More than 1,000 black cabs will be driven off Birmingham’s streets if the city council ploughs ahead with tough new pollution limits, it has been claimed.
The chairman of Birmingham’s biggest Hackney Carriage firm, TOA, warned the crackdown could leave just 70 cabs on the city’s streets within three years.
There are currently more than 1,200.
City licensing chiefs have told all black cab drivers their licenses will be revoked on January 1, 2020, if their cars do not meet tough emissions standards.
The authority has claimed cabs – which queue in ranks with engines running – were partly responsible for the city centre’s levels of nitrogen dioxide, which causes an estimated 900 premature deaths a year in Birmingham.
But drivers said they would be driven out of business if they were forced to switch to eco-friendly vehicles such as electric cabs costing around £55,000, plus credit costs.
TOA boss Manawar Hussain said some workers were still paying for £35,000 cabs bought within the last few years in the expectation they could be used for a decade.
“We are all in favour of cleaner air, drivers are working and breathing it in with everyone else,” he said.
“This will be devastating to both the drivers – who have to pay up or give up – and the public and businesses who rely on our cabs.
“We could have as few as 70 cars on the road.”
Mr Hussain said cabs were a lifeline to many disabled people and claimed the council had refused to consider allowing existing cabs to be retrofitted with hydrogen fuel systems at a cost of less than £1,000.
But the council says that it does not have the power to authorise the use of retrofit devices for taxis. A spokesman said: "The decision will be made at a national level by the Department for Transport and Defra – the council will not have the power to approve devices."
The Government is currently looking into it.
Birmingham has been threatened with a £60 million fine unless it reduces pollution levels.
The Government has instructed the city, along with 15 others, to draw up plans to improve air quality by 2020.
The council is developing a Clean Air Zone around the city centre , under which high-polluting commercial vehicles, such as vans, coaches and lorries, would be taxed.
The licensing department had in February suggested forcing cabbies to update their cars by the end of this year - but have now extended the deadline to 2020.
But city leader Coun Ian Ward last week said he would consider further steps , and could not rule out a congestion charge, if needed.
A recent council report on air quality concluded: “Birmingham needs to respond to the challenge of improving air quality and achieving compliance with air quality limits as soon as possible.”
The new regulations:
From December 31, 2019, Birmingham City Council will only grant licences for vehicles that comply with either Euro 4 (petrol) or Euro 6 (diesel) standards, as a minimum.
Vehicles with higher standards - such as Ultra Low Emission Vehicles (eg hybrids), Zero Emissions Vehicles (electric) or Zero Emission Capable Vehicles (such as new TX Hackney Carriages being produced by LEVC, in Coventry) – will also be licensed.
Licences for vehicles that don’t comply with these standards can be renewed in the 12 months before this deadline, but will expire on December 31, 2019.
However, drivers who have acquired a compliant vehicle before the deadline will not have to do anything as their vehicles will be licenced for 12 months.