Councillors have been accused of creating a “false economy” for cabbies as taxis being brought into the Capital for the first time will be able to meet less strict emission standards than touted - due to a lack of affordable second hand vehicles on the market.
Under a rule change agreed by the city council’s regulatory committee, taxis being licensed in Edinburgh for the first time, which were expected to meet high Euro 6 standards by April 2020, will now only have to meet more pollutant Euro 5 rules. Current licensed taxis must be upgraded to Euro 6 standards by March 2023.
The city council’s regulatory committee agreed to relax the rules after granting around 150 exemptions since the rules were introduced in October 2018. Licensing officials said that around half of the requests for exemptions, which are heard behind closed doors, have been approved by councillors – including some for Euro 2 standards.
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Cabbies will now be able to buy Euro 5 vehicles to use in the Capital. Licensing bosses hope that eventually, cheaper second hand Euro 6 taxis will be available.
Regulatory services manager Andrew Mitchell told councillors that relaxing the grace period would give the taxi trade “some breathing space”.
He added: “Committee have allowed Euro 2, 3 and 4 vehicles to operate beyond the deadline.
“On reflection, I think some relief for the second hand market maybe proportionate. At present, buying a Euro 6 at second hand is just not an option.”
Earlier, councillors heard from solicitor Jonny Nisbet, speaking on behalf of the taxi trade, who warned that cabbies were left with the option that “either you find an exemption or you find a brand new vehicle”.
Last week, the council’s transport and environment committee pressed ahead with draft proposals for a low emission zone (LEZ). Under the plans, taxis would have until the end of 2021 to meet Euro 6 standards in order to enter the city centre.
Vice-convener of the transport and environment committee, Cllr Karen Doran, said: “I don’t know how can we make an argument that it’s financially viable for someone who can’t afford a Euro 6 now to buy a Euro 5 and then a year later buy a Euro 6.
“I don’t actually understand how this policy is going to work or how it’s going to help taxi drivers in any way.”
More than 500 taxis have already been upgraded to meet the new conditions.
Cllr Steve Burgess said: “My concern is what that does in terms of incentivising a move in the taxi fleet to less polluting vehicles.
“I need to be reassured that by relaxing a policy like this, we are not deincentivising a move to a cleaner fleet.”
Cllr Hal Osler warned that the council was risking making the situation even worse for taxi drivers and creating a “false economy”.
She said: “I cannot see in any way, shape or form, these prices reducing and suddenly there being a flood in the market. People will know that people will desperately want these vehicles. I’m really concerned that we are actually facilitating this.
“I do have an enormous amount of sympathy for the industry and I don’t want to make the situation even worse. It will become impossible to seek those number of vehicles that they require.”
But SNP and Conservative councillors voted in favour of relaxing the rules.
Regulatory convener, Cllr Cathy Fullerton, said: “We do recognise the cost of replacing taxis and private hire cars with brand new Euro 6 models and this minor change will allow operators more flexibility to make the change to clean, efficient vehicles whilst maintaining the original timetable.”