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Medway taxi firm Vokes says Uber price hikes are resulting in more customers, just as they battle to find drivers

News that rival operator Uber has been forced to hike its fares should be welcomed by the boss of Medway's biggest taxi firm.

With customers shunning the internet app company, which was forced to increase charges by 20%, Vokes should have been looking forward to a boost in trade.

Mark Robinson, co-owner of Vokes
Mark Robinson, co-owner of Vokes

But instead it has left co-owner Mark Robinson with a raft of problems which have impacted staff and the overall business.

Firstly, during lockdown when trade effectively stopped, self-employed drivers left in droves to take up other jobs.

Others took retirement, further depleting his workforce over the last two years. In turn, dissatisfied clients battling to get a cab turned on his workers and on occasion, hurled abuse at them.

The company gets an average 2,000 calls a day, but is having to turn down 400 of them due to a lack of drivers.

Mr Robinson said: "The last thing we want to do is let the public down.

Phone ordering Uber ride
Phone ordering Uber ride

"But we are having a real problem recruiting drivers, some of whom have since taken work on as delivery or supermarket drivers."

Uber fares rose sharply in March after a High Court ruling that additional 20% VAT should be charged within the fare.

Mr Robinson said: "Some who said they would never leave Uber have returned to us. In some cases a fare which would have been £10 is now £30."

Uber drivers, who were licensed by Transport for London, swamped Medway more than three years ago.

He added: "We have had reports of up to 1,000 Uber drivers operating here because they say Medway is part of London, which is clearly not right."

Vokes, biggest taxi firm in Medway
Vokes, biggest taxi firm in Medway

Medway Towns' cabbies have to undergo intensive training from the council before getting their licence.

The authority also determines rates they can charge in contrast to Uber employees.

Mr Robinson said: "The training is tough and takes about a year. I think it should be made easier.

"I understand the safeguarding and passenger safety issues are important, but I don't believe it is necessary for a driver to know every street name in the Medway Towns these days."

He said his company had invested about £250,000 in technology with an app to tell drivers where they are going and the best route.

He said this was particularly relevant with the number of new housing developments springing up in the area.

Mr Robinson said: "Before the pandemic we had 750 drivers across all firms in Medway and two years before that around 900.

"Now we have 500. We are quite well off with 150 at Vokes, but we still need about 30 more."

Long-established Vokes incorporates Windmill Taxis, Rainham Cabs an iCabs.

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