equally, they can't just magic up the cost of new cabs in a few months,” she says.
“Manawar also made the point that TOA drivers carry at least 50,000 disabled and vulnerable passengers every year, from the elderly to young students. If the council takes 500 cabs off the road, the taxi trade won't have the spare capacity to transport many of these people.
“It would be an inconvenience for the able-bodied, but they at least can use other transport options, which isn't possible for many disabled and vulnerable people, who would find themselves housebound.
“As Mayor, I would bring all the major taxi operators together, with their local authorities, and taxi manufacturers, to see how we can devise a more effective, co-ordinated and region-wide strategy which tackles pollution, without impacting so heavily on cab-owners, the disabled and visitors to our region.
“There are also other potential technological solutions. Westfield Sports, at Kingswinford, for example, offer retro-fits which enhance the capability of cabs. I've also met Penso, at Coventry, who make the latest generation of black cabs and specialise in lightweight vehicle technologies.
“However, we need to discover if these options are achievable, and what assistance taxi operators might need to continue their vital services, to the disabled, the elderly and to our thriving visitor economy.”