Private hire taxi fares to rise in Bedford as driver shortage blamed on pandemic
There'll also be 50% uplift on all fares on Friday and Saturday nights
Five of Bedford' s taxi companies facing a shortage of drivers have said they've been left with no choice but to increase fares.
The firms - 24-7 Cars, A1 Cars, Key Cars, Direct Cars, and Anglia Cars - have been struggling with increased fuel prices and a shortage of drivers due to the pandemic - and say they have no alternative but to raise fares on their private hire minicabs.
Hackney cab prices are not changing.
Speaking on their behalf, Abdul Khalid, from 24-7 Cars, said: "We're experiencing a massive shortage of drivers in Bedford after the pandemic.
"The issue is so serious that for the first time, all the five operators met to discuss the issues and it was unanimously agreed that the main reason for drivers not coming back to the trade was that the trade was not profitable for the self-employed drivers anymore.
"A lot of drivers are now working as delivery drivers for the likes of Just Eat or Uber Eats, who pay the drivers more than our fares to most places.
"We're having to give hour-long waits, which is something we've never had to do before.
"A lot of drivers have packed up or gone into other businesses. The taxi trade was at a complete standstill because people weren't moving around. Now the demand is back to normal, but we've got fewer drivers.
"We compared our fares to other towns and Bedford is way below."
They are hoping to attract more self-employed drivers back into the trade - but say in order for that to happen, fares will have to be increased in line with the increases in inflation of the years.
But - as Mr Khalid added: "Obviously this cannot be done in one go and would have to be a gradual increase.
"We can all confirm that customers should expect to see increases slowly across all the companies from now on."
The pandemic as well as Brexit has already caused huge problems for HGV drivers - but the taxi industry has also been hit hard with some reports in other parts of the country of taxi waits of up to two hours
Concerns have even been raised that the long waits caused by driver shortages could prove dangerous, with people potentially left waiting alone on streets after leaving night spots.
During the pandemic, many drivers left the industry or looked for alternative jobs and most haven't returned to the profession.
Mr Khalid said: "Drivers have to take into account that living costs for an individual or family have increased drastically, and whether the business will pay enough for them to make ends meet."
The five firms will also apply a 50 per cent uplift on all fares on Friday and Saturday nights 10pm to 5am.
Mr Khalid explained: "During the busy late-night periods, it is very difficult to get the self-employed drivers to work the unsociable hours, meaning even longer wait times at these times as well.
"To overcome this issue, we have all decided to apply a fare uplift on Friday and Saturday nights, starting this weekend (October 29). This is a normality across the country but Bedford taxi companies had avoided passing on the additional cost to customers until now."