Taxi drivers in Leighton Buzzard are fuming that local councillors are pulling rank on them by making them move their base to a new location.
Relocating the taxi rank from the top end of the high street by Pizza Express has been a long-standing aim of the town council, but an alternative site has proved a tricky conundrum for officials.
But now the town council has got the go-ahead from Central Beds Council’s licensing committee to shift drivers to the opposite side of the street on market days to allow a revamped stall layout, associated with the market relaunch in September, to be accommodated.
A mix-up back on relaunch day, meant taxi drivers did not realise they were supposed to move to other side of the road, which the town council has admitted caused “distress” as stalls looked to set up in their new positions.
Since then the rank relocation has been on hold, but following the recent CBC approval, the change will take place imminently and a suggested trial run will no longer happen.
Graeme Macdonald, driver for Burgins, and who has been representing the company in council talks, said they has been “sold up the river” and describe the situation as a “farce”. He said an appeal by drivers had fallen on deaf ears.
He said: “They want to site the market on the taxi rank where we sit day in day out. They put stalls on the rank without telling us at the back end of last summer and it became a heated problem.”
He said the switch to the other side of the road would badly affect the drivers who, picking up passengers from the pavement, would have to park in the opposite direction, meaning a U-turn to leave the High Street.
“People can’t even see you from the across the other side of town with the market stalls standing there,” he said. “We pay to park there. They are taking our livelihoods by doing this. People expect to see us and then we don’t get the trade. They say they will put signs up [to point to the new location] but they won’t. Last time they put up a piece of paper which was rained on and got soggy and was unreadable.
“We will have to turn around with the customer in the car. We will be facing down the high street, the wrong way. If a bus turned up we could be waiting five minutes.”
He said he had argued in the past for taxis to be able to exit through the town centre and out via Bridge Street, but to no avail.
“All the companies are not happy,” he said. “Nobody wants the rank to be moved or taken away. It’s very frustrating as it’s very hard out there. There’s a lot of sitting about [waiting for the next job].”
Mr Macdonald said: “They didn’t trial it. It’s been left that they can do it when they want to. We don’t know a date for it to start.
“They need us in town, what with the buses being less, but they don’t want to do anything for us. There are only four spaces in the rank and this is our only area for us to ply our trade.”
The new rank for market days is only a temporary switch, while the councils looks at other alternative longer term sites, although the authorities have stated that the turning circle by the multi-storey car park is a favoured daytime option, and that an evening rank in Lake Street is preferred.
But Mr Macdonald said that articulated lorries serving four shops rendered the turning circle area unworkable for a rank, adding: “Both are a no-go situation. People have known for 30-40 years there’s a taxi rank and where it is. Two different times of day is daft. We need more space that’s the crux of the matter, we don’t need to be moved. There are 30-40 taxis during the day around town, and this is the only place to ply for trade.”
He said Lake Street by Perfect Parties, or the Church Square end of the town centre near the bus stops were possibilities for extra rank capacity.
A spokesman for Leighton-Linslade Town Council said the suggested trial had not taken place as the council was committed to the new market layout and “it became apparent that a straight forward approach to making a change would be more cost effective and would provide certainty”.
He said CBC officers had visited the high street to assess what signage needed to be altered before the permanent change took place.
“We do not have a confirmation date for that change as yet,” he said. “So to date, taxis have continued to use the current designated taxi rank.
“CBC’s Licencing officer has indicated that CBC is aware the Town Council is concerned with the current provision of taxi ranks in the town. It is their intention to look at all possible locations, including those previously considered, in an effort to find suitable additional spaces.
“At the recent partnership committee both Town and CBC Councillors voiced a clear preference for the option of Lake Street (evening) and Turning Circle (daytime). We anticipate an indication of the timetable for this consultation to be initiated over the next month.”
He said the town council regularly received complaints about taxi driver behaviour, explaining: “There is obviously a demand in the town for taxis because of the numbers we see. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the taxi drivers has proved inconsiderate as numerous complaints are received about blocking the street by hovering on yellow lines and blocking cars in car parking space.
“This does not make our town centre easy or comfortable to access. Buses find it difficult to pass them on Lake Street as they block the roads and so on. The preferred approach is to find an alternative and more appropriate location that enables them to wait as well as provide a designated pick up rank. Any alternative locations will need to acknowledge the difference in day time and night time needs.”
Central Beds Councillor Roy Johnstone (Leighton Buzzard North) also believes the rank needs to be relocated.
“It has to be moved,” he said. “They line up outside the Italian restaurant. It’s very annoying to see the black cabs sitting out there, sometimes as many as 8, 9, 10 of them with diesel engines running pumping out fumes. Once they queue up again they are supposed to switch their engines off but they don’t and there is no enforcement.
“It’s not very nice for outside diners, you don’t want to be sitting inhaling exhaust fumes when we get them better weather.
“I’ve suggested two sites before. Right next door to the multi-storey where permit holders are at the moment who could vacate it and be moved into the multi-storey, or Church Square right at the end of town where the taxis could easily exit onto West Street. It seems quite logical.”
Cllr Johnstone said he was not convinced switching the rank across the High Street was of much benefit, adding: “Moving to the other side by Wilko I don’t know if that achieves much. They will still pump out fumes.
“The taxis don’t want to move as it’s so convenient for them. We have got too many taxis in the town anyway.
“It’s a problem that needs addressing, it’s been raised more times than I want to think about over the years but nothing ever gets done.”