TAXIS will be off the road in Bolton for more than two hours as drivers stage a protest against the Clean Air Zone scheme.

A Greater Manchester Combined Authority meeting is set to take place to rule on whether commercial organisations, including taxi drivers, will have to purchase a car no older than five years to avoid the controversial Clean Air Zone charge.

Bosses of Bolton taxi base Metro, and Bolton’s Private Hire Association (BPHA), fear that taxi businesses will be forced to close if this happens.

Protests are due to take place on Monday from 1.30pm to 4pm at Bolton Town Hall.

During this time, there will be no taxis across Bolton, unless there is an emergency.

Taxi chiefs have said that they are in support of the Clean Air Zone, which comes into force in May, 2022, but the cost of buying new vehicles is a major concern.

Vice chairman of the BPHA, Mahmood Akhtar, said: “We just can’t afford to purchase the new vehicles.

“One thing we don’t understand is that if we have to sell our current cars to the public, they will still be on the road, so why are we being penalised?

“The grants which are being offered are not enough, and we need the rest of the money to help us.

“We also don’t yet have the infrastructure to support the electric vehicles in the area.”

Bosses have also said that fares have been increased recently, and there is also a driver shortage, with others taking on second jobs due to the impact of the pandemic.

And they are concerned that this could affect a lot of their drivers over 50 who cannot afford to get a loan, or a newer vehicle.

Nick Astley, owner of Bolton-based Metro Taxis, said: “We really don’t want the public suffering at all.

“But we need to be listened to, and feel so sorry for our drivers.

“We want to take a stand and these changes should be postponed, with more help given to the drivers.

“Otherwise it will have a big impact on customers who rely on us because we will have to increase fares.”

In a statement issued by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Cllr Andrew Western, the city-region’s Clean Air lead, said: “In March, 2020, the Government instructed all 10 Greater Manchester councils to introduce a charging Clean Air Zone to tackle harmful levels of air pollution and achieve compliance with legal standards by 2024 at the latest.

“We know this is a major challenge for many individuals and businesses which is why we have always been clear with ministers that it must be accompanied by a fair package of financial support.

“While the Government has provided £120m, we are concerned that they have so far failed to agree to our request for additional support for those who will find it hardest to make the change.”

Taxi bosses from across Greater Manchester are also expected to be at the protest.

If the licensing standards are agreed, they would apply to taxi services from May, 2023.