Taxi fares to rise in Brighton and Hove

East Street taxi rank
East Street taxi rank

Taxi fares look likely to go up in Brighton and Hove if an increase is approved by councillors this week.

The local taxi trade has blamed newcomer Uber for a proposal to put up the minimum cost of hailing a cab from £2.80 to £3.

And fares are expected to rise by 20p a mile from £2.20 to £2.40.

Local firms blamed Uber, saying that it operates private hire vehicles only so is exempt from charging the fares set by Brighton and Hove City Council.

The local taxi trade – in a submission to the council – said that Uber’s use of “surge pricing” when it’s busy or the weather is poor has helped the newcomer to recruit drivers.

Uber can pay more while the local taxi trade is restricted to charging the fares set by the council.

This has made it harder for the local taxi trade to compete on a level playing field, prompting the request for the first fare rise since March 2015.

A report to the council’s Licensing Committee said that local cab companies had “mixed fleets” made up of taxis – also known as hackney carriages – and private hire vehicles.

And because they operated mixed fleets, even private hire drivers stuck to the same tariff as taxi drivers to give passengers a clearer idea of what they could expect to pay.

Since fares last went up more than four years ago local drivers said that they had absorbed higher petrol and diesel prices and that other costs had risen too.

The report to the council’s Licensing Committee also said that Brighton and Hove drivers had to maintain their vehicles to a higher standard than elsewhere.

National league tables for fares suggest that Brighton and Hove is one of the most expensive places in the country to travel by taxi.

Only a couple of dozen councils set higher fares out of 363 councils with responsibility for licensing.

If the fare rises are agreed, Brighton and Hove will be the sixth most expensive for a two-mile trip.

No date has been set for the new fares to take effect if councillors accept the proposals.

The report, quoting the GMB union’s taxi section rep Andy Peters, said: “Uber often raises the cost of its service by three to four times the standard fare – known as ‘surge pricing’.

“It should be emphasised that for many years the whole trade has worked closely with the council to ensure that the trade has a sustainable income to ensure that standards are high.

“Eighteen months ago the BBC carried an experiment by ordering both a Brighton and Hove licensed vehicle from one of the main cab companies and an Uber vehicle (licensed area unknown) to go from Queen’s Road, Brighton, to Sussex University.

“As Uber was not on its surge pricing mode, both fares came out the same at £13.

“While it has been established that Uber is not cheaper than the local companies, the facility to increase the fares by surge pricing on a whim has had the effect of enticing drivers to its platform where they can earn more when it rains and indeed at any other time that Uber considers fit to raise prices.

“For example, during Pride 2018 we were informed that Uber was frequently on surge pricing mode where the local trade were working on the council controlled rate. Surge pricing is of course a commercial decision.

“The Brighton and Hove council-controlled fares used by both the Hackney and private hire trade quite rightly does not allow for such surge pricing.

“However, with the arrival of Uber, the drivers have an incentive to leave the local cab companies that have used the council-controlled charging system for many years to work on the Uber platform that allows for fares to be massively inflated when demand is greater and thus achieve a higher income.

“Maybe one day Uber may have dominance in the city where surge pricing throughout the day is common rather than where we currently are, with the long-established circuits using the council-controlled fares having disappeared though lack of drivers having gone to Uber who rely on such inflated fares due to surge pricing.

“So while the trade has never had any issues at all with Uber as a commercial competitor, it is a paradoxical situation that the system Uber uses to calculate fares via surge pricing has now given further reasons for the local trade to raise fares to compete on a fair basis in order to retain drivers on the local companies.

“Without these drivers the local companies would cease to exist and international companies will take over the city.”

The proposals are due to be discussed by the council’s Licensing Committee at Hove Town Hall next Thursday (27 June). The meeting is scheduled to start at 3pm and should be open to the public.

Uber has been contacted for comment.