Apple Taxis could refuse to serve Exeter road trial as fares double and drivers face abuse

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Apple Taxis, Exeter’s largest private hire company, has said it could stop serving a large area of Exeter where controversial road closures have recently been introduced.

Since the scheme was introduced in Heavitree and Whipton on August 3, Apple Taxis general manager Graham Hockey said fares have significantly increased due to longer routes now having to be taken by drivers, who have also endured violence and abuse from some passengers.

Devon County Council has received a huge backlash of criticism following the implementation of a new low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN) scheme in Heavitree and Whipton.

The scheme aims to create a safer and more attractive environment for people walking and cycling. All properties remain accessible by car but motorists, including taxis and private hire vehicles have to take alternative routes,.

Hockey said drivers were now reluctant to take on jobs in the area and that within the next month, the company will decide whether or not it can continue to serve residents in those areas, and if it will cut services completely to the “blacked-out area”.

He said: “We have not been consulted about any schemes and we are the only service that runs 24/7 throughout the city. We only found out about it literally two weeks ago when drivers living in the affected areas brought it to our attention.”

He added: 2Since they have brought in the new gateways in Heavitree and Whipton, the majority of our fares there have doubled, if not tripled for passengers.”

“We are in a very difficult situation. Drivers are refusing to go in the affected areas as it’s adding two to three miles to their journey and since the scheme has come in we have been getting a large amount of customers doing runners when our taxis get to a bollard point.”

“They are saying that as drivers have not taken them to their address they haven’t fulfilled their duty and won’t pay. We have also had violence towards our drivers as they just assume the drivers are being awkward or they don’t want to pay the extra fare. We are piggy in the middle.”

Hockey concluded: “For the safety of our drivers and a lack of access to the area, we are potentially looking at drawing a large area entirely away from the new restrictions and not offering a private hire service to that area. It is not a decision we want to make but if we have no access and drivers are being put at risk, we can’t knowingly carry on the way we are on a daily basis.

“We will be making a decision in the next two to four weeks. We are able to restrict service to an area if it is not feasible or safe. The scheme is said to be good for the environment but it’s forcing more traffic onto two roads that are already excessively busy. It just doesn’t make sense. The city is turning into a sorry state.”

The proposed trial has been put in place using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders (ETROs). ETROs allow change to traffic regulations to be introduced on a temporary basis for up to 18 months so that their impacts can be better understood before deciding whether to make the changes permanent.

A Devon County Council spokesperson said: “Buses, emergency vehicles, local authority service vehicles, such as refuse collection lorries, pedestrians and cycles are permitted to pass through the bus gates within the Heavitree and Whipton Active Streets trial, but taxis and private hire vehicles are not.”

“As the trial has only been in place since August 3, it is too early to make any changes to the scheme. However, in conjunction with Exeter City Council, the licensing authority for Exeter, Devon County Council plans to engage with taxi and private hire operators during the trial in order to receive their feedback on the scheme.”