FEARS have been raised that taxi drivers’ jobs could be under threat if Leeds City Council’s proposals to introduce a Clean Air Zone in the city come to fruition.
The local authority is proposing to charge the most polluting buses and lorries £100 a day and taxis £12.50 a day to travel in a Clean Air Zone covering all roads within the Leeds outer ring road.
Members of the council’s executive board are due to vote next Wednesday on whether or not to send the Clean Air Zone proposals out for an eight-week public consultation from January.
Coun Javaid Akhtar is branch secretary of The Yorkshire Professional Driver’s Association – a branch of the GMB Union – and represents hundreds of private hire and taxi drivers in Leeds.
Coun Akhtar, said: “I feel that the majority of drivers would struggle to buy the electric or hybrid cars because of the cost. I fear lots of drivers would lose their livelihoods.”
“I have spoken to a number of drivers and they were asking me how much would it cost for a day? When I told them it was going to be £12 they could not believe it.
“On the one hand we do care about the health issues but on the other hand we also need to be thinking about the ordinary person who is trying to make a living as a professional driver.”
Leeds City Council needs to lower the city’s road emissions after it was named as one of 29 local authorities whose roads breached legal pollution levels.
Buses, coaches and HGVs that enter the proposed Clean Air Zone area would have to be classed as Euro6 standard - which covers all vehicles produced from September 2015 onwards.
Leeds City Council is still consulting on whether to propose that taxis must be Euro6 or ultra-low-emission vehicles - a more efficient standard.
Deputy council leader Coun Lucinda Yeadon, said: “We will be exploring a number of support packages to provide financial support to make the transition to cleaner vehicles more achievable.
“We will be speaking directly with the taxi and private hire trade over the consultation period to understand how best to go about this, and what kind of support packages we need to look at, and then will be looking to the government for support with funding going forward.
“One thing to point out is that we are not expecting the trade to go out and replace their existing cars with brand new vehicles.
“There are a number of other options for purchasing second hand ultra-low emission vehicles which would still leave them compliant under our proposals.”
Friends of the Earth said air pollution is responsible for 350 early deaths each year in Leeds, which is one of dozens of UK towns and cities across the country with illegally high levels of air pollution.
Simon Bowens, Friends of the Earth Yorkshire campaigner, said: “Leeds residents will continue to breathe illegally polluted air for longer because Leeds City Council has failed to take the bold and vital step of restricting polluting cars from the heart of the city.”
Leeds Green Party has labelled the city council’s new proposals as “woefully inadequate”.
Chris Bell, Leeds Green Party policy officer said: “These plans do not go far enough to lower the impact of air pollution on the health of Leeds citizens.”
Coun Jonathan Bentley, Leeds Liberal Democrat group environment spokesman, said: “If the council hadn’t dithered on the issue for years business could have had ample time to change investment plans to prepare for the charge.
“As it is firms only have two years to be ready to meet the criteria.”
Rachel Harsthorne, founder of Healthy Air Leeds, welcomed plans for a Clean Air Zone in Leeds.
She said: “However, we are concerned that these measures will not encourage people to leave their own polluting cars at home because of the lack of reliable, affordable public transport options.”