Local taxi operators brand Newcastle CAZ as unfair as private cars get a free pass

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Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s new Clean Air Zone went live on January 30, but local taxi and private hire operators are angry at the way private cars are given priority treatment over licensed vehicles.

Under the scheme, non-compliant taxis or PHVs – vehicles that don’t meet Euro 4 petrol or Euro 6 diesel emissions standards – have to pay £12.50 per day to enter the city centre zone. A £50 seven-day pass was also available to lower costs for taxis. But private cars are exempt, regardless of emissions standards.

Ian Shanks, managing director of Blueline, one of the city’s biggest private hire fleets, described the situation as “madness”. He said: “Regardless of age, a car can be decommissioned as a taxi and sold to a member of the public. They can then go and chug through the same town free of charge, likely carrying fewer people, so not saving additional trips, unlike a taxi. But as a taxi it faces a £12.50 per day charge.” How is that correct?”

David Lawrie, director of the National Private Hire and Taxi Association, said the rules would also see taxi drivers having to pay the charge when they were not working, if they used their licensed vehicle to travel into the city centre. He told the BBC: “The fact remains it’s a licensed vehicle and the purpose of its use is irrelevant.”

Newcastle City Council denied the daily charges were a money-raising scheme, and said financial support was available for affected drivers and business owners. But drivers have complained that applications for financial support are taking months to process.

Both Newcastle and Gateshead councils acknowledged there had been high demand for the grants, with more than 1,300 applications. The councils said these were being processed “as quickly as possible” and any applicant who had not received a response would be given a temporary 120-day exemption from any CAZ charges.

Shanks criticised the grants, saying they were only geared up to supplying new cars, rather than helping drivers with non-compliant cars upgrade to a slightly newer compliant car – for example, trading a Euro 5 diesel for a petrol-electric hybrid of a similar age and value.

He said: “The council only allows you to do any deal through a motor dealer. You can’t go private, nor can you go through auction. So the motor dealer knows you plight, and is asking top dollar for his car, while offering you bottom dollar for your trade in.”

He also said the trade-in value will be valued for the purpose of the grant at the price the driver paid for the car, not what it is worth today.

So for a 10-year-old car originally bought for £15,000 being traded against a new car worth £20,000, the amount of grant will be valued at the £5,000 difference, “not the £19,000 difference you have to pay due to the non-compliant car only being worth a grand”, he said.

Clean Air Zone will cover most of the Newcastle city centre, including the Tyne, Swing, High Level and Redheugh bridges. Charges for taxis are now live, while charging for non-compliant vans will start in July 2023.

“Private cars, motorcycles, mopeds, newer vehicles and those with zero emissions will not be charged,” said the council in a statement, adding the Category C CAZ was being brought in following a legal order issued by government to reduce “illegal levels of air pollution caused by traffic in certain areas”.