THE number of private hire cars in the Capital has more than doubled in the past year and they now outnumber taxis for the first time.
There are now around 1800 private hire vehicles compared to just over 1300 taxis – and one drivers’ representative predicted the number could reach 2000 by the end of the year.
The surge was highlighted as councillors agreed the limit on the number of black cabs in Edinburgh should be maintained at its current level.
A survey of taxi provision which the council carries out every three years concluded there was no “significant unmet demand” in the city.
But it did find passengers are having to wait slightly longer at taxi ranks and almost 11 per cent of those surveyed had given up trying to get a taxi at a rank or in the street.
It was also reported that taxi companies were finding it difficult to fill night driver shifts.
Taxi leaders welcomed the decision to retain the limit on black cabs at 1316, and said it would have been “disastrous” to do otherwise.
Meanwhile, at least two taxi companies are set to create their own private hire fleet. Central Taxis and City Cabs both plan to operate saloon cars, which can only be pre-booked, along side their traditional black cabs.
And the council will soon get powers to fix limits for private hire vehicles as well as taxis.
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Mark Greenhalgh, chairman of the Edinburgh Private Hire Drivers Association, said private hire numbers had soared because of increased demand.
He said: “In every city where there is a cap on the number of Hackney cabs, private hire are seen to grow and take up the latent demand.
“Edinburgh is an expanding city – businesses are growing and the general population is growing – and demand increases with it.
“Private hire are no longer playing second fiddle to the taxi trade.”
He acknowledged the arrival of companies like Uber had also contributed to the surge in private hire.
“Uber has made it easy for someone with no knowledge of the city to drive a hire car here. They don’t require drivers to pass any knowledge test, but the public don’t really care because they’ve all got satnav and that’s all you need.”
The council survey found 20 per cent of taxi trips were now booked online via an app, with 35 per cent by phone while 25 per cent got their taxi at a rank and 20 per cent flagged one down.
Mr Greenhalgh said: “There are plenty taxis to cover the ranks – and that’s what Hackney cabs were originally for, covering ranks, picking up in the street and serving transport hubs like railway stations, but they have extended their trade to taking pre-booked jobs.”
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But he said he would like to see the council cap the number of private hire vehicles as well as taxis.
“There is plenty of capacity within the private hire trade, some drivers are waiting a long time between jobs.”
Tony Kenmuir, of Central Taxis, said it made sense to limit taxi numbers.
“Having an unlimited number would mean you potentially had the city stiff with taxis which were not needed and a lot of congestion and increased emissions.
“We are open to increasing the numbers in a measured way if required. But the number of private hire cars had increased dramatically, Uber has entered the space and the tram has met with a level of success, so one way or another we in the taxi trade are finding it has been a difficult year so far.
“We support the council decision. Increasing the number of taxis in the city would have been a disaster.
“Some drivers in Edinburgh are finding it difficult to sustain.”
And he said the taxi trade had been affected by the growth in private hire.
“What happened was about a year past in November, Uber launched into the Edinburgh market. Within a matter of weeks the council decided to drop the price of a private hire licence from £1500 to £500. Together that created massive growth in private hire and that has had a certain amount of effect on the taxi trade.”
But despite the rise of Uber and the growth of private hire, he takes a positive view of the future.
“This is a really interesting time for the taxi trade and I believe there is cause for optimism.
“If you look at who is investing in Uber and other apps like Lyft or Gett, it’s mostly car manufacturers. They are predicting over the next 10 to 20 years a shift away from private car ownership and more and more transport on demand.
“Our trade is going through some changes with technology offering new ways to book and pay for journeys, but people still need someone to pick them up at A and take them to B.”
Central Taxis have six private hire vehicles so far – all electric – but that number is set to grow.
Mr Kenmuir said the move was sparked by the company securing the Taxicard contract from the council to provide door-to-door transport for disabled people, many of whom had trouble getting into a taxi.
But he said: “There is a recognition that what we are is a transport company and we are in the business of moving people around and we need to offer customers what they want.”
And he said despite the growth in private hire it looked as if that was now slowing.
“In the first half of this year business was down a few percent, but that has recovered almost to where we were the last few years.”
The council’s regulatory committee agreed yesterday the limit on taxi numbers should remain unchanged and that will now be the subject of public consultation for a month.
The committee was told the number of private hire vehicles could not be taken into account when deciding on taxi numbers, although some believe privately that the large increase in private hire cars suggested the taxi cap is too low.
And it was pointed out Edinburgh had been unusual among major UK cities up to now in having more taxis than private hire cars. In several English cities private hire outnumbered taxis by about three to one, while in Leeds it is seven to one.