his is not a new development since, around two years ago, several taxi drivers wrote to the city council and asked it to suspend the issue of Hackney licences. The council’s response was that it was unable to comply due to a level of demand that was not being met by the existing number of taxis. The chairman of the Winchester Taxi and Private Hire Association, Steve Eckton, believes the city council should undertake more research into the number of taxis that are operating in the district. But this seems unlikely, if only on the grounds of cost. A spokesperson for the city council said there is currently no limit on the number of taxis there can operate in Winchester, stating: "If we can prove that there's unmet demand then we can limit the number, but it's very difficult to gauge. To do that we would have to get outside consultants in at a cost of between £20,000 and £30,000 of taxpayers' money to conduct a survey to see if there is unmet demand, and there are no plans to do one."
With no prospect of any improvement, taxi drivers are worried that the competition for fares is forcing them to work dangerously long hours just to make ends meet. Steve Eckton has been driving taxis in Winchester since 1994 and has never known the situation so bad. He claimed that drivers often work more than eighty hours in a week and, during the Homelands music festival, some even worked 24 hours a day. He went on: "We are sitting around all day. Some of the drivers are sat on the rank sometimes for an hour or two just for a £2.50 or £3 fare and then they've got to get back on the rank and wait another long time before picking up anyone else."
The recent hot weather had caused an increase in taxi use, but often only for short trips. Some drivers were making as little as £30 a day although they should be achieving at least double that figure. However, the level of competition made it impossible to earn a reasonable amount during an eight-hour shift. The consequence of this is that many drivers are working much longer, with Steve Eckton stating: "Some of the drivers come out at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. and don't get back at home until 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. the next day." At the last count, there were approximately 400 Hackney and private hire cabs in the Winchester district. But with few taxi ranks and a limited number of parking places, many drivers have to drive around the city waiting for a vacant spot. This adds to the problems caused by the volume of traffic on Winchester’s roads. A long-serving driver emphasised the point: "We can't use the bus lanes so we have to sit in traffic, add to the queues and use up our own petrol." Mohammad Jan, a taxi driver from Southampton who works in Winchester, added: "It's true. We are working more hours just to survive."