STRAIN on Worthing’s taxi drivers is at its highest for nearly three decades, the town’s leading private hire firm owner has claimed.
Lib Dichello, owner of Arrow Taxi Group, said a shortage of taxi drivers and a recovering night-time economy have presented the biggest challenge in his 27 years in business.
Arrow, which has 160 of the borough’s 206 licensed private hire drivers on its books, is turning customers away, while others are left waiting up to two hours.
The firm hopes a new sponsor initiative will help recruit new drivers.
Mr Dichello said: “We are aware there is a shortage and we are trying to do everything we can to sort it.
“Certainly there are more people going out in Worthing. We have noticed a bigger number within the last year.”
Mr Dichello said his firm received an average of 4,000 calls over a 24-hour period, rising at weekends.
He predicted a spike of up to 50 per cent over the festive period, likely to result in more delays.
Town centre manager Sharon Clarke said there had been a growth in bars and restaurants opening, leading to greater demand for taxis.
She said: “Friday evening is particularly busy in the town now and the lack of taxis in the town is causing concern for many of the businesses.
“Some customers are now coming to town by car to avoid long waits at the end of the evening and this means they are spending less during their evening.”
Central ward councillor Vino Vinojan has been involved in the town’s night-time economy for 13 years.
He agreed the town had become busier and said there was ‘huge concern’ over a lack of taxis. But he said taxi drivers could be assigned specific shifts, rather than being free to work any hours, to improve the shortfall.
Arrow has been working with Heene councillor Diane Guest, vice-chairman of Worthing Borough Council’s licensing committee, to try to solve the problem.
She said: “People are spending more and there aren’t enough taxi drivers to deal with it.
“It’s not going to get solved within the next few months but hopefully this time next year it will be.
“We don’t want people saying ‘stuff it’, I can’t wait two hours. It’s about getting home safely.”
The firm’s sponsorship scheme aims to recruit between 20 and 30 new drivers, covering all the costs involved in becoming a private hire driver.
Currently, budding drivers must pass a BTEC qualification and a test of their local geographical knowledge, as well as passing a full criminal record check.
Not including a vehicle, start-up costs for new drivers can reach £1,000 – which Arrow plans to pay for through its scheme.
“We are trying to turn a negative into a positive,” Mr Dichello said.
“It’s very important, as at the moment we are getting slated for waiting times.”
The training process can take up to six months to complete.
Mrs Guest is pressing the council to speed up the process, taking advantage of the council’s digital transformation to amalgamate the test and BTEC into a single computerised exercise.
Currently, drivers must attend sessions once a week for a month to complete the BTEC.
Mrs Guest said: “One of the things we are looking at doing is computer testing. It is being trialled in Crawley and it will hopefully be live for April.
“It will cut the process by one to three months, which will cut it by half.”
For more information about Arrow’s initiative, call 01903 212121 or email email@example.com