Tony Kenmuir at the Edinburgh meeting.
© John Yellowlees, 2013
Central Taxis was founded as a co-operative in 1968 by only 30 drivers and a few people to answering the phones out of a wee shop: it is now the largest taxi firm in Edinburgh with 400 local men and women operating 445 taxis using the same model as 1968, with owners paying a weekly amount into the company to pay for administration and the control centre operations.
It is estimated that 10,000 people work directly in transportation in Edinburgh, and 5,000 of these in the taxi and private hire car industry. With nearly 1300 drivers at Central, this equates to 12-13% of all people in transportation in Edinburgh working for Central. Central handles approximately 40,000 jobs a week - so approximately 2.25 million jobs per year; this is "radio bookings" only so does not include "rank and hails", taking the total to an estimated 4M jobs / year, which would take the total passengers carried to 5.5M - 6M passengers / year. The turnover this represents could be up to £45M a year, making Central the 12th largest company in Edinburgh.
A big issue for taxis, unlike other forms of transport, is that they are still managed by licensing - like pubs or food outlets, not transport systems. It has proved very difficult to get the City to take a holistic view.
James Cooper, a well-renown taxi theory expert, has called the taxi trade a "petulant child", as it is constantly taken for granted whilst constantly seeking attention. He has also described Edinburgh's overall taxi service as the finest in the Globe! However, the trade doesn't have a voice, despite being as economically and socially important as other public transport.
Taxis started in ancient Rome where chariots could be hired for journeys using a taxi metre. But some of the legislation and planning requirements are also ancient, such as the 25ft turning circle required for UK cabs, based on the available turning space at the entrance if the Savoy Hotel in London. In addition, a George Sawyers was incarcerated for 3 days in February 1885 for "congregating" (or "over-ranking"), something that still happens today.
Part of the problem might be the way taxi demand is calculated, using a survey of fixed locations / ranks at certain times - which doesn't take into account ranks being in the wrong place, or too short to meet demand. Take Haymarket Station, which used to accommodate 14 taxis: since redevelopment for the tram, it now only holds 3. Surveyors now are likely to have to wait a long time for taxis, and therefore could conclude there is more demand than capacity - but there could be many more taxis available, just not on the rank.
There are lots of examples of outdated planning, such as stances designated to hold 3 taxis, when modern vehicles are long and no longer fit. There are also bus stops which are marked as taxi ranks (or is it vice versa?), or ranks with "no stopping except buses" signs.
Central Taxis fleet has an average age of 3.5 years, the youngest in the UK, and is 100% wheelchair accessible. Edinburgh also has the most rigorous testing and licensing. The firm also undertakes more than "taxi-ing" - such as weddings, shuttle buses, city tours and insurance. They are also the first carbon neutral cab firm in the UK - with technology continuing to be developed by taxi manufacturers.
Taxi's are a serious part of the public transport system and should be given more recognition for this.
Report by Keith Evans. Photograph by John Yellowlees.
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