CABBIES in Chelmsford have made a last appeal for their livelihoods to be safeguarded.

Chelmsford Council has agreed to carry out a review of taxi provision in the local authority area, following a long-running dispute with drivers over the issuing of Hackney Carriage plates.

Chelmsford Taxi Association has pressed the council to stop issuing new licences, saying the town is saturated with taxis.

A special meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee was called by the council for Tuesday to hear the views of the drivers and other interested parties.

Russell Brigden, who owns a taxi, told the meeting because of the number of taxis now operating and the lack of business, he often found it difficult to park on the Market Road taxi rank during the day.

He added: “There is never enough space and I am having to park illegally outside it.

“Not one day last week did I earn more than £3 an hour. It costs £400 a week to run my vehicle.”

Mr Brigden was applauded by other drivers in the public gallery when he said: “There is no un-met demand for taxis, I can tell you that.”

He also said if taxi fares were increased “people will just stop using us”.

Terry Michel, secretary of the association, said all the group wanted was the council to wait while an unmet needs survey was carried out. He said: “We are desperate people. All we want is to ensure the existing drivers can make a decent living. Many are living by a thread.”

The committee heard there are currently 566 drivers licensed and 169 vehicles.

Following delimitation in 2005, the number of taxis had increased from 82 to 169, including nine new licences issued last year.

An unmet needs survey carried out at the time of de-limitation said 16 new taxis were needed, taking the figure to 98.

Mr Michel said there were now 71 more than that figure.

Chris Rycroft (Lib Dem, Great Baddow East) asked if limiting the number of taxis would improve public safety, which was her main concern.

Robert Pontin (Con, Moulsham and Central) argued the council did not regulate other businesses and it was up to the drivers to work out a business plan before buying a new taxi.

He added: “I cannot think of a time I have not had to wait for a taxi returning from a night in London.”

The committee also heard the Essex Chambers of Commerce felt there were enough taxis in Chelmsford, as did Chelmsford commuters and rail travellers.

The Federation of Small Businesses said it did not want licensing of additional Hackney Carriages to stop.

Tom Smith Hughes, chairman of the committee, said all the comments would be taken on board by the committee’s task and finish group, which would report back on April 26.