Report No: LIC/WS/23/001
(The Chair advised all that he had brought forward this agenda item in order to allow the registered public speaker to address the meeting immediately prior to the consideration of the report at Agenda Item 7 as their question/statement related to the content of the Hackney Carriage Fares report.)
The Food, Safety & Licensing Manager presented this report which sought the Committee’s endorsement for Officers to undertake exploratory work into the provision for licensing rickshaws within West Suffolk.
The Chair welcomed Libby Ranzetta, Director at EcoCarriers Bury St Edmunds, and Amanda Martin, EcoCarrier rider, to the meeting.
EcoCarriers had approached the Licensing Authority in order to discuss expanding their operation to include a fare driven element.
Members were advised that EcoCarriers was a not-for-profit community benefit society, a type of cooperative. Their aim was to promote and facilitate increased cycling in Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding villages in order to help tackle climate change.
From March 2022 EcoCarriers had undertaken a commercial delivery service; transporting food, medicine and parcels for customers who wanted their goods transported efficiently and without damaging the environment.
In September 2022 EcoCarriers launched the ‘Bury Bike Train’ which provided a way for children to ride their own bikes to and from school in a group, supported by adult cyclists.
The Committee was informed that EcoCarriers was now considering expanding their offer further to operate two rickshaws as a commercial enterprise in order to provide an environmentally friendly taxi service to Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages. Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District (BID) had voiced support for the venture.
EcoCarriers had approached the Council at this early stage as they wished to ensure that the service was regulated and operated at the highest of standards.
As EcoCarriers was a not-for-profit venture the income generated would aim to cover costs of the service. It was not intended to be significant competition to rival the taxis operating in the area as it would be a small-scale operation covering a small part of the district.
In response to questions posed, EcoCarriers confirmed they hadn’t undertaken any formal market research to date but had received a number of inquiries from existing delivery customers as to whether a taxi service could be provided.
Whilst Members of the Committee wholeheartedly commended EcoCarriers’ environmental stance some concerns were raised in respect of the safety of rickshaws on the public highway, particularly in relation to the roads outside of Bury St Edmunds town centre and leading to the outlying villages.
The Committee also commented on the need to ensure rickshaw drivers had undertaken some form of training/test prior to operating as a licensed driver. EcoCarriers suggested that there could be scope to work with West Suffolk College to develop an appropriate course.
The Business Partner Litigation & Licensing advised the meeting that in legislation there was no discrepancy for non-motorised Hackney Carriages. Therefore, if the rickshaws were licenced in this way the drivers would still be required to hold a minimum of a 12-month DVLA drivers’ licence.
Following queries in respect of taxi ranks, the Food, Safety & Licensing Manager explained that the rickshaws would be unlikely to be able to use the ranks as Hackney Carriages waiting there for trade were obligated to accept the fare, regardless of destination, and the rickshaws intended on only having a very limited area of operation. However, this could potentially be addressed via conditions on an issued licence.
In summary, Councillors were not opposed to Licensing Officers working with EcoCarriers and undertaking initial exploratory work into the provision for licensing rickshaws within West Suffolk.
However, they asked that EcoCarriers submit a full detailed business case together with a risk assessment of the routes that could be offered. Best practice examples of other Licensing Authorities who licenced rickshaws were to be sought, options for a driving standards assessment were to be explored and consideration given to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Lastly, reference was made to the email that had been sent to the Committee by Councillor Jason Crooks in relation to this matter, and Members asked that Officers also give weight to the points he raised.
(Councillor Karen Soons joined the meeting at 5.40pm during the preliminary discussion of this item.)