Hereford’s taxi driver shortage could become much worse if proposals to change how they are licensed go ahead, drivers have warned.

“The new rules will decimate the taxi trade,” Hereford Hackney Taxi and Private Hire Association chairman John Jones said.

“There is already an acute shortage of taxi drivers, leading to people having to wait for two hours or more.”

This has meant people missing hospital appointments, or women having to walk home unaccompanied late at night, he said.

Views are currently being sought on a new taxi policy for the county drafted for the council by specialist solicitor James Button.

This proposes refusing to grant licences from next April to cars that were first registered or manufactured more than five years ago, for environmental reasons.

Vehicles over two years old would meanwhile have to meet or exceed “Euro 5” emission standards, while more recent cars would have to meet the most stringent Euro 6 standards.

“I would hazard a guess that about 50% of the fleet are over 10 years old and would need replacing,” Mr Jones said.

The new proposals would also mean existing drivers will have to sit a “geographic knowledge and navigational skills” test, he added.

This is already a requirement of new driver licence applicants, and is a major hurdle for them, he explained. “It has only a 20% pass rate, so would mean we would lose 80% of current taxi drivers.”

Meanwhile many drivers have already left the industry, "due to an accumulation of factors, such as rising costs and an overbearing administration", he added.

"The cost is also prohibitive and the time it takes to get through the many layers of bureaucracy to obtain a licence is far too long."

Drivers have attacked the process of the planned changes as well as their content, Mr Jones added. A meeting scheduled for last week as part of the consultation was turned at short notice into a one-way presentation by Mr Button, he said.

After a call from Mr Jones for his members to boycott this, it “was very well unattended”, Mr Jones said.

He added that he is so far resisting calls from his members for a strike, but explained: “I am trying to negotiate with the council but they aren’t putting any consultation our way.”

A Herefordshire Council spokesperson said: “The aim of the proposed policy is to ensure public safety and safeguarding.

"We will of course do our best to balance this as far as possible with the business interests of the taxi trade.”

The council has now extended the closing date for the consultation into December “to ensure that there is adequate time to carefully consider the implications of this proposed policy”, and plans further meetings with taxi drivers, she added.