In Taxi Driver (1976), Robert De Niro, faces his reflection and says: “You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here?” Imagine then the paranoia of the only black electric taxi, based on the iconic London-cab shape, the only one in Tyne and Wear. It exists, in South Tyneside and has been all ‘alone’ for the past five years. Is this symptomatic of an unpopular car choice, poor incentives to buy as the London electric vehicle company price is over £50,000, or a reflection on taxi policies nationally or in this region?
Milton Keynes has the ‘greenest’ taxi fleet, based on an electric vehicle (EV) percentage at 5.67%. In tenth position is Coventry at 0.48%. Newcastle Upon Tyne and local councils have a mountain to climb to catch up, even with these low percentages. A review of the fuel used, spread across 25 taxi regions indicates that diesel still reigns at 53.74% and a whopping 72%, if you exclude London; that’s 80,451 licensed diesel taxis and minicabs on British roads in 25 cities. There is evidence of change, hybrid electric vehicles, like the London-cab style mentioned, now outnumber petrol-fuelled only cars at 33%.
Taxi policies on Tyneside
Examination of the taxi policies from North, South and Newcastle city councils repeat the guidance from the Department for Transport, whose policy statements use the word ‘sustainable’. The Best Practice Guidance for Licensing Authorities in England, uses target years to create a ‘seismic shift’ in the proportion of electric vehicles and hybrids on the road. In line with other cars, the phasing out of diesel and petrol-only car sales by 2030, combined with age limits on taxis of this type, suggests that from 2035 all taxis will be hybrid or EV.
Newcastle City Council in their 2022, Hackney Carriage and Private Hire policy statement for 2022, identify air quality as a major issue. Along with other councils, each with their own policies in the region, they acknowledge the need for authority cooperation and have air quality management areas in the city centre and Gosforth.
One black taxi
The one black taxi stands alone, an economic indicator, of the cost to the driver. “Are you lookin’ at me?” In North Tyneside, from April 2022, no new licenses were issued to vehicles over four years of age, and renewals in 2024 will require a vehicle less than eight years old for a further renewal. The cost to the driver and the supply of newer vehicles, will have a significant effect on the loans required to keep these workers in business.
The Department of Transport, has given ‘age exclusions’ to EV and HEV taxis, but the cost of these vehicles secondhand is very high, given their fuel economy, relative rarity, and the cost of fuel. Taxis provide a vital service in the community for those who cannot access a car, bus, or metro. Taxi drivers provide an essential service to Tyne and Wear. The debate should be driven by local initiative in the councils cooperating with taxi firms, rather than just parroting, the Department of Transport’s blanket policy guidance.
De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver would look at the policy statements that abound in our region today and would in my mind’s eye ask that same question; “Are you talkin’ to me?” The apparent gulf between the driver at the wheel and those steering the policy centrally could not be greater, given the time left to implement them.