Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Sunday, 29 March 2009 11:39 UK

Cab dispute threatens golf event

By Mark Hannaby
BBC News

Taxis drivers hold up protest signs
The taxi drivers have already held protests about the plans

Major events including the 2010 Ryder Cup golf tournament are threatened with disruption due to a dispute between Newport's taxi drivers and its council.

Newport Hackney Drivers Association says new age restrictions on taxis will force up to 60% of the city's taxi drivers out of business.

Newport City Council says the new rules are to improve public safety.

But the drivers have said it is an attempt to spruce up the city's image in readiness for the Ryder Cup.

Newport council has ruled that private-hire saloons should be no older than eight years, and converted Hackney carriages no older than 10 years, from 1 August 2010.

The drivers are more opposed to the timing of the change than to the notion of age restrictions as such.

They say that during a recession they can't afford upwards of £14,000 per taxi to replace their vehicles.


The taxi drivers say their livelihoods are more important than the golf tournament

Independent Newport taxi driver Graham Hubbard said: "How drivers that are married, bringing up children, paying a mortgage (are supposed) to pay for a new car? it's just impossible. If you do your sums, its just impossible."

Regular strikes are being planned to try to force the council to change its position.

Newport's taxi drivers have already held a strike - on the night of the Six Nations final.

And now there are plans to stage slow driving protests on the M4 to disrupt major events up to and including the Ryder Cup.

The Chairman of Newport Hackney Drivers Association, Lionel Morris, told BBC Wales' The Politics Show: "(With) these 'go slow' demonstrations on busy days like Saturdays, if there were to be something going on at the Millennium Stadium, then it will be chaos on the road.

"We will be willing to disrupt the Ryder Cup as much as we can because we would want the UK people to realise, at the end of the day, its more important for our livelihood and for people to stay in work rather than a few days of golfing in Newport."

Lionel Morris
Lionel Morris said 'Go Slow' demonstrations would be held

The taxi drivers have a letter dated 10 October 2008 from Newport council's environmental health manager (acting) which they argue shows that the Ryder Cup was a factor in the council's decision to bring in the age limits.

The letter states that though the new age limits are "primarily to protect the safety of the travelling public... such policy conditions would also help to enhance and improve the quality of licensed vehicles in the city, especially in view of the forthcoming Ryder Cup and the world wide profile and media coverage that the city of Newport will receive."

Newport council declined a request for an interview with the programme.

In a statement Councillor David Fouweather, cabinet member for community safety and environment, said: "There was extensive consultation with drivers and Newport residents on this issue which we extended at the request of the drivers to ensure they had their say.

"The decision was made to improve public safety and any suggestion that this has been done solely for visitors during the Ryder Cup next year is absurd.

"This policy now brings us to line with those that are already in place at other south Wales authorities."

'Takings down'

Newport council has also argued vehicle inspections by its licensing officers vindicate the new age limits.

It claims 174 vehicles were inspected in the last year and 80 were found to be unsafe.

Newport East MP Jessica Morden says she sympathises with the taxi drivers.

She says their takings are already down around 20% in the current recession and its very difficult for many of them to get credit to buy new vehicles.

Ms Morden said: "I hope there can be a resolution because I think the taxi drivers would like to sit down regularly with the council to talk about these kind of issues which doesn't seem to have been the case up to now. "

With the council having now taken the decision to make the changes, there's no obvious mechanism to resolve the dispute.

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