A war of words has erupted between councillors in Coventry and Wolverhampton as the row over Uber licensing in the city reaches boiling point.
There is a long-running dispute with Coventry accusing their Midlands neighbours of exploiting a loophole in licensing regulations to allow Uber drivers with Wolverhampton licences to operate in the city.
Wolverhampton Council has made £1.3m by giving out taxi licenses this year - with over 200 of these drivers operating out of Coventry.
There are concerns that the licensing of Uber cabs is affecting Coventry’s black cab trade - though many residents are in support of Uber’s presence in the city.
Today, a top Wolverhampton councillor hit back at “fake outrage” Coventry politicians and said that the authority was only interested in preserving its “long-standing cosy relationship” with the hackney carriage trade.
It came after Coventry councillor Damian Gannon accused Wolverhampton of handing out Uber licenses "like sweeties".
This is the staggering number of Wolverhampton taxi drivers exploiting loophole to work in Coventry
Wolverhampton City Council’s Cllr Alan Bolshaw, chairman of City of Wolverhampton Council’s licensing committee, said: “The attitude of some Coventry politicians towards the issue of private hire licensing is getting tiresome.
“I’m afraid my patience has run out with those who are cynically trying to drag the reputation of City of Wolverhampton Council through the mud to further their own agenda.
“I think it’s about time someone called out the motivation of these people who are hiding behind smoke and mirrors. The reality is that there is a long-standing cosy relationship between Coventry City Council and the hackney carriage trade and preserving this relationship is what this is really about.
“Of course the hackney carriage trade, which has been protected in Coventry for so long, doesn’t want competition. They are doing everything possible to try and stifle competition which is simply not on because it is the people of Coventry who suffer.”
Councillor Alan Bolshaw
Thanks to a loophole, Uber cabs can pick up fares in Coventry despite not being licensed to operate in the city.
That means an accident could potentially leave passengers uninsured.
Black cab drivers in the city say Uber drivers undercut their prices and do not have the same standard of safety checks that they do.
But taxi users in the city say all they want are value fares and efficiency.
Cllr Bolshaw said Wolverhampton was doing nothing wrong in giving out licenses to drivers.
He said: “Surely Coventry councillors should be welcoming the fact that 240 jobs have been created in their city due to the private hire licences we’ve issued?
“It is galling to hear the fake outrage voiced by certain individuals in Coventry who know full well that we are doing nothing wrong here in Wolverhampton. All we are doing is following the law which allows taxi drivers and operators to choose where they get their licence.
“Frankly, this smacks of sour grapes. Coventry know that our systems and processes are modern, efficient and far superior to their own. This is why drivers choose to come to us. People are trying to make out that our standards are lower than Coventry’s, but this is absolute nonsense.
He added “Nobody is fooled into thinking that the Coventry opposition is about safety – this is about protectionism and perpetuating the status quo to the detriment of customers.
“You only have to look at the comments left by residents on the Coventry Telegraph website to see that they welcome competition and want that choice.
“I hear people talk about the supposed ‘gold standard’ of black cabs in Coventry. If that were true, people would have nothing to worry about from increased consumer choice and competition. The bottom line is that the time has come for those who are peddling myths and playing dirty tricks to be honest about their motivations and stop using City of Wolverhampton Council as a scapegoat."
Coventry taxi drivers and council members including cabinet member for city services Cllr Jayne Innes launch a campaign for safe professional taxis outside Council House
Talks between Cllr Jayne Innes, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for city services and Cllr Bolshaw two weeks ago seemed to have yielded a positive outcome, with talks of improved communication between the two mooted.
But any good feeling appears long gone, with Coventry councillor Damian Gannon accusing Wolverhampton of "handing taxi licenses out like sweeties".
He said Wolverhampton did not "give a damn about how it makes the taxi trade unaccountable to Coventry residents".
Cllr Damian Gannon
Cllr Gannon said: "Ideally, the taxi trade should be accountable to Coventry residents so if you drive a taxi in Coventry you should be accountable in Coventry.
"At the moment Wolverhampton are exploiting a gap in the licensing regulations to make as much money as they can and that is just plain wrong. Treating taxi licensing as a cash-cow undermines local democracy, it undermines public safety and it undermines the ability of taxi drivers to make a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
“But we also need to accept that the trade has changed and companies like Uber are not going to go away. We need a better way to ensure that they can operate in a manner that delivers an accountability, public safety and fair wages. Council’s should not be pitched against each other in a race to the bottom of licensing regulations.
“At the moment Wolverhampton City Council are undermining local democracy, public safety and worker’s rights and it is not good enough.
"It's time they treated taxi licensing as less of a cash cow and took its duties and obligations much, much, more seriously as a result, I have written to the Minister for Licensing and Metro Mayor to ask them to put pressure on the council to stop this race to the bottom.
"This is a regional problem, it needs a regional solution and the regional mayor Andy Street should step-in and resolve it.”