Drivers call for cab fares hike - JOIN THE DEBATE

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BLACK cab drivers in Sheffield are seeking to put up fares by more than three times the rate of inflation as diesel prices soar at the pumps.

The city’s Taxi Trade Association is planning to ask licensing chiefs for permission to increase the cost per mile by 20 pence, from £1.51 to £1.73, following price hikes already implemented by private hire firms.

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Hafeas Rehman, chairman of the association, said: “The increasing price of fuel is having a real impact on drivers, who are experiencing a cut in their income because they are currently having to absorb this extra cost.

“We had a 10 pence rise approved last October but the cost of diesel has continued to rise and it has got to the point where we have to consider some action.”

Members of the association are to meet next Tuesday to discuss making a formal request to Sheffield Council’s licensing board for special permission to implement the fare rise.

Normally, fares are only reviewed once a year.

The initial £2.60 put on the meter at the start of the journey would be unchanged.

However, the increased charge per mile is equivalent to around 13 per cent, compared to the 3.7 per cent rate of inflation.

But diesel prices have risen from a national average of £1.20 per litre last October to close to £1.30. In January 2010, the average diesel price was £1.12 per litre.

Burngreave Labour councillor Ibrar Hussain is supporting the drivers by writing to Chancellor George Osborne calling for him to give drivers a partial rebate on their duty.

He said: “Taxis are part of public transport and if we can keep the cost of fuel down then and overall prices for customers will be kept low or at very reasonable level.

“It’s so expensive now with rising cost and ever-increasing prices that it’s becoming unaffordable to run a small business and keep fares down.

“I am urging the Government to think hard and make sure small businesses are helped to survive.”

Mr Osborne has said he may consider scrapping a planned rise in fuel duty in April, which was approved by the last Government, and implement a ‘fuel equaliser’ mechanism through which fuel duty falls if oil prices rise, to keep prices stable.

However, no firm proposals have yet been made by the Government.

Coun Clive Skelton, chairman of Sheffield Council’s licensing board, who has to decide whether to consider Sheffield Taxi Trade Association’s proposals for a fares rise, said: “The proposal will only come to the board for consideration if I say it can.

“I have been informed that this meeting of the association is being held and that the request may be made.

“I know one of the private hire companies has put up its fares per mile by 10 pence and I have sympathy with the black taxi drivers.”

He said: “I accept the drivers are finding it tough, however the proposals involve the extra costs being passed on to the travelling public and there is a balance to be struck. We have to be careful we don’t price black taxis out of the market.

“We allowed taxi drivers to implement a temporary 50 pence surcharge on each journey when fuel prices were previously high a year or two ago. Then, the cost reached £1.22 per litre for diesel, now it is heading towards £1.30 and it seems less likely the prices will go back down as they did before, so I am sympathetic towards the drivers’ position.”