A PERFECT storm of Covid, Brexit, employment issues and licensing difficulties have contributed to a shortage in taxi services in Darlington, the town’s leading provider has said.

Residents are being forced to walk miles home in cold, dark weather and many have reported feeling unsafe on the streets.

And since the reopening of the hospitality sector and night-time economy, taxi firms have admitted struggling with the increased demand.

Darlington residents now have fewer taxi and private hire vehicles to choose from than they did before the pandemic.

Department for Transport figures show 228 traditional taxis and private hire vehicles were licensed to operate in Darlington at the end of March, down from 246 the year before.

1AB Taxis has spent 37 years serving Darlington and the surrounding area, building up a reputation over that time as the area’s premier taxi provider, transporting people all over the region.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

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Yet more than a year-and-a-half after the coronavirus pandemic initially shut down the country, its taxi services continue to be severely affected through a lack of drivers, delays and increased demand. The issues can be seen at services throughout the country including Darlington-based 1AB.

Managing Director Chris Bainbridge is proud of 1AB’s legacy but admits the current climate of the taxi industry means businesses struggle to operate at their best.

“Business was tough enough before the pandemic and these latest challenges are very frustrating for us,” Mr Bainbridge says.

1AB has enlisted the help of an outsourcing company abroad to help answer phone calls, which has received criticism from locals, but Mr Bainbridge insists it helps ensure customers aren’t forgotten.

He said: “To answer the phones, which is the core part of our business, we have got to have staff employed in our call centre.

“We went through a very tough time through Covid, with staff off and leaving, and to help make sure we were in contact with our customers we went to our outsourcing company to deal with the overflow.

“It’s all about getting people home safely.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Weekly completed jobs for 1AB have dropped from 20,000 to around 12,000 during the pandemic and hundreds of drivers have left the profession or even the country.

But the company often receives criticism on social media from people who have been unable to get a booking.

Mr Bainbridge said: “There are times when we are not going to get it right and these are what you mainly hear about.

“We will follow up every single complaint we receive and we will do our utmost to make that right.

“If somebody misses their train and it’s our fault we pay for the train ticket.”

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Drivers switching to delivery or warehouse jobs, where there is a guaranteed income and more sociable hours, has seen hundreds of taxi companies lose staff.

Mr Bainbridge agrees, and said: “More recently the problem has been the lack of people available.

“We can’t compete with companies like Amazon.”

Operations Director Paul Rimmer said that 1AB, formed in 1984, was once the third highest employer in the town.

“We are very much a local company that wants to support the people of Darlington and the surrounding area,” he added.

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