Campaigners and taxi drivers protest in Millennium Square against plans to move Leeds Station rank
A group of campaigners and taxi drivers took to Millennium Square today to protest against plans to move the taxi rank at Leeds Station.
Those with disabilities and the elderly using Leeds station will face ‘intolerable obstacles’ if they wish to hail a cab as the current taxi rank is set to be moved further from the platforms, Unite the union warned.
The proposed rank - scheduled for 2023 - is down steep steps or via a lift, the union said.
Leeds Council plans to pedestrianise Leeds Station and its surrounding area as part of a £39.5 million investment scheme in the area.
Cars and buses will no longer be able to use New Station Street, meaning the taxi rank and bus stops will be moved if the plans go ahead.
The taxi services will then be relocated to Bishopgate Street.
Unite said that Leeds City Council, Network Rail and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority all had ‘their fingerprints’ on the plans which they strongly oppose.
A group of more than 20 campaigners and those involved with the current taxi service at the station joined together in unison at Millennium Square this afternoon to oppose the plans.
Speaking to the YEP, many of the disabled members of the protest said they would be negatively affected by the planned changes.
Currently, the rank sits opposite the main entrance of the station.
Campaigners believe the move - which will be reached by "steep steps or a lift" - could have a huge impact both on the disabled community and taxi drivers in the area.
Paul Landau - Branch Secretary, Unite the Union - told the YEP the planned changes were a "vanity project" by Leeds Council.
He said: "When you strip away the sticking plaster [of the plans], you will notice there is a lot going on underneath which will impact a lot of people.
"Our colleagues from the disability community are going to suffer.
"They say they are going to create steep steps down [to the relocated rank] and two high capacity lifts.
"The problem with both of those is that when you have someone with autism using lifts is a no no, you then have the issue with steep stairs.
"People in wheelchairs would have severe issues if those lifts aren't working.
"The current rank location is 45m from the entrance.
"The proposed one is 165m from the front.
"The issue we want to get through is that you don't have to do this, there is an alternative."
Paul said numerous surveys had shown that post-Covid there would be a downturn of passenger use.
He said a snapshot survey done by Unite showed 75% of people didn't even know of the scheme.
Paul said the current location of the rank is "not perfect", but if there was a choice urged the council to keep it where it is.
Tim McSharry is registered blind and was one of the campaigners at the protest today.
He said he uses the station taxi rank often as it is part of the "key transport link" in Leeds.
Tim said: "Taxis are the preferred mode of transport for disabled people after your own car.
"Taxi drivers are under mandatory duties from the Government to provide a service to disabled people.
"This plan basically drives a coach and horses through those obligations by putting it out of sight and not usable for many.
"It is all on the same level at the moment and works perfectly.
"The only way it could be easier was if it was kerb side from the entrance."
Tim said the plan discriminates "on grounds of disability" and said it is "too important" that the plans do not impact the disabled community.
However, two claims brought against Leeds City Council for disability discrimination were dismissed at Leeds County Court in March 2021.
Mary Naylor is the chair of the Leeds branch of the National Federation of the Blind.
She said campaigners "could not understand the logic" on what the council is proposing to do.
Mary added: "What has been proposed, people come out of the station cross station, come down in the lift to Bishopgate to an area many don't feel safe to go into.
"To have to go over, queue up, wait to go down in the lift to a different environment, we don't understand the logic of it.
"We want [the council] to look into it again.
"People will lose confidence in using the rank if the plans go ahead."
Ghulam Nabi has been a taxi driver and marshal at the station taxi rank.
He joined campaigners against the new proposal alongside other taxi drivers.
He said the plans would affect "the supply of taxis to the station".
Ghulam said: "I have told the council in the meetings it will never work.
"The supply will be restricted.
"Taxi drivers will have to drive more miles to get to the rank.
"If we can't pick customers up quick enough, there are going to be queues.
"It is a total failure."
Members of the LCC AUAG & Disability Hub previously protested in Millennium Square on Monday, July 19 to voice concerns about the accessibility of the plans.
In response to the protest, a spokesperson for Leeds City Council said: "“The proposals are to make New Station Street pedestrian-friendly, safer and traffic-free.
"As part of this, LCC, WYCA and Network Rail developed proposals and LCC gained planning permission to relocate the taxi-rank to Bishopgate Street.
"The proposed move means that people will no longer have to cross a busy road to access the taxi rank, and with the number of people using Leeds Station expected to rise significantly over the coming years it will also make it easier for people to travel to and from the station using what is already a very busy street.
"Throughout this we’ve worked with representatives from disabled access groups across the city to discuss the proposals and helped shape the design to address their needs. This includes Network Rail’s Built Environment Accessibility Panel, an independent group of experts who were in support of the proposals to relocate the taxi rank to Bishopgate.
“At the request of Leeds City Council’s Access and Useability Group (AUAG), we explored alternative options for the location of the taxi rank but unfortunately these were not feasible. We will continue to consider any proposals or suggestions to enhance the design further, as we finalise our scheme.”