A card machine in every taxi: Do you hail Cardiff’s black cab rule changes?

The Council are now consulting on proposals that also include lifting a cap on the issuing of cab licences

INCREASING the number of black cabs in Cardiff to help drive modernisation of the city’s transport network is at the centre of changes being proposed by the council.

Introducing a credit card machine to every black cab is also among the suggestions put forward in a Cardiff Council consultation that is open until March 27.

However, the issue most likely to attract a reaction from the industry is the proposal to remove a cap on the number of Hackney Carriage licences.

Whilst the term ‘taxi’ is used to refer to vehicles hired to transport passengers, this survey only relates to Hackney Carriages – sometimes known as black cabs. In Cardiff, these vehicles are usually black with a white bonnet and have a roof light. 

They generally work from taxi ranks or can be hailed in the street, unlike other licensed vehicles that must be booked over the phone or through a smartphone app – though, Hackney Carriages are also permitted to work for an operator.  

In Cardiff, hackney carriages are usually back with a white bonnet (Credit: Angus Tiffin)

Why is there a cap on licenses?

In 2010, the Council stopped issuing Hackney Carriage licences. It is the only local authority in Wales to have a cap like this and one of a small number in the UK.

As recently as 2019, the Council resolved to keep the restriction in place, citing survey evidence that suggested that Cardiff had enough taxis to meet demand. However, recent developments have caused them to re-think this.

Since the pandemic, there has been a UK-wide lack of taxi drivers. As of December 2022, of Cardiff’s 946 issued licences, only around 726 were in active use.

In December, the Council’s Public Protection committee heard that restrictions like the one in Cardiff may depress the number of active Hackney drivers both by directly restricting the number of available licences and making it more expensive for drivers to enter the market.

Licences are tied to vehicles, so the only way for someone to become a cabby is to either purchase an already-licenced vehicle or wait for a current licence to not be renewed.

This has created a secondary market for Hackney licences, where drivers buy – or rent – licenced vehicles in order to trade. The Council says that this has produced an extra entry cost – heightening the price of scarce licenced vehicles – that new cabbies must meet.

The Council has also noted that this perceived lack of drivers has coincided with an increase in reports of black cabs cherry picking passengers and refusing short fares.

Brian Free, a Whitchurch resident, said that he and his wife were trying to get a taxi home from work after a 12-hour shift. According to Mr Free, once he told the driver that he wanted to travel home from St Mary’s Street, the cab’s doors were locked and the driver refused to take them

Delaying ‘green’ transition

The restriction also prevents those that do not currently have – or rent – a licenced vehicle from accessing the Welsh Government’s Electric Taxi Scheme. The scheme gives taxi drivers a month-long trial of an electric vehicle as a part of the Council’s commitment to improving air quality.

Of the 11 Welsh local authorities that have access, uptake in Cardiff has been relatively low. The Council believes that this is because Cardiff is the only local authority in Wales that has a restriction on the number of licences that can be issued.

Similarly, because market access is tied to specific licenced vehicles, the Council is concerned that cabs are being kept in service for more time than they otherwise would be. If true, this would be a drag on modernisation, resulting in a current fleet that is made up of older, less environmentally-friendly cars.

The survey is available online now and will close on March 27