Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s Clean Air Zone plans are facing an angry backlash from taxi and private hire drivers, with more than 100 drivers staging a two-hour go-slow protest around Bolton on Monday afternoon (pictured).
The Manchester CAZ, which covers 10 boroughs in the metropolitan Greater Manchester area, comes into force on May 30, 2022. Under the scheme, taxi and private hire drivers with older, more polluting vehicles, will have to pay a £7.50 a day charge to enter the zone.
The charges will apply to non-compliant vehicles registered outside Greater Manchester from the day the CAZ starts. But Greater Manchester-registered vehicles will have an extra 12 months in order to update their vehicles, and they will not be charged until May 30, 2023.
Any taxi or PHV that complies with Euro 4 (petrol) or Euro 6 (diesel) emissions standards is exempt. But the charge is likely to hit drivers of black cabs in particular, many of whom drive older diesel TX taxis, the majority of which are Euro 5.
The drivers are also angry that the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is planning to discuss whether commercial organisations, including taxi drivers, should have to purchase a car no older than five years to avoid the controversial CAZ charge.
Taxi trade associations have said that they support the CAZ, , but say the cost of buying new vehicles is a major concern, especially with businesses having been hit hard by the Covis-19 pandemic over the past two years.
Mahmood Akhtar, vice chairman of the Bolton Private Hire Association, said he feared that taxi businesses would be forced to close: “We just can’t afford to purchase the new vehicles. We don’t understand that if we have to sell our current cars to the public, they will still be on the road, so why are we being penalised?”
Greater Manchester authorities have made funding available for drivers to upgrade vehicles, but Akhtar said the funds were not sufficient. “The grants which are being offered are not enough, and we need the rest of the money to help us. We also don’t yet have the infrastructure to support the electric vehicles in the area.”
Nick Astley, owner of Bolton-based Metro Taxis, said: “We want to take a stand and these changes should be postponed, with more help given to the drivers. Otherwise it will have a big impact on customers who rely on us because we will have to increase fares.”
In a statement, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham called on central Government to make more funds available. He said: “We know this is a major challenge for many individuals and businesses which is why we have always been clear with ministers that it must be accompanied by a fair package of financial support. While the Government has provided £120m, we are concerned that they have so far failed to agree to our request for additional support for those who will find it hardest to make the change.”
Greater Manchester was ordered to implement the CAZ as a Government directive following a Supreme Court ruling that the authority had failed to protect people from polluted air. The court ruling said it must be in place by 2024.
The Federation of Small Businesses says it has repeatedly warned the region’s authorities over low levels of awareness among small firms that are often reliant on vans for their work.
FSB estimates there are around 75,000 non-compliant commercial diesel vehicles in Greater Manchester alone, as well as many thousands more from surrounding parts of Lancashire and Cheshire that regularly drive into Greater Manchester.