By Rory Reynolds
A PRIVATE hire cab boss has blasted what he calls a ‘cartel’ of black cab firms after they blocked his cars from offering discounts.
Edinburgh City Private Hire – the largest private operator in the capital – is unable to go ahead with its planned 30 per cent price cut after black cab firms Central Taxis and City Cabs persuaded the Edinburgh City Council put off the decision – citing unfair competition.
The firm’s boss, Kevin Woodburn, said the move by its rivals had “made it impossible” to slash their prices.
He said: “All we want to do is have a sliding scale to help people to live further out of the city.“But the black cabs in this city have a cartel situation – and they’re trying to preserve their monopoly.
“They told the council this is ‘unfair competition’ – but that’s ridiculous.
“This is having a detrimental effect on our business.
“It’s like saying Tesco can’t change their prices to compete with Sainsbury’s.
“The public can decide which fare they want to go with – all were asking for is fair treatment.”
Woodburn’s firm have taken out adverts in several newspapers – blasting the council for tying their hands.
But the black cab firms said the move was open to abuse, allowing individual private cab drivers to vary their prices as they wished.
Bill Purnell, chairman of Central Taxis, insisted that Edinburgh’s black cab firms had no problem with private hire firms cutting prices – but said the change in fares was open to abuse.
He said: “We are not objecting to discounted fares – what we are concerned about is altering the meter fare.
“Customers are used to meters and they trust them, but if these changes are brought in it will allow different fares to be set on meters by different private hire drivers – so you could have 400 different fares.
“That could lead to confusion and so there would be less trust in the metres.
“My concern is that people on a Friday night or Saturday night who get charged different fares could become agitated.”
The private hire firm’s prices will be fixed until the Hire Car Consultation Group meets to discuss the issue later this year.
Bill Purnell chairman of Central Taxis, insisted that Edinburgh’s black cab firms had no problem with private hire firms cutting prices – but said the change in fares was open to abuse.
He said: “Our main objection is to the meters being altered.
“We don’t have a problem with customers getting a discount.
“The potential is there for customers – whether visitors or residents – to be charged completely different rates for the same journey.
“It also confuses the customers and they don’t know what the standard fare is.
“You don’t have to a meter to run a taxi cab – but if you do it must be fixed.
“Every city in Britain operates the same policy where rates are fixed by the council
“Black cab drivers have a knowledge of the city, whereas many private hire drivers use TomToms.
“Your discount could go quite quickly if your driver doesn’t know the route.”
When asked what he thought of Kevin Woodburn’s allegations that the Edinburgh’s black cabs work as a cartel, he said: “That’s stupid – for Kevin Woodburn to say we are a cartel is absolute nonsense.
“There are three main black taxi companies in Edinburgh and over 400 independently run cabs.
“And we don’t fix fares – the council does.”
A City of Edinburgh Council spokesman said: “Any changes to private hire car licence conditions would need to be discussed at the next Hire Car Consultation Group, which will be meeting next month.”
City of Edinburgh Council said the claims were nonsense.
Councillor Colin Keir, who chairs the regulatory committee, condemned the claims: “I’m shocked that this company has said it can’t offer discounts.
“Private hire companies can agree any price they like as long as it not higher than the standard tariff.
“It is complete misinformation to say that our committee decision on Friday prevents them from doing that.”
He added: “Private hire companies are not obliged to have meters but many choose to do so and we encourage that.
“However, all taxis must have them. So, if we’re going to have a change in meter rates that will affect taxi users, it’s only right that we do that properly.
“The public should be able to expect consistency and transparency in metered rates, else there is the potential for confusion at best and unfair charging at worst.
“We did actually agree with this proposal in principle, but we have to make decisions on meter rates openly and fairly.
“One of the other reasons for consulting on this is that we need to find the best way of making sure it’s clear to the public when they are paying a standard or discounted fare.”