North Devon taxi company appeals for help with driver shortage

North Devon Gazette

A desperate North Devon taxi company is attempting to get help from the council which it says has left it ‘neglected and unsupported’ through the pandemic.Â

Mohammed Zakaria, owner of Barnstaple based A1 Taxi Service, says covid has pushed his business to ‘breaking point,’ with many drivers leaving the trade because of lack of business during lockdown, reducing his workforce to a third of what it was before the pandemic.Â

A1 Taxi Service has 12 drivers but says it needs at least 31 to meet demand. “We have a lion’s share of the private hire market in this area,” said Mr Zakaria, “but if we don’t have vehicles, we’re unable to keep up with demand to take people home safely.”Â

Mr Zakaria says demand for taxis has rocketed since the easing of restrictions and that the lack of available cars was encouraging people to loiter in the evening, creating a public safety risk and undermining the image of North Devon and Barnstaple. He also says the driver shortage has meant his company is struggling to serve some older and more vulnerable clients who regularly depend on its services.

In a letter to the North Devon District Council’s (NDDC) licensing and community safety committee, Mr Zakaria asked the council to introduce measures to make it easier to employ new drivers. Â

He argues that the process of applying for a taxi driving licence in the district needs to be made ‘considerably more efficient’ by allowing temporary taxi licences after DBS and medical checks are complete. Mr Zakaria wants the council to let drivers complete the remaining components required for a permanent licence over the course of a year.Â

The A1 Taxi owner wants the cost of becoming a licensed taxi driver reduced, as has happened in Torbay. In July the council there reduced its licence fee from around £600 to £50 for the first 50 people who applied for new licences after it was announced the Bay was 50 taxi drivers short.Â

The cost of getting a license in North Devon is £228 for a one-year licence or £401 for a three-year licence. Fees paid for unsuccessful applications are not refunded.Â

Members of the NDDC licensing and community safety committee will meet at the Brynsworthy Environment Centre on Tuesday, October 12, to discuss the issue.