New rules for taxis in North Somerset could push people into debt, drivers have warned.

The draft of the council’s new hackney carriage and private hire policy proposes introducing a “terminal limit” to ban cars that are more than ten years old from being used as taxis, and to refuse to grant taxi licences to cars that have been an insurance loss for any reason.

Current rules also allow a car to become a taxi as long as it is less than eight years old, but the new rules will mean a car can only be up to five years old when it is first licensed as a taxi. Vehicles will also need to meet the Euro 6 emissions standard.

The policy covers other private hire vehicles such as executive travel as well as “town taxis.” It is set to go before North Somerset Council’s licensing committee on Tuesday October 31, and would come into effect from the start of 2024 if approved by full council.

The proposed changes are intended to help address the climate emergency.  But chauffeurs and taxi drivers have slammed the “unrealistic” standards, and warned that the council will be “killing off businesses.”

Submitting comments during a public consultation on the plans, one driver said: “This draft will cause either extreme financial hardship or even force closure of our company and others, due to unrealistic policies, resulting in numerous people becoming unemployed.”

The current rules, which allow a car written off for an insurance loss under category S or N can still be licensed as a taxi if repaired and deemed safe, are set to the dropped under the new policy. But the driver said that a category N insurance loss could be “something as small as a small dent in a rear wing.” They warned: “People cannot afford to replace their vehicle for something minor like this, you would be forcing people out of work and into debt.

“People and companies are only just starting to recover from the losses incurred, and this draft policy would cause further financial hardship, potentially killing off businesses and many self-employed individuals who simply cannot afford to buy newer! That coupled with the cost of living, it is not appropriate to bring rules and policies such as these into action at this time.”

One taxi driver with a vehicle that had previously been a category S insurance loss said he had worked hard to bring it up to standard. He said: “Altogether I have invested over £20,000 in purchasing this vehicle and getting it up to scratch to be able to be used as a private hire vehicle on the current rules, knowing over the next three to four years I would be able to claw back the money that has been invested in this purchase.

“From what I can read, if this rule comes into effect, my vehicle is going to be useless to me within the next 6 months.”

Other drivers warned that the difference between buying a seven year old vehicle and buying one made less than five years ago is “a big jump” and could set drivers back more than £10,000 more. One private hire driver said: “My vehicle was seven years old when I bought it, but only had 29,000 miles on and in immaculate condition. It came with full Jaguar service history and only 2 owners. I appreciate not everyone is in the same boat, so I think it would be unfair to tarnish everyone with the same brush.

“My vehicle at the moment is in excellent condition, because I maintain and service it meticulously. So, I am hoping when the ten years comes round, the vehicle should breeze through any test or inspection you throw at it.”

If the proposed new rules are adopted, a car will no longer be re-licensed as private hire once it hits that age. The driver added that, with the introduction of a requirement for vehicles to meet Euro 6 standards, the policy will “weed out” older vehicles anyway.

At their meeting on October 31, North Somerset Council’s licensing committee will consider dropping the proposal to reduce the age limit of new vehicles to five years old and dropping the plan to stop licensing vehicles older than ten years. The committee will also consider whether vehicles with a category S or N insurance loss should be refused re-licensing as taxis, or just refused a first licence if not previously used as a taxi.

The final version of the policy will go before a full session of North Somerset Council for adoption, and is intended to come into effect from January 1, 2024.