It's a wet Monday morning and cabs are semi circling around a new, horseshoe shaped rank in no-man's land at the far end of what used to be Pendleton Way, between the huge new Tesco and Salford Precinct.
No-one's walking to the cabs, the rank being too far from Tesco to cart shopping, and almost out of sight of most shoppers on the Precinct. So the black cabs queue, waiting to get the word that one of the three cabs that are allowed to rank at Tesco's entrance has moved off and another can take its place.
The three cab rank came about only after disabled people complained at the original Council planning meeting for the Tesco store that they needed easy access to black cabs for wheelchairs and such. So now three cabs can wait at the entrance but those left at the horseshoe can't see when one is moving off. To say that the drivers are unimpressed with the new horseshoe rank would be an understatement…
"People can't get to it and can't see it" says driver Stuart Ryan "There's not one finger sign within this Precinct saying where the rank is. They just shut the old one at the old Tesco and gave us this, which isn't even big enough for the cabs that were there."
When the old rank shut in late November, the drivers had to make their own signs pointing to the new rank, although the Council has now put a knee high crumpled yellow sign in place. The drivers say that this is indicative of Salford Council's attitude.
"Three years ago there were 79 black cabs in Salford, and just enough work to go round" says one "Now they've deregulated us and there's 105 black cabs but only two working ranks – here and Eccles. What are they doing for us?"
He points out that to run a hackney carriage for a week costs a driver around £400 in rental, fuel, tax and insurance before he's even taken any fares… "In 17 years driving I've not seen any new taxi ranks, all I've seen is work being taken away from us but it's people's livelihoods. Salford Council has meetings but you can't go unless you're invited. We can't get in. I think they're frightened in case we speak up. But we do need to speak up…"
Council figures show that there's 178 drivers currently working on 105 black cabs, with a further 1330 private hire drivers working 924 vehicles. At virtually all of the new developments in Salford, the private hire firms have free phones within the buildings.
"We don't have a problem with the private hire vehicles and free phones but give the customer the choice" says Stuart Ryan "We did get a rank on Media City but the work comes mainly off our radios as there are not many walkers because it's in the wrong location, around the corner from the hotel. We're told to move on if we park near it because it's private land. On Media City there's not one sign pointing to the taxi ranks. How are people supposed to find them when there's no signs pointing to where they are?"
When Salford Council deregulated the taxis three years ago, there were two main reasons – that there would be more demand and more work, particularly at MediaCityUK, and that outlying areas of Salford would be better served…
"At Walkden, the biggest Tesco in Europe, there's no rank" Stuart explains "We had a two cab rank there before but they built right over it. The new ASDA at Swinton has no rank in the plans. We had a nine month fight to get a rank at the Salford City Stadium but it's still not painted or signed. Three years down the line, and Irlam still hasn't got a rank. What's the Council doing for us? Nothing
"I believe this Council told us before they de-regged us that they would put ranks into place for the cabs that were coming on" he adds "We've now got a 30% increase in cabs and, as far as I'm concerned, there's no ranks in place for these cabs to go and stand. There's only two working cab ranks in Salford, one at Eccles Cross and this one at the Precinct."
And, since the deregulation that was supposed to bring in new work, hackney carriage drivers say that takings are fifty per cent down. If Stuart had a Christmas message for Salford Council what would it be?
"You need to get off your behinds and come and enforce what you need to do in Salford, and give us Salford hackney carriage drivers what we need" he decides "We're public transport, let the public see us! And let the public use us!"
Almost a month ago the Salford Star asked Salford Council for a comment on the lack of ranks and the loss of income following deregulation. Salford Council has not responded.
* See previous Salford Star articles about the battles for ranks at Media City (click here) and at Tesco (click here)