There will be no taxis left in Oswestry in a couple of years warns one taxi firm.

Drivers from Higgins Taxis, based in the Maesbury Road Industrial Estate, have warned residents that they fear there will be no taxis in service in the town from as early as 2021.

The concerns come after an amendment made to the county’s taxi policy in March this year, in which it states that all Hackney carriages should be wheelchair accessible.

Now owner of the firm, Tim Higgins, and his brother Mark Higgins, are voicing their concerns surrounding the outlay of purchasing such vehicles and have called for councillors to back their request for Shropshire Council to reconsider its updated policy.

Addressing councillors at Oswestry Town Council Markets and Town Centre Committee meeting last week, [del Sep 18] Mark said that the firm was concerned with the cost of having to purchase a new fleet of taxis that met the criteria set by Shropshire Council, and of the extra running costs that come with them.

“The policy for all Hackney vehicles for the whole of Oswestry to be 100 per cent wheelchair accessible, has raised great concern,” Mark said.

“New wheelchair accessible vehicles with modifications can cost around £40,000 and are limited to a range of larger vans or MPVs which will cost more to run.

“The sensible solution would have been to have a mixed fleet.

“What should really concern the council, is that it has been predicted that by April 2021 there will be no taxis in Oswestry.”

And his concerns were echoed by owner Tim who said that having to replace each of his vehicles in order for them to be wheelchair accessible, would not be viable.

“For a number of years we’ve had a wheelchair accessible fleet,” said Tim.

“Our issue has now become that our vehicles are coming to the point where they’re going to need to be replaced because of emission standards and everything else in the council’s policy.

“The message I’d like to relay to Oswestry Town Council now, is that we shall not be replacing our fleet because it is not economically viable.

“And the reason for that is that we are almost in 2020 now and if we were to go out and purchase three wheelchair accessible vehicles, it would be very expensive and a significant outlay.

“The biggest issue for us is that in 2024, Shropshire Council are again going to review the policy.

“So if we had assurances that we would be fine for five years say, we’d consider it. ‘You’d think okay, so in 5 years time we’d have recuperated the cost of that’. It would be a sensible business decision.

“If the council would think about reviewing in 2026 it would give me a realistic time scale, but in 2024 to have that hanging over you is just not viable.”

Shropshire Council’s licensing officer, Mandy Beever, was in attendance at the meeting to clarify taxi regulations and the recent de-zoning of taxi service areas.

She said: “We’ve been asked to come here today to discuss with the committee some complaints that we have received due to lack of wheelchair accessible vehicles in Oswestry.

“We also had requests for taxi zones to be removed and to have one administrative area for Shropshire council.

“The council has now put forward that all Hackney carriages have to be wheelchair accessible.

“There is an option there for all those Hackney carriage drivers to transfer the vehicles that they currently use to private hire vehicles and carry on doing what they’re doing under the private hire regime instead.

“This was all put out within the consultations and brought back to the Strategic Committee for consultation.

“We took on board the financial difficulties that the trade would have and this is why the original proposal that we were to de-zone from April, 1, 2019 was extended to allow a transitional period, to April, 1, 2021.

“We consulted on this from 2018 so it’s been quite a lengthy lead-up already to what’s going to happen in reality and the de-zoning has now gone through the committee process and it has been accepted.

“The final bit now is to report to all councils that it is in place and the decision has been made.

“We’ve done our legal duty for that process and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Councillor Duncan Kerr, also had concerns surrounding the policy review date being in 2024 and called for Oswestry Town Councillors to back him in asking Shropshire Council to extend the period by another two years to prevent turning a ‘difficult situation into a catastrophic one’.

“This is obviously quite a serious, complex and vitally important issue,” cllr Kerr added.

“It does seem like this review in 2024 is tipping what is a difficult situation into a catastrophic situation because the time frame it gives operators is just not long enough for them to recoup the investment they need to make in their fleet.

“So I am asking for the support of the councillors here that we ask Shropshire Council to give a far longer period - to take it through to 2026 perhaps.

“You of your own volition can give some certainty here at a time where we desperately need to attain and build on the services currently being offered.”

The operations manager of another taxi firm in Oswestry, spoke of the difficulties which had arisen from the change in policy but stated that ‘there is nothing you can do about it’.

Rachel Groome, from Jeff and Burgess Taxis based in Oswald Road, said that the changes in the taxis policy has been an ongoing situation.

“This is not the first time they've implemented these changes,” she said.

“Previously we have invested in new vehicles to fit the criteria.

“It's obviously a big investment and drivers might not make a return on their investment as you can't charge any extra for wheelchair users.

“Due to the council’s criteria, you can't really buy second hand and new vehicles are expensive.

“The amount of Hackney taxis in Shropshire has decreased over the last few years due to the changes in regulations, this is the reason most of ours are private hire.

“We even had to get rid of a number of our vehicles as they weren't suitable after changes in the criteria during the last review

“I’d say that soon the general public won't be able to access wheelchair accessible vehicles as easily as there won't be as much availability.

“The outlay is already a lot of money so the review will make it harder for existing business and for potential new drivers

“I understand the emissions given its a global issue, but with regards to other restrictions I think the criteria is hard enough.

“But there's nothing you can do about it I suppose and it will affect all of Shropshire.

“We lost a lot of contracts earlier this year because the vehicles we had didn't meet the criteria and there wasn't enough time to be able to buy new ones.

“It's more cost effective to have to lose work for us then rather than invest tens of thousands of pounds in new vehicles.

“They [Shropshire Council] don't make it easy but there's nothing you can do about it.

“The demand for taxis far outweighs the supply at the moment.”