Hackney cabs in Chesterfield are set to temporarily be allowed to use bus lanes in the town – despite objections from bus and private hire firms.
Plans for taxis to use the town’s bus lanes were originally put forward in October last year.
Despite objections from Chesterfield’s leading bus operator – which said that congestion in the town is at its worst in 20 years – and private hire firms, who feel unfairly sidelined, the county council is set to move forward with the plans.
However, these will only temporarily be given the green light so as to test the scheme out for 18 months.
A Derbyshire County Council highways meeting on Thursday, April 26, is set to see the scheme pushed ahead, on a recommendation by the authority’s officers.
These officers say that they have “not taken the decision lightly” and are “sympathetic to the concerns” put forward by private hire firms.
There are currently 150 Hackney carriages operating in Chesterfield, and 440 private hire taxis, with the majority of buses operated by Stagecoach.
The difference between Hackney cabs and private taxis is largely appearance, but also includes how passengers access the service.
In Chesterfield, Hackney cabs are distinguishable from other taxis due to requirements from the borough council which state that the vehicle must be black with a white hood and boot – a difference which the town’s police support and agree helps enforcement.
Hackney cabs typically wait at certain locations such as bus and train stations to take passengers to their destination, meanwhile, passengers will ring private firms directly to come and pick them up.
In the centre of Chesterfield, there are six “bus only” facilities which include bus lanes and bus-only streets which also permit cyclists.
These routes are Rose Hill/Knifesmithgate, Beetwell Street, Church Way, Holywell Street, Park Road, and Brimington Road.
The work to make the changes, allowing Hackney cabs to use the town’s bus lanes, forms part of the approved county council Local Transport Plan 2016-17 capital programme of works – costing approximately £60,000.
In a report written for councillors, council officers wrote: “Due to the relatively small number of licensed Hackney taxis in Chesterfield, officers felt that this number, if supported by an enforcement presence, would not adversely affect the operational needs of the bus companies and more importantly compromise road safety on those streets for more vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians.
“Having an additional 400 plus private hire vehicles using these limited facilities would clearly have an operational effect on the current bus services and to be open to further abuse by members of the public thinking that normal vehicles are permitted into these bus facilities. “Having only Hackney taxis permitted in the lanes makes them more enforceable due to the make and style of these vehicles.”
Council officers said that they appreciated the concerns of private firms, which felt that if Hackney cabs are given priority to use this route, this could lead to more passengers choosing that service over their own.
The private firms feel that the bus lane usage for Hackney cabs would lead to quicker journey times for passengers, making it an easy choice for punters to choose the service.
However, officers say that due to the majority of taxi union representatives which supported the plans, they felt compelled to stick with their proposals.
Council officers also stated that they “accept the concerns” of bus operators but that “pedestrian improvements planned at the top of Church Way junction with Burlington Street this financial year will alleviate some of their concerns”, which will be supported by another consultation.
In other council areas there are differing rules on whether Hackney or private taxis are allowed to use bus lanes.
Derby City Council only allows Hackney taxis, Nottingham City Council only allows wheelchair-accessible Hackney taxis and Sheffield City Council allows both Hackney and private hire.