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Chris Marshall: Are black cabs fare game as city's taxi war

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Chris Marshall: Are black cabs fare game as city's taxi war

Post by Admin on Mon 1 Mar 2010 - 6:51

Chris Marshall: Are black cabs fare game as city's taxi war accelerates?
By Chris Marshall
UP UNTIL last year, the fractious relationship between the Capital's black cab trade and its private hire firms had gone relatively unnoticed by the public.
But all that changed when the city's licensing chiefs allowed one of the largest minicab operators to set its own tariffs, potentially undercutting its hackney rivals by up to 30 per cent. The black cab trade cried foul, claiming the move would cause confusion in the minds of passengers and open the tariff system up to a multitude of different charges.

Meanwhile, new regulations requiring private hire cars to carry logos to help tackle bogus minicab drivers gave them a higher profile than ever before on the city's streets.

Depending on who you speak to, the private hire trade is either an imminent threat to the city's black cabs or no threat at all.

What is clear, however, is that Edinburgh City Private Hire – the company which successfully petitioned the council to be able to lower its tariff – has rattled some cages.

Adverts taken out in the Evening News last week showed customers how much cheaper the company claimed to offer a journey between the City Chambers and Corstorphine, when compared to black cab firms City Cabs and Central Taxis.

It was the sort of tactic which helped launch Ryanair and then upset the establishment of the airline industry.

But the hackney trade maintains these sort of "tricks" are having little impact, with customers seeing little benefit.

One taxi source, who chooses not to be named, says the black cab trade is far from running scared and adds that passengers are yet to vote with their feet.

He says: "Edinburgh City Private Hire is trying all these tricks, but in fact the reduction is 'up to' 30 per cent. Our corporate customers are not rushing off to private hire.

"The bottom line is all that matters for these companies at the moment. If the private hire firms were really that much cheaper, then our corporate clients would be flocking to them, but they're not.

"I don't see the private hire trade as being a huge, all-encompassing threat. Certainly, there are issues there, but that's it."

One corporate client who is said to have begun using private hire firms, only to go back to black cabs, is the Bank of Scotland.

Raymond Davidson, secretary of the Edinburgh Taxi Association, says the state of the economy is more of a worry to most cabbies than private hire firms.

"I don't think the black cab trade is under as much pressure from the private hire cars as people make out," he says.

"I don't care what anyone says, we're still in the midst of a recession. Before, when everybody was working, they were just jumping in and out of cabs. Things are beginning to pick up, but it's not what it was."

He adds: "I don't think there's as much animosity between the black cab trade and the private hire companies as is sometimes portrayed. The private hire guys might be a bit better organised with their marketing now – they're slick marketers – but they're not taking that much business from us. We've got the ranks and we can pick up in the street – they can't do that."

What all this means is that anyone travelling by taxi in Edinburgh can potentially get a better deal than they could this time last year.

The city's complicated fare structure, which sets the tariff for the Capital's taxis, is expected to be changed again in the coming months, pushing cab fares higher and allowing some private hire firms an even clearer advantage.

The council's refusal to issue any more hackney licences has also led to more drivers seeking private hire plates. Now, two of the city's largest black cab firms – City Cabs and Central Taxis – are in early discussions about a potential merger amid suggestions they are aiming to counteract the threat of the minicab firms, although talk of combining operations is said to have existed for years.

Kevin Woodburn, a director of Edinburgh City Private Hire and the chairman of the Edinburgh Private Hire Association, says that, despite what the black cab firms say publicly, his firm is making an impact.

"Since we introduced the lower tariff, we've seen an increase in our customer base – of that there is no doubt. A lot of people are beginning to understand we're cheaper than using a hackney and provide as good, if not a better, service.

"We're attracting more work than we were previously but, at the end of the day, the public will decide."

Of course, like so many other aspects of life in the Capital at the moment, the effects of the tram works loom large over the taxi trade.

Like Lothian Buses, the city's cabs have been hit by the effects of increased congestion which has led many to change their travel habits.

It's fair to say that Edinburgh's transport system is in a major state of flux at the moment.

But it's also clear that the city's cabbies will have a fairly major role to play in it for many years to come.

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