Council bosses have hit back at claims a new penalty points system is unfair to taxi drivers.
As PHTM reported in November, the rules which came into force at the beginning of December, state taxi drivers must accept all fares or they could receive eight to 12 points on their taxi licence - with 12 meaning they could lose their permission to operate.
Taxi drivers have raised concerns that the system will punish them if they refuse to take fares when they feel they are in danger.
However, Cllr Keith Vickers, who chairs the licensing committee and has been consulting on the issue for nine months, insists each case will be looked at individually.
He told the Scunthorpe Telegraph: “In certain cases, drivers will face prosecution and review, rather than points depending on the infringement. In the case of drivers refusing to carry passengers, each case will be looked at to determine the appropriate action.”
Mr Vickers said the law states taxi drivers cannot refuse to carry a passenger and the council has a duty to investigate it and take appropriate action.
“Before the penalty points scheme was introduced, the option was either to do nothing or to prosecute and remove the driver’s licence,” he said.
“The penalty points scheme will enable a middle ground. Passengers using taxis need to know that the service provided is safe.”
However, John Fleming, who chairs the 127-strong Scunthorpe branch of the National Taxi Association, says they will appeal against any points handed out.
He said: “If drivers refuse fares it should go before a hearing so the drivers have a right to respond.
“The appeal goes before the people who issue the points, which doesn’t seem right. This is the drivers’ livelihoods.”
Mr Fleming said enforcing a first-come, first-serve system at the ranks would also help tackle the problem.
Mmmm…. We’ve commented on this issue in a previous edition of PHTM when we first featured the points system debate. Once again, the compellability of hackney carriage drivers to carry a passenger is cancelled if the driver considers that the passenger may put them at risk. Surely each case must be considered on its merits... refusing a passenger who only wishes to go round the block, is totally different from a bumbling drunk (or druggie) approaching the taxi and acting in a threatening or unsure manner. Common sense must prevail... Ed.
In a bid to enhance public safety, and in response to a call from Cllr Caven Vines, council chiefs are working on putting details of all the borough’s licensed taxi drivers online.
According to the Rotherham Advertiser, Cllr Judy Dalton, chairman of the licensing board, said that the authority was working with a software provider to allow details of taxi drivers to be published online.
She said: “As far as putting photographs on it’s tricky. There are 1,100 licensed drivers so that’s an awful lot of photographs.”
But Cllr Vines was less than convinced that pictures could not be put online.
He told the council: “I have just bought my granddaughter a computer and you can put 3-4,000 pictures on it.
“What you are saying is that you are not going to do it.”
Changes need to be made to the way taxis are run in the city, drivers have said.
Portsmouth City Council has produced a report to help improve the taxi service in the city looking at things such as the standard of English and knowledge of the Highway Code.
And taxi drivers across the area have backed the plans.
Nickii Humphreys, the council’s licensing manager, told the News: “The last full review into hackney carriage and private hire licences was 2001, and we want to find how we can make improvements.
“This review benefits both those working in the industry and their customers. We hope to have a draft policy by April and we will consult a range of groups to find out their comments.”
The leader of Boston Borough Council defended the autho-rity’s taxi licensing rules, after calls to introduce a ‘rating system’ to name and shame poor operators.
Cllr Peter Bedford responded to claims made in a letter by Labour councillors in last week’s Boston Standard.
The councillors wanted Boston to follow the example of Birmingham, giving taxis ratings from Platinum down to ‘unrated’.
Cllr Bedford believes the current system already protects the customer and works well. He told The Standard that the council operates a ‘stringent’ policy on standards required of both vehicles and drivers - with licences suspended if a vehicle fails to meet the policy.
He added: “The vast majority of Boston’s taxi drivers are professional, courteous and have good driving records. However, on very rare occasions, where a driver fails to meet the exacting standards required, appropriate sanctions are applied. These range from written warnings to suspension or even revocation of their licence. I consider that for Boston this is the most appropriate mechanism and use of resources for maintaining and raising standards.”
He said the council’s regulatory and appeals committee and the staff who administer the law promote safety, and stressed the licensing team is always working on ways to strengthen the rules.
Vehicles licensed by the council can be identified by the hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence plate.
Fears have been raised that a legal loophole could allow overseas taxi and private hire drivers with serious criminal records to operate in Leeds.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reports that senior councillors have now vowed to lobby the Government in a cross-party call for action over the “gaping hole” in licensing rules, which does not prevent people with criminal pasts working as drivers. The move comes after claims that the council’s plans to tighten its own licensing policy could be hampered by planned Government deregulation.
Members of the council’s cabinet have expressed concerns over existing legal checks that mean any potential driver, who was born outside the UK and arrived here as an over 16, applying for a Leeds licence needs only two character references and a valid reason for not having the equivalent to a UK CRB/DBS check, to be considered.
Cllr John Procter, deputy leader of the opposition Conservative group, said: “You could have committed a horrendous crime overseas, come to this country, obtained a perfectly satisfactory check here and be driving a car in Leeds.”
A report approved by the council’s executive board in December endorsed and further tightened the authority’s own licensing checks, including giving drivers training to help spot children who are at risk of being sexually exploited. In Leeds, all of the 5,800 drivers have been subject to three-yearly DBS checks.
However current national legislation allows licensed drivers, who may not have experienced tough checks in neighbouring authorities, to be employed for work by operators in Leeds.
Cllr Mark Dobson, executive member for safer communities, said: “There are authorities that are very lackadaisical and those drivers can come and ply their trade in Leeds – that’s not what we want.”
The comments come in the wake of an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and as the Government bids to push the Deregulation Bill through Parliament. The Local Government Association has claimed this “will make it easier for criminal gangs to target the vulnerable”.
A DfT spokesman said: “Public safety is our top priority and licensing authorities have robust measures in place to check the history of operators. Under the new rules, all private hire journeys need to be carried out by licensed operators who are subject to tough checks. Licensing authorities can work together to take enforcement action against all vehicles and drivers licensed in their areas.”
Mmmm... This is quite a controversial subject in several directions. The current national legislation makes no specific mention of CRB/DBS checks, as such safeguards did not exist in 1976. However, LGMPA s51 pertaining to PHV drivers, and s59 on hackney carriage drivers, state quite clearly that “a council shall not grant a licence... unless they are satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person...” That fit and proper criteria includes a CRB/DBS enhanced criminal record check or, in the absence of such record for non-British applicants, a vouchsafe of the applicant’s fit and proper status from the applicant’s embassy of their country of origin. This last criteria has been established by local authorities and not national legislation, which leads to the incongruities highlighted in this article. Leeds Council will have to establish for each applicant that his “home” council has indeed demanded the embassy safeguard, and be shown proof of such documentation, before they even consider his/her application. If it is the case that drivers from outside of the area are working in Leeds, following the Stockton case, we would strongly suggest that Leeds approaches the relevant council(s) to ensure that appropriate checks have been made. – Ed.
An undercover operation to stamp out illegal taxis in Dacorum has achieved its first prosecution.
The crackdown by licensing enforcement officers from Dacorum Borough Council and Herts Police saw a cabbie operating in Tring hauled before magistrates.
Said Shah, 49, from Aylesbury, pleaded guilty to one offence of unlawful plying for hire on High Street, Tring, and one offence of having invalid insurance.
Shah, who is licensed as a taxi driver by Aylesbury Vale District Council, accepted an unbooked fare when approached by police special constables posing as prospective customers in the Dacorum town.
This rendered his Tring job a criminal offence and caused his insurance to be invalid for the journey.
Shah was ordered to pay a total of £516 in court fines and costs, and given six penalty points on his driving licence.
Portfolio Holder for Residents and Regulatory Services at Dacorum Borough Council, Neil Harden, said: “This operation is part of our ongoing efforts to ensure that taxis operating within Dacorum Borough are properly licensed and insured.
“Dacorum Borough Council carries out regular operations to stamp out the practice of illegal plying for hire.”
A host of measures aimed at improving passenger safety in taxis and PHVs across Bradford have been rubber-stamped by the council’s regulatory and appeals committee.
Reductions in advertising costs and vehicle fees were also approved, as was a tougher English language test for drivers.
At the meeting some cabbies voiced their concerns over the safety checks required if a vehicle is involved in an accident.
Geoff Binnington, Bradford Council’s principal officer for fleet and transport services, said there had been a significant increase in drivers failing to inform the authority if their vehicle had been damaged in an accident and subsequently written off.
For such a vehicle to be deemed roadworthy again, it would have to undergo an Autoline inspection, the closest provider of which is in Leicester.
Khurram Shehzad, chairman of the Brad-ford Private Hire Liaison Service, argued that minor damage to vehicles should be able to be repaired locally.
In response, Mr Binnington said it would lead to too many variations to manage the system in a consistent manner.
He told the Telegraph and Argus: “Our workshops are not able to provide the same service as Autoline - we are not qualified to inspect those vehicles.”
Under the new guidelines, operators will be responsible for the safety and insurance of vehicles and drivers, even if their licences are provided by councils outside the Bradford district.
It was said that more than 100 vehicles with outside licences were currently operating within the district - many from Rossendale, and operators will now need to ensure that drivers have written evidence they have told their insurance companies they are working in Bradford.
Cllr Imran Hussain, deputy leader of Bradford council, said: “The use of out-of-district vehicles is a situation I am ex-tremely uncomfortable with but it is legal. The drivers of vehicles from Rossendale, or elsewhere, need to organise the necessary checks - it has to be their responsibility, not the operators’.”