Taxi drivers needing to replace ageing vehicles will get an extension to their licence if it is due to expire during the lockdown, councillors have agreed.
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a drop in demand for taxi journeys, such as trips to airports or school runs – and an impact on finances for drivers.
In response the Burton Taxi Trade has called on East Staffordshire Borough Council to extend the age limits of private hire and hackney carriage vehicles starting from December 30, 2020, for a period of 12 months.
Currently private hire vehicles must be replaced when they reach seven years old, while Hackney Carriages may be licensed for up to 10 years.
But the Government has urged licensing authorities to use discretion in dealing with the licensed taxi trade during the current pandemic.
On Tuesday, May 19, East Staffordshire Borough Council's licensing committee agreed to allow an extension to licenses for vehicles due to reach their age limits.
But Councillor Patricia Ackroyd asked: "Are we confident these vehicles will remain fit for purpose during the extension time?
"The reason we have regulations in place is to make sure people are driven in fit vehicles."
Enforcement officer Margaret Woolley responded: "If there is an extension they will still have to go to testing stations for a certificate of compliance – we still have three testing centres open.
"It's been a couple of months since we went into lockdown and we received the letter virtually straight away from the trade, who were of the understanding they were going to start to suffer financially.
"We haven't been seeing taxis on the road as much as we had – school contracts haven't been going out and airport runs aren't being done.
"Following a letter from the Burton Taxi Trade we also received correspondence from an individual driver requesting an extension for vehicles that have reached the seven and 10-year age limits during the current time, due to the financial impact of the pandemic.
"They are reporting it is difficult to acquire new vehicles and have sufficient finance due to the lockdown."
"It may take a few weeks to find a vehicle you want to buy and be satisfied with."
The extension is due to start from this month, for an initial period of four months, and be reviewed in June to take account of any changes that may have occurred to the length of the lockdown period, a report to the committee said.
The report added: "Over the period April 2020 to July 2020 we have the following numbers of vehicles that will be reaching the seven and 10 year age limit and therefore proprietors will potentially be bringing on replacement vehicles: April – two private hire vehicles; May – four private hire vehicles; June – five private hire vehicles; July – seven private hire vehicles and four Hackney Carriage vehicles.
"Vehicle licences cost £164 per annum. An extension of the existing licence by four months for these vehicles that reach the 7/10 year age limit will result in a loss of income of £1,203.
"Drivers are responsible for making sure their vehicle is always safe to drive, a vehicle can be unsafe even if it has a valid MOT certificate or certificate of compliance. Drivers should be aware of their legal obligations."
A taxi driver who died with Covid-19 was spat at by a fare-dodger who claimed he had the disease, according to his friend.
Trevor Belle, 61, began to feel unwell after the attack in Stratford, east London on 22 March, Damian Briggs said.
Described as a "jovial man who loved to laugh", the grandfather died in the Royal London Hospital on 18 April.
"He spent three weeks battling it [coronavirus] and unfortunately didn't make it to the end," Mr Briggs said.
He added: "It's devastating that he possibly caught it doing his job."
Mr Belle's blood has been donated to research into the effects of Covid-19 in people from BAME communities.
Paying tribute to his friend, Mr Briggs said he would "always find a way to get a smile on your face".
He added: "It was very rare you saw something that bothered this guy.
"No matter how bad it was, he always found a way to have a laugh and chuckle."
It comes after a Tube passenger was spat at after intervening in a row between a man and ticket staff at Mile End station on Thursday.
The man had demanded that workers open a gate as he did not have a ticket for the barriers, according to a union official.
A search of the area was carried out by police, but the culprit was not found.
At the start of April Victoria station ticket office worker Belly Mujinga died from coronavirus, a few days after being spat at by a man claiming to be infected.
"Following the tragic story of Belly Mujinga and heightened fears over the highly contagious coronavirus, more must be done to prevent such horrendous acts of violence against transport workers and passengers," said Lorraine Ward, TSSA official for London Underground.
"We're redoubling our call for protective visors to be made available to all frontline transport workers across the rail, Tube and bus networks, as they provide a greater degree of protection from such acts."
A motorbike cop has been dismissed from the police for gross misconduct after he sent an explicit photo to a woman while on duty.
Award-winning PC Dave Humpherson, from West Midlands Police, met "Miss A" at a petrol station just hours after matching on dating app Bumble.
The 41-year-old - voted police officer of the year in 2019 - was in uniform and on duty when he got into her car at a Shell garage on the A491 in Bell End, near Clent, on September 2, 2019.
The purpose of the meeting was to "explore the possibility of having a sexual relationship", a virtual hearing at Lloyd House in Birmingham was told.
PC Humpherson, who served 22 years with the force and worked to stop taxi drivers operating illegally, later sent her an explicit photo on WhatsApp the same day, the hearing was told.
West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson, who presided over the misconduct hearing, said the actions were “reckless and unwise.”
He found the officer had breached standards for discreditable conduct, duties and responsibilities. It amounted to gross misconduct and the officer was dismissed without notice.
PC Humpherson's barrister had argued the PC was “encouraged” into a sexualised conversation by Miss A.
Miss A sent the PC pictures of herself after striking up a flirty chat, the hearing was told.
"He believed this to be a private conversation with someone who was also professional," his barrister Bo-Eun Jung said.
"He accepts he was on duty when the picture was sent. It did not stop him carrying out his duties and responsibilities.
"He has made open admissions and has shown genuine remorse."
She said the hardworking officer would normally start work an hour early. The meeting happened on his way to work for a 5pm to 3am shift and the intimate image was sent by PC Humpherson at 6.27pm.
Ms Jung said her client was able to carry out his duties at work, which involved admin and emails.
Ms Jung added: “He has been comprehensive, consistent and honest.
“He apologises wholeheartedly. He is an exceptional and valued police officer, which up to this date the Force has been greatly proud of.”
The woman did not make a formal complaint, but had made an inquiry with Professional Standards.
Ms Jung also said the officer had also received the West Midlands Police Diamond Award in 2015.
The Chief Constable said the relationship between the taxi enforcement officer and Miss A had moved at “great pace.”
“When on duty you went to meet Miss A to advance a sexual relationship,” he said.
He said PC Humpherson sending the intimate picture was a "moment of recklessness in his career."
He conceded the incident was a single episode and the officer had shown remorse. However, he found the officer committed gross misconduct from a "very serious case."
The officer was not at Lloyd House, but watched proceedings in a video call with a Police Federation representative.
Speaking after the hearing, Chief Superintendent Stephen Graham, commander at Birmingham West, said: “Humpherson’s behaviour was completely unacceptable and a clear breach of our standards of professional behaviour.
“Serving and protecting the public is paramount and it is vital that our communities have trust and confidence in everything that we do.
“Any officer or staff member that fails to uphold our force values and falls below the high standards we expect will be dealt with accordingly."
RESIDENTS at the scene of a major police incident yesterday have spoken about what they saw and heard.
Saunders Road in Cowley was blocked off by police for most of the day and one resident said a relative was shouted at by police when they stepped outside for a cigarette.
One resident reported seeing six undercover cars, two riot vans, three normal police cars and officers in balaclavas.
They said: “My kids were playing in the garden and all we heard was really loud shouting, it was like people were fighting.
“The kids ran in the house and I could see a taxi being boxed in.
“The taxi driver had come from the top of the road and police boxed him in, they had tasers and guns and were shouting for him to get down.
“They dragged him out the car and arrested him, he was quite young, maybe in his 30s – he was just smiling.
“I heard some residents asking the officers if they had found a firearm.
“Police then took the taxi after they took him.”
The resident also added that in the early hours of Monday morning at about 3am, a BMW X5 with a ‘big torch’ on the roof, a riot vehicle and another police car were in the area.
“My partner saw the light shining through the house and then the light went off and they drove up to the top of the road,” they said.
“There used to be a lot of trouble round here but nothing like this.”
Scottish taxi drivers are asking for urgent clarity on anti-coronavirus measures for private hire cabs.
Taxi owners want the Scottish government to intervene and allow them to install protective screens in their vehicles.
The drivers' trade association wants to use a crash tested screen design which has been approved by insurance companies and which is already allowed by some English councils.
No official guidance has been given.
Maintaining a two-metre (6ft) gap between driver and passenger is not possible inside a private hire car and the risks are very real.
The Office for National Statistics in England found that security guards, chefs and taxi drivers were the most vulnerable professions in terms of Covid-19 death rates, with male taxi drivers dying at a rate of more than 36 per 100,000.
United Private Hire Drivers which represents many drivers in Scotland says there have been six coronavirus deaths among private hire and taxi drivers north of the border, with half of them in Glasgow.
Barry Sloan, the association's Glasgow rep, was shocked by the deaths and is now demanding that something is done to protect private hire drivers across Scotland.
He already wears a mask when passengers are in his mini cab, but says drivers need screens to protect themselves and their customers.
He said: "We have been in contact with the council since week one of Covid-19. We agree that if screens have to be installed it is going to have to be regulated in some way. The two screens we took to them were both crash-tested and have also had risk assessments done on them.
"Exactly what the council asked for, we replied with those and the response we got was that they were now seeking government guidance."
But he said that the Scottish government has been slow in issuing guidance for all sectors which work in close proximity with customers.
The association has asked the Scottish government for guidance and is yet to receive a response.
Mr Sloan's favoured design is by taxi fitters Cabcare, who've already supplied private hires in a number of English councils but so far are not being authorised by councils in Scotland despite the design being approved by nine major insurance companies.
Kirkintilloch-based Elliot Farmer is Cabcare's sales director.
He said: "It's soft and bendable and it is not going to break in any impact. It is fitted to every car and to the driver - so it means they are comfortable driving the car. You can see there is no obstruction to space in the back because it is moulded into the car.
He added: "Up to this point every single insurance company that's been contacted by a driver has had no objections to it. We have all the information on the materials used, the simulation crash testing and at the moment we think we are the only company that has done this.
"This is not going away tomorrow. This is long-term. It could be a year before we go back to some kind of normality."
At last Thursday's Scottish government coronavirus briefing, Nicola Sturgeon promised to bring some clarity and consult with drivers, but also pointed out that local councils are the licensing authorities.
But for their part one of the largest taxi licensing authorities, Glasgow City Council, said they fully understood the anxiety but were waiting for guidance from the Scottish government.
Glasgow transport consultant Dave Holladay says local authority discretion is fine in normal times but in this Covid-19 emergency a national approach is urgently needed.
He said: "Nobody has taken the issue by the scruff of the neck and said this is how we manage the risk.
"The average private hire is picking up between 20 and 30 fares a day with one driver. If that driver is infected, he is infecting 20 or 30 passengers, or if one of those passengers is infected they infect the cab and the driver and the next passengers that pass through that cab. This is why we should be putting together guidance for taxi licensing."
The Scottish government told the BBC they were taking the issues with taxis very seriously and were reviewing the published guidance daily to ensure the spread of the virus was contained. The spokesperson said they were looking at how to make secure safe workplaces across a whole range of sectors, including for private hire drivers.