More funding requested for wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles

Senior officials at Portsmouth City Council have written to Government to request that more funding is made available to help drivers of wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles upgrade their vehicles ahead of the launch of Portsmouth Clean Air Zone (CAZ).

Portsmouth City Council submitted a full business case for the CAZ in December 2020. As part of this, the council requested £15,000 per WAV to help all drivers of these affected vehicles to upgrade their vehicles with cleaner, greener ones. Unfortunately only £4,000 for WAVs was provided to the council by the government’s Joint Air Quality Unit (JAQU).

Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) registered as taxis or private hire vehicles provide an important service and key method of travelling around the city for those that need them, but make up a relatively small proportion of the taxi fleet in Portsmouth. Around 10% of licensed vehicles in Portsmouth are registered as WAVs. However, these vehicles face disproportionately high upgrade costs when compared to standard taxis. In some cases, upgrade costs for WAVs can cost £15,000, which is more than double that of upgrading a non-WAV vehicle.

The Council’s team of engagement officers has received feedback from the taxi trade that those operating larger WAVs cannot afford to replace like for like using the grants currently being offered, so are forced to upgrade to smaller WAVs. These are not able to accommodate larger wheelchairs and could have the counterintuitive effect of increasing the amount of vehicles needed for group bookings, therefore causing higher emissions.

Portsmouth City Council’s preferred approach is to receive £15,000 per WAV to make sure that all wheelchair accessible taxis and private hire vehicles have enough funds to upgrade to cleaner, greener vehicles. However, if this is not granted, there are additional plans to award grants of up to £7,500 for each non-compliant WAV in Portsmouth. This could be achieved by reallocating funding that has already been supplied, but would need to be agreed to by JAQU.

Cllr Dave Ashmore, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Environment, said “Although a Clean Air Zone isn’t our preferred approach to improving air quality, we want to deliver this in a way that works for everyone. Wheelchair accessible taxis offer a vital service to help disabled Portsmouth residents get around the city, so it’s really important that we can offer enough funding to help ensure these vehicles are cleaner and emit lower emissions.

We know that taxi drivers and operators in Portsmouth have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and are facing challenges to their livelihood. We’ve listened to the trade and heard their feedback, so I hope that the government listens to our request for more funding to help these vital services in our city and for our very vulnerable and important residents.”

The government has mandated that Portsmouth has a CAZ – this will cover an area in the south west of the city including the city centre where pollution is highest. The CAZ will not cover other areas of high air pollution on M27 and A27, as these are government-controlled roads where they have decided not to impose a CAZ.

The most polluting ‘non-compliant’ vehicles will be charged daily for driving in the zone. These non-compliant vehicles include heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), buses, coaches, taxis and private hire vehicles. Only vehicles that don’t meet Euro 6 emissions standards (if diesel) or Euro 4 emissions standards (if petrol) will be charged.

Non-compliant taxis and private hire vehicles will be charged £10 a day to drive through the zone, and non-compliant HGVs, buses and coaches will be charged £50 a day. Private cars and vans won’t be charged to drive in the Portsmouth CAZ, but could be charged in other clean air zones in the UK.

People can find more information about the Clean Air Zone and check their vehicle registration number to see if they will be charged, at www.cleanerairportsmouth.co.uk.

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