More than 50 taxi drivers turned up at the town hall this week to share their concerns about the licensing authority.
They told councillors that they want a new independent MOT testing station, financial support to upgrade their vehicles if pollution charges come into force and reassurance for drivers who fear for their safety.
Bury Private Hire Driver Association secretary Muhammad Sajjad explained the cabbies’ concerns during public question time at Wednesday’s council meeting.
He said: “Our members provide a fantastic service to the community all year-round. However, from the last five years, taxi drivers keep demanding an independent MOT station and they raise their very serious concerns, but the licensing department completely fail to understand or provide the services to the paying customers.
“In the last five years, drivers paid around £1.9m in the shape of fees and our demand was independent MOT station, better value for our hard-earned money but we haven’t got that. Years and years have gone by and we still have the same demands.”
Hackney carriage and private hire vehicles are tested at an independent MOT testing station run by Bury Council.
The station, which relocated from Bradley Fold Trading Estate to Bolton following a fire earlier this year, carries out taxi compliance tests which exempt the vehicle from holding a MOT certificate.
Council leader David Jones, who previously chaired the licensing committee, told the taxi drivers that by the end of this year the local authority hopes to have a facility back up and running at Bradley Fold.
He said: “I’m familiar with the pressures on your service. Each and everyone of you as a taxi driver in this borough is valued and appreciated.
“The fire at Bradley Fold was an unfortunate accident. We were able to put things in place very, very quickly to reduce the inconvenience to you and your colleagues by travelling to Bolton – it was only a couple of miles.
“Longer-term there’s an issue with the testing station run by the council – and we accept that you’re not comfortable with that. But I’ve said before to you and your colleagues that that ensures minimum standards. Having one testing station and no interest in repairs, means it can truly be considered to be an independent testing station.”
The Conservatives put forward a motion outlining how the licensing authority can better support the borough’s drivers during the meeting.
The proposal included opening an MOT station in Bury by the end of the year, reviewing the process of revoking licenses and ending the “us and them” culture between cabbies and the council.
Licensing chairman Tahir Rafiq moved an amendment on behalf of the ruling Labour group detailing how the council will support taxi drivers.
The amended motion, which was passed unanimously, included the aim to open a new state of the art Bradley Fold workshop by November 2019.
It also commits to improving communication with cabbies and regularly reviewing the processes for the revocation of licences.
He said: “I want to acknowledge the hard work and the risks our Bury taxi drivers take on a daily basis to providing safe, secure and accessible transport. I acknowledge Bury Council, must do all it can to support our hard-working taxi drivers.”
Drivers who attended the meeting also raised concerns about a proposal to introduce a Clean Air Zone which would create a daily fee for taxis and other commercial vehicles on certain routes if they do not meet emission standards.
One member of the National Private Hire Association told councillors that taxi drivers will go out of business if the proposal goes ahead.
Drivers argued that they give the council so much money for license and testing fees that the council should support them financially in making the transition to compliant vehicles.
Greater Manchester had asked for £28m to clean up taxis and private hire vehicles but the government has been accused of failing to fund the proposal.
There are currently 934 private hire vehicles and 61 hackney carriages licensed in the borough.
The cost to licence a taxi for a year in Bury is £279 – this includes the MOT, six-monthly interim test and licence plates.
If a vehicle fails its test, once the vehicle has been repaired it will be presented for a retest.
If three or fewer faults are found in the vehicle, there is no fee for a retest. Retests for vehicles with four to 10 faults costs drivers £25.
But drivers are charged the full fee of £55 if more than 10 faults are found in the vehicle.
Last year, the council received £166,853 for licences and £109,925 was paid to the testing station for compliance checks – a total of £276,778.
A private meeting between the council and trade representatives will take place on September 19.