Southend taxi co-op launches operations in neighbouring Rochford

The team also supported Cardiff Taxis Co-operative through its launch in March

A taxi co-op set up in 2013 to give drivers and passengers in Southend a fairer deal has launched a new service in neighbouring borough Rochford.

Since its launch – with support from Co-operatives UK – six years ago, Southend Taxi Co-operative has grown from six cars to 70.

Co-founder Mark Jennings, who is also president of his regional branch of the GMB professional drivers’ union, said drivers launched the Southend co-op because they were not happy with the two owners of the taxi services in the town.

“We stood up against them and went it alone,” he said. “We’re doing really well now – so well, it turns out we had too much money in the bank so we returned £3,000 to our members – £60 each. And last year we repaid all our investors, who had each put in £1,000.”

The expansion into Rochford came after drivers there said they needed an alternative to working for the taxi firms there.

“We have to take on more cars,” said Mr Jennings. “It’s a separate licensing authority so we need to attract Rochford licenses. We’ve made enquiries, done the stickering and had cards done, to get ourselves ready.

“We’ve got six drivers to get us going – I am one of them, I’ve got the knowledge and the badge.”

The co-op’s success means it saw off a challenge from Uber. “They were here for 17 months but they left last year,” said Mr Jennings. “They are exploiting the people working on their platform massively.”

The Southend Taxi Co-operative office

And the co-op model brings benefits for passengers, he adds. “The drivers own the company, and the service standard is higher than when you’re working for someone else. It makes people go above and beyond – the drivers care and it shows.”

The team has been working to replicate its success elsewhere, mentoring taxi drivers in Cardiff, who launched their own co-op, Drive, in March.

Drive – which also had support from Wales Co-operative Centre and the GMB, and is based at co-working centre Indycube – formed in response to high fees levied on drivers by Uber and by national private hire firms.

Related: How unions and co-ops can work more closely: Discussion at Ways Forward

“The huge majority of drivers in Cardiff are self employed and everyone is struggling to make ends meet,” said co-founder Paul O’Hara. “We couldn’t affect the amount we pay for insurance, license fees and fuel, but what we could affect is the amount we paid to operators.

We felt the co-operative approach, giving each driver that becomes a member one share of the company, which entitles them to one vote, and a real say in how the company is run, was much better than just forming yet another company with only a few people at the top taking all the profit. Run on a not for profit basis means that we can charge members the lowest amount possible to use our dispatch system. It could potentially save drivers up to £4-5,000 a year.

“That money then stays in the local economy rather the paid in dividends to share holders and company bosses.”

Back in Southend, Mr Jennings has hailed Cardiff’s success. “I’d love to see taxi co-ops in every borough from Southend to Cardiff,” he said, “to have co-op firms all the way through, and I’ll work on it. If I get the momentum there’s no holding me back.”

  • Southend Taxi Co-op: 01702 333444
  • Rochford Taxi Co-op: 01702 321333
  • Drive Taxis Cardiff: 02920 140140 
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