A RISE in Dudley’s taxi licence fees, which are already hundreds of pounds more than neighbouring authorities, has sparked a row with drivers.

The council’s service has been slammed as ‘appalling’ after a 2.3 percent increase in charges for licences and other fees for the coming financial year was approved by members of its Taxis Committee.

A new three-year licence for a private hire taxi or Hackney Carriage in Dudley currently sets a driver back £475.

The same licence in Wolverhampton costs £98, in Sandwell £352, and around £200 in Birmingham depending on the type of taxi.

Shaz Saleem, spokesperson for Dudley Private Hire and Taxi Association, said: “I appreciate the council hasn’t put fees up for a number of years but the service level is appalling.

“The fees are ridiculous, there is no service – I would like to know how they justify it.

“A lot of drivers are going out of the council, we are losing drivers left right and centre.”

Dudley Council’s leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, hit back.

He said: “It is complete and utter rubbish to suggest drivers are moving out of Dudley, in fact the opposite is true. We had 1,570 drivers licensed with us in January, which is 105 more than at the same time last year.”

Mr Saleem, a former Dudley councillor, says drivers are waiting too long for applications for licences and payments to be processed while extra vehicle checks the council insists on, he claims are ‘unnecessary and expensive’.

He said: “Drivers still have to get a normal MOT, are they saying drivers are driving illegally.

“No other council does this – it’s bonkers, they have no understanding of the taxi world.”

Cllr Harley dismissed the complaints, he said: “Where there are delays, our records show more often than not it is down to the driver for not supplying the correct paperwork or disclosing the correct information, or failing their knowledge test or driving assessment.

 “I think the public would back us in making sure we are doing regular checks to make sure the vehicles they are travelling in are safe.

“In any case, the three-month checks are only for vehicles that are 10 years or older.

 “And I think they would also support us making sure we have done proper background checks on drivers before allowing them to pick up passengers. Unfortunately, that isn’t always a quick process.”

At the council’s Taxis Committee meeting, on February 12, councillors were told an increase was needed to make up for an £80,000 deficit in taxi licensing.

Councillor John Martin said: “We will have churn, this is basic business. This is going to become less viable, we need more income, what are we doing to attract more drivers?”

Committee chairman, Cllr Alan Hopwood, said: “We need to use our money better, it beggars belief our prices are so much higher.”

Cllr Harley added: “We are happy that our systems are robust. 

“I am happy that our staff work as hard as they can to process applications as quickly as possible.”