FRUSTRATED taxi drivers have accused Castle Point Council of damaging their trade and have launched a petition.

A large portion of hackney carriage drivers in the Castle Point area claim private hire taxis are taking their business, mostly due to the fact they are no longer required to take a local knowledge test before being issued with a license from the council.

The Castle Point website states all hackney carriage and private hire taxis are required to take a local knowledge test to be issued with a license.

However, it has since come to light that two years ago, following a council meeting, a local knowledge test is no longer a requirement.

Dave Wood, a Castle Point taxi driver of 30 years, feels not only are they losing trade because of the number of private hire taxis now working the same circuit, but their lack of local knowledge is reflecting badly on independent hackney carriage drivers like Dave.

The 55-year-old said: “We are independent hackney carriage drivers who work through ABC or Steve’s Radio Cars but we also do pick ups from the station.

“The circuit is now flooded by private hire taxis who also go through ABC and Steve’s to the point we are now getting [fewer] jobs because of it.

“A load of us started doing more station pick ups to get more work, but then private hires were turning up too.

“The fact they are able to get their licenses issued so easily is causing a problem.

“Without a local knowledge test, most of them don’t even know where they’re going, they all use SatNavs. We have started getting public complaints and even customers getting in our cabs and asking ‘do you know where you’re going?’

“We all feel so aggrieved by it all - we have all had to take knowledge tests.”

A petition launched by Dave was rejected on the grounds that no complaints had ever been made since the new regulations came into play two years ago - despite a petition of 94 signatures - and because their was no support from members of the public.

Dave and around 15 of his colleagues headed to the council offices yesterday to demand a right to appeal and get some answers to be told no one was available.

He added: “It’s always been difficult for us drivers to stand together on something - this is probably the first time we have. The feeling is so strong out there because of how we are suffering financially.

“During the last year and a half that this has been going on for I have noticed a decline in my earnings by around 20 to 30 per cent.”

Steve Flint, 59, from Canvey, has been a driver for 24 years in Castle Point.

He claims not a week goes by without a customer complaining about the lack of local knowledge the private hire drivers have.

He said: “I’m not just speaking up for us drivers, but for the general public, and I think that’s the point the council are missing.

“I took my knowledge test to get my license and it took my three months to learn it all before I sat the test.

“A lot of these private hire drivers are breaking the rules by overcharging customers because they have driven the wrong way or taken the longer route, and not a week goes by where I don’t have a customer say that that has happened to them.

“The council says we should respect and treat the general public with honesty and not overcharge, but some of these private hires are not doing that, therefore, they are breaking the rules and the council are contradicting themselves.”

Craig Watts, head of communities at Castle Point Council, said: “The council decision to withdraw the knowledge test was made over two years ago.

"The decision has been subject to examination by the local government ombudsman and no defect has been found in the council’s decision to withdraw the requirement for a knowledge test on first application for a private hire driver’s licence.

“Private hire is a pre-booked service and drivers have the ability to check routes beforehand and given the use of Sat-Nav and other technologies, the requirement for a knowledge test is no longer a key requirement to be satisfied before a licence is issued.

“Since the council made the decision over two years ago, no complaints have been received by the council, the licensing authority from the hirers, and the travelling public.”