Uber deserved to lose its licence – Londoners’ safety must come first

Our city is a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s because it’s renowned as a place where everyone has to play by the same rules

From the steam engine to the web, Britain has a long history of inventing and embracing brilliant new technology, often with London leading the way with the very latest developments.

In recent years, we have seen great leaps forward in areas such as green technology, medical innovations and contactless payments on the underground, but also with mobile phone applications that can make the lives of Londoners easier – whether it’s ordering food, renting a flat or doing financial transactions.

As we move through the next stage of 21st century innovation, I want London to continue to be at the forefront of these developments and to be a natural home for exciting new companies that help Londoners by providing a better and more affordable service.

I welcome and embrace these innovations – not only because they can improve the everyday lives of Londoners, but because they can spark new ideas for business, new possibilities for jobs in our city and new opportunities to cement London as a global capital of digital technology.

However, as with every other sector doing business in this city, from the financial services to manufacturing, all companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect – above all when it comes to the safety of customers.

Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe.

Today, Transport for London has made the formal decision not to renew Uber’s operating licence. This was made independently by TfL as the regulator. I know this decision will be controversial in some quarters. Uber has become a popular service for many Londoners. But I fully understand the decision that has been taken.

It would be simply wrong for TfL to continue to license Uber if there was any way this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety or security. TfL has said it believes Uber’s conduct demonstrates a lack of corporate responsibility around a number of issues that have potential public safety and security implications. These include Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, and the way it obtains medical certificates and security checks (Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service) for their drivers.

All private-hire operators in London need to play by the rules. The safety and security of customers must be paramount.

Uber’s current licence does not expire until the end of September so the service will continue, for now. The company will also be able to continue to operate until the appeals process has been exhausted.

Around the world, new private-hire vehicle companies and other disruptive technology businesses are springing up all the time, with new and different ways of working. We know it is possible to combine innovative technology within these fields while also ensuring the necessary safety standards are met. It would not be right for exceptions to be made.

I have repeatedly said the regulatory environment is critical in protecting Londoners’ safety, maintaining workplace standards for drivers and sustaining a vibrant taxi and private hire market with space for a range of providers to flourish. It is not simply regulation for regulation’s sake.

One of the reasons why London has become such a success with international business over centuries is because of our professionalism and sense of British fair play, with transparent rules, laws and regulations. This ensures that all companies are treated equally – something we would never want to lose.

I suspect it will take some time before this situation with Uber fully plays out. In the meantime, I will continue my work to help support innovative businesses in London and to create a vibrant and safe taxi and private hire market.

During the mayoral election, I promised I would be the most pro-business mayor London has ever had. That promise is reflected in the work we are doing from City Hall to support companies and entrepreneurs who are reinventing and reviving many of our traditional business sectors.

As we go forward in the months and years ahead, I know London will continue to be an incredible hotbed of innovation and new technology, as well as a city where businesses understand that they have no choice but to adhere to the rules like everyone else – especially when it comes to the safety of Londoners.

• Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London

source: https://www.theguardian.com/

Tough new rules say all Scunthorpe Hackney Carriages must be white and female drivers can’t wear short skirts

The new rules have been laid down by North Lincolnshire Council, with all cabs to be white by December 2023

Tough new rules for cabbies including a ban on female drivers wearing short skirts are to be introduced by North Lincolnshire Council.

Under a new policy agreed by the authority’s licensing committee today (Thursday, September 21) all Hackney Carriage vehicles will have to be white by December 2023.

Committee members were told a standard livery was required to ensure the cabs were easily recognisable to members of the public.

All new and replacement vehicles will have have to conform to the new livery requirement before the deadline in six years’ time.

But Councillor Carl Sherwood was concerned passengers might have problems with the new livery as there were lots of white vehicles around.
Licensing manager Nick Bramhill pointed out the cars carried plenty of signage.

Female taxi drivers will be banned from wearing short skirts under new rules.

Councillor Steve Swift felt the new livery requirement did not go far enough and suggested extra markings on the vehicles.

Mr Bramhill said the trade bodies were quite happy with the rule as white vehicles were easier to source.

Under the new policy, applicants for licences will also have to demonstrate they are able to read and write in English.

Cabbies who have other driving jobs will be required to keep a record of the hours they drive – even on private land.

Operators of cabs fitted with CCTV systems will have to ensure they are registered with the Information Commissioner.

Cabs will also have to be fitted with child seats and drivers will be held responsible for the safety of children.

Drivers will be required to disclose all their previous convictions, regardless of whether or not they would be regarded as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

And for the first time, smoking electronic cigarettes in taxis will see drivers have points docked off their licence.

The licensing watchdogs also agreed to amend the dress code for cabbies.

Ear-muffs and scarves covering the face are banned, while headwear except for religious headwear including skull caps and turbans will also not be allowed.

Football shirts, flip-flops and skirts shorter than knee-length have also been banned, while offensive tattoos have to be covered up.

In a further change, operators will be able for the first time to buy and display private registration plates from the council for a £150 fee renewable at the rate of £50 every year.

The number plate must not be offensive and contain between three and five digits with at least one number at the end.

source: http://www.scunthorpetelegraph.co.uk/

Councillors meet today to decide whether to push ahead with implementing the drive, first agreed in 1994, to make all Granite City cabs wheelchair accessible.

But the ruling has long provoked anger, with taxi drivers arguing they have to shell out thousands on the new vehicles – despite many disabled customers being unable to use them.

New legal advice from the UK government has also revealed that there is “no mandatory requirement” for the rule from a legal standpoint.

The opposition SNP group have indicated they will try to throw out the rule today.

But council officers have recommended the authority push ahead, with fears raised that disabled groups and drivers who have bought new cars could pursue legal action if there is a u-turn now.

A council spokeswoman said:”Currently 54% of Aberdeen’s taxi fleet are accessible vehicles.

“In 2012 Aberdeen City Council’s Licencing Committee set out a policy of a gradual progression towards a 100% accessible vehicle taxi fleet and settled on a date of June 2017 by which the exemption would no longer apply and all vehicles required to be wheelchair accessible. This date was amended to June 2018 by Full Council in May 2016. Operators have been given considerable advance notice.

“It is the view of officers that the policy remains the best method of ensuring the council complies with its obligations. It is important to note that the policy refers to the taxi fleet only, and not to private hire vehicles.

“The intention behind the policy however is that any person should be able to access any vehicle in a taxi queue or hailed on the street.”

Stephen Flynn, SNP leader, said: “As someone with mobility issues, I know that a lot of people struggle to access these supposedly accessible vehicles.

“Equality means we need to meet the needs of everyone and we will seek to get the council to look again at this policy.”

Tommy Campbell, north-east regional representative for the Unite union which represents many drivers, called the councillors to develop a “common sense approach” to the ruling.

He said: “The councillors should apply a healthy dose of common sense, I would call on them to finally abandon this policy for good.”

‘Terrorist’ Uber driver, 26, ‘left a note to his sister telling her to “be strong” before attacking police outside Buckingham Palace with a 4ft samurai sword’

An Uber driver accused of attacking police outside Buckingham Palace with a four foot long samurai sword had left a note to his sister, a court heard today. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury, 26, allegedly drove his blue Toyota Prius in the direction of a police van on Constitution Hill on Friday night.

He stopped just a few feet away from the police van when he is then alleged to have reached for the sword in the foot well of the car while shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar’ He was then wrestled to the ground by police who sprayed him with CS gas and the note was found inside the car, a court heard.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court today facing one count of preparation of terrorist acts. Wearing a grey prison tracksuit the softly spoken Chowdhury spoke only to confirm his name, age and address.

Prosecutor Mark Carol said: ‘On Friday the 25th of August at around 8:30pm in the evening when uniformed officers were traveling in a marked vehicle at the Queen Victoria Memorial, Constitution Hill, when a blue Toyota Prius motor vehicle, drove towards them stopping two feet away.

‘Officers approached the vehicle and the male driver reached for a large sword from inside and shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ several times. ‘The officer struggled with the individual and sprayed him with CS spray.’

The court was told Chowdhury was arrested and taken to a police station and the court heard the samurai sword was just under four foot in length. Part of the note was read out in court and it said: ‘To my dearest sister… Do not cry and be strong. ‘Tell everyone that I love them.’ Chowdhury, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was remanded in custody to appear at the Central Criminal Court.

Taxi driver faces £1,100 bill after refusing to take a fare from blind woman with guide dog

A taxi driver who refused to take a fare from a blind woman with an guide dog is facing a bill of more than £1,000. Muhammad Imran Ashraf initially agreed to take the passenger when she approached him at a rank on North Road, Durham, last December before driving off when he saw her assistance dog. A second driver, who witnessed the incident, agreed to take the fare and was able to send the woman details of the first vehicle via text message.

The passenger later contacted Durham County Council to complain and a licensing enforcement officer from the authority was able to confirm the incident had taken place using CCTV footage. Information provided by the woman helped the officer identify that the vehicle was licensed to Ashraf and a letter was sent to him asking to confirm who was driving it at the date and time concerned.

Ashraf later confirmed in a telephone conversation that he was the driver. He said that if any complaints had been made about him then his licence should be revoked as he was not willing to attend an interview or appear before a licensing committee. It was explained to Ashraf that his licence would not be revoked by the officer but that he would be sent a formal request for interview. Ashraf was sent two such letters but did not reply to either.

Ashraf, 44, of Chestnut Avenue, Newcastle, failed to attend Peterlee Magistrates Court when the case was heard on Monday morning after pleading not guilty at an earlier hearing. Magistrates found the case proved in his absence. He was fined £440 and ordered to pay £711 in costs and a £44 victim surcharge.

Owen Clough, Durham County Council’s consumer protection manager, said: “While we know the vast majority of the drivers we license comply with all relevant legislation, we have received information that suggests Mr Ashraf is one of a small number who are refusing to take passengers with assistance dogs. “This practice is an offence under the Equalities Act and we will not tolerate it in County Durham. “We hope that the financial penalty imposed by the magistrates will serve as a deterrent to other drivers who may be minded to refuse passengers.

We would also like to express our thanks to the driver who assisted us in this case. “Although Mr Ashraf is no longer licensed by us, we will continue to investigate allegations of this type and will take appropriate action if any offences are identified.”

Sep 23

Uber deserved to lose its licence – Londoners’ safety must come first

Our city is a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship. That’s because it’s renowned as a place where everyone has to play by the same rules

From the steam engine to the web, Britain has a long history of inventing and embracing brilliant new technology, often with London leading the way with the very latest developments.

In recent years, we have seen great leaps forward in areas such as green technology, medical innovations and contactless payments on the underground, but also with mobile phone applications that can make the lives of Londoners easier – whether it’s ordering food, renting a flat or doing financial transactions.

As we move through the next stage of 21st century innovation, I want London to continue to be at the forefront of these developments and to be a natural home for exciting new companies that help Londoners by providing a better and more affordable service.

I welcome and embrace these innovations – not only because they can improve the everyday lives of Londoners, but because they can spark new ideas for business, new possibilities for jobs in our city and new opportunities to cement London as a global capital of digital technology.

However, as with every other sector doing business in this city, from the financial services to manufacturing, all companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect – above all when it comes to the safety of customers.

Providing an innovative service is not an excuse for it being unsafe.

Today, Transport for London has made the formal decision not to renew Uber’s operating licence. This was made independently by TfL as the regulator. I know this decision will be controversial in some quarters. Uber has become a popular service for many Londoners. But I fully understand the decision that has been taken.

It would be simply wrong for TfL to continue to license Uber if there was any way this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety or security. TfL has said it believes Uber’s conduct demonstrates a lack of corporate responsibility around a number of issues that have potential public safety and security implications. These include Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, and the way it obtains medical certificates and security checks (Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service) for their drivers.

All private-hire operators in London need to play by the rules. The safety and security of customers must be paramount.

Uber’s current licence does not expire until the end of September so the service will continue, for now. The company will also be able to continue to operate until the appeals process has been exhausted.

Around the world, new private-hire vehicle companies and other disruptive technology businesses are springing up all the time, with new and different ways of working. We know it is possible to combine innovative technology within these fields while also ensuring the necessary safety standards are met. It would not be right for exceptions to be made.

I have repeatedly said the regulatory environment is critical in protecting Londoners’ safety, maintaining workplace standards for drivers and sustaining a vibrant taxi and private hire market with space for a range of providers to flourish. It is not simply regulation for regulation’s sake.

One of the reasons why London has become such a success with international business over centuries is because of our professionalism and sense of British fair play, with transparent rules, laws and regulations. This ensures that all companies are treated equally – something we would never want to lose.

I suspect it will take some time before this situation with Uber fully plays out. In the meantime, I will continue my work to help support innovative businesses in London and to create a vibrant and safe taxi and private hire market.

During the mayoral election, I promised I would be the most pro-business mayor London has ever had. That promise is reflected in the work we are doing from City Hall to support companies and entrepreneurs who are reinventing and reviving many of our traditional business sectors.

As we go forward in the months and years ahead, I know London will continue to be an incredible hotbed of innovation and new technology, as well as a city where businesses understand that they have no choice but to adhere to the rules like everyone else – especially when it comes to the safety of Londoners.

• Sadiq Khan is the mayor of London

source: https://www.theguardian.com/

Sep 23

Tough new rules say all Scunthorpe Hackney Carriages must be white and female drivers can’t wear short skirts

The new rules have been laid down by North Lincolnshire Council, with all cabs to be white by December 2023

Tough new rules for cabbies including a ban on female drivers wearing short skirts are to be introduced by North Lincolnshire Council.

Under a new policy agreed by the authority’s licensing committee today (Thursday, September 21) all Hackney Carriage vehicles will have to be white by December 2023.

Committee members were told a standard livery was required to ensure the cabs were easily recognisable to members of the public.

All new and replacement vehicles will have have to conform to the new livery requirement before the deadline in six years’ time.

But Councillor Carl Sherwood was concerned passengers might have problems with the new livery as there were lots of white vehicles around.
Licensing manager Nick Bramhill pointed out the cars carried plenty of signage.

Female taxi drivers will be banned from wearing short skirts under new rules.

Councillor Steve Swift felt the new livery requirement did not go far enough and suggested extra markings on the vehicles.

Mr Bramhill said the trade bodies were quite happy with the rule as white vehicles were easier to source.

Under the new policy, applicants for licences will also have to demonstrate they are able to read and write in English.

Cabbies who have other driving jobs will be required to keep a record of the hours they drive – even on private land.

Operators of cabs fitted with CCTV systems will have to ensure they are registered with the Information Commissioner.

Cabs will also have to be fitted with child seats and drivers will be held responsible for the safety of children.

Drivers will be required to disclose all their previous convictions, regardless of whether or not they would be regarded as spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

And for the first time, smoking electronic cigarettes in taxis will see drivers have points docked off their licence.

The licensing watchdogs also agreed to amend the dress code for cabbies.

Ear-muffs and scarves covering the face are banned, while headwear except for religious headwear including skull caps and turbans will also not be allowed.

Football shirts, flip-flops and skirts shorter than knee-length have also been banned, while offensive tattoos have to be covered up.

In a further change, operators will be able for the first time to buy and display private registration plates from the council for a £150 fee renewable at the rate of £50 every year.

The number plate must not be offensive and contain between three and five digits with at least one number at the end.

source: http://www.scunthorpetelegraph.co.uk/

Sep 06

Councillors meet today to decide whether to push ahead with implementing the drive, first agreed in 1994, to make all Granite City cabs wheelchair accessible.

But the ruling has long provoked anger, with taxi drivers arguing they have to shell out thousands on the new vehicles – despite many disabled customers being unable to use them.

New legal advice from the UK government has also revealed that there is “no mandatory requirement” for the rule from a legal standpoint.

The opposition SNP group have indicated they will try to throw out the rule today.

But council officers have recommended the authority push ahead, with fears raised that disabled groups and drivers who have bought new cars could pursue legal action if there is a u-turn now.

A council spokeswoman said:”Currently 54% of Aberdeen’s taxi fleet are accessible vehicles.

“In 2012 Aberdeen City Council’s Licencing Committee set out a policy of a gradual progression towards a 100% accessible vehicle taxi fleet and settled on a date of June 2017 by which the exemption would no longer apply and all vehicles required to be wheelchair accessible. This date was amended to June 2018 by Full Council in May 2016. Operators have been given considerable advance notice.

“It is the view of officers that the policy remains the best method of ensuring the council complies with its obligations. It is important to note that the policy refers to the taxi fleet only, and not to private hire vehicles.

“The intention behind the policy however is that any person should be able to access any vehicle in a taxi queue or hailed on the street.”

Stephen Flynn, SNP leader, said: “As someone with mobility issues, I know that a lot of people struggle to access these supposedly accessible vehicles.

“Equality means we need to meet the needs of everyone and we will seek to get the council to look again at this policy.”

Tommy Campbell, north-east regional representative for the Unite union which represents many drivers, called the councillors to develop a “common sense approach” to the ruling.

He said: “The councillors should apply a healthy dose of common sense, I would call on them to finally abandon this policy for good.”

Sep 06

‘Terrorist’ Uber driver, 26, ‘left a note to his sister telling her to “be strong” before attacking police outside Buckingham Palace with a 4ft samurai sword’

An Uber driver accused of attacking police outside Buckingham Palace with a four foot long samurai sword had left a note to his sister, a court heard today. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury, 26, allegedly drove his blue Toyota Prius in the direction of a police van on Constitution Hill on Friday night.

He stopped just a few feet away from the police van when he is then alleged to have reached for the sword in the foot well of the car while shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar’ He was then wrestled to the ground by police who sprayed him with CS gas and the note was found inside the car, a court heard.

He appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court today facing one count of preparation of terrorist acts. Wearing a grey prison tracksuit the softly spoken Chowdhury spoke only to confirm his name, age and address.

Prosecutor Mark Carol said: ‘On Friday the 25th of August at around 8:30pm in the evening when uniformed officers were traveling in a marked vehicle at the Queen Victoria Memorial, Constitution Hill, when a blue Toyota Prius motor vehicle, drove towards them stopping two feet away.

‘Officers approached the vehicle and the male driver reached for a large sword from inside and shouted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ several times. ‘The officer struggled with the individual and sprayed him with CS spray.’

The court was told Chowdhury was arrested and taken to a police station and the court heard the samurai sword was just under four foot in length. Part of the note was read out in court and it said: ‘To my dearest sister… Do not cry and be strong. ‘Tell everyone that I love them.’ Chowdhury, of Luton, Bedfordshire, was remanded in custody to appear at the Central Criminal Court.

Sep 06

Taxi driver faces £1,100 bill after refusing to take a fare from blind woman with guide dog

A taxi driver who refused to take a fare from a blind woman with an guide dog is facing a bill of more than £1,000. Muhammad Imran Ashraf initially agreed to take the passenger when she approached him at a rank on North Road, Durham, last December before driving off when he saw her assistance dog. A second driver, who witnessed the incident, agreed to take the fare and was able to send the woman details of the first vehicle via text message.

The passenger later contacted Durham County Council to complain and a licensing enforcement officer from the authority was able to confirm the incident had taken place using CCTV footage. Information provided by the woman helped the officer identify that the vehicle was licensed to Ashraf and a letter was sent to him asking to confirm who was driving it at the date and time concerned.

Ashraf later confirmed in a telephone conversation that he was the driver. He said that if any complaints had been made about him then his licence should be revoked as he was not willing to attend an interview or appear before a licensing committee. It was explained to Ashraf that his licence would not be revoked by the officer but that he would be sent a formal request for interview. Ashraf was sent two such letters but did not reply to either.

Ashraf, 44, of Chestnut Avenue, Newcastle, failed to attend Peterlee Magistrates Court when the case was heard on Monday morning after pleading not guilty at an earlier hearing. Magistrates found the case proved in his absence. He was fined £440 and ordered to pay £711 in costs and a £44 victim surcharge.

Owen Clough, Durham County Council’s consumer protection manager, said: “While we know the vast majority of the drivers we license comply with all relevant legislation, we have received information that suggests Mr Ashraf is one of a small number who are refusing to take passengers with assistance dogs. “This practice is an offence under the Equalities Act and we will not tolerate it in County Durham. “We hope that the financial penalty imposed by the magistrates will serve as a deterrent to other drivers who may be minded to refuse passengers.

We would also like to express our thanks to the driver who assisted us in this case. “Although Mr Ashraf is no longer licensed by us, we will continue to investigate allegations of this type and will take appropriate action if any offences are identified.”

Sep 06

Transport chiefs tell Uber drivers they must apply for new criminal record checks

Transport chiefs have told Uber drivers they must apply for new criminal record checks. Regulators have rejected the taxi giants current vetting process and are writing to 13,000 minicab drivers telling them their background checks are no longer valid. Up to a tenth of the company’s workforce now has 28 days to make new applications for vetting or risk being struck off. Some of the drivers work for other companies but Uber is responsible for the largest majority of people.

A spokesman for Uber said: ‘Every private hire driver in London has been through the same Enhanced DBS background check that black cab drivers go through. ‘These background checks are all carried out by the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service. ‘Uber does not process the background checks, does not require potential drivers to use a specific provider, and does not have a say in who gets licensed. ‘It is ultimately up to the regulator (TfL in London) to review the application and DBS check and decide who is granted a licence.’

Last month police accused the firm of failing to report crimes on passengers with figures showing sex attack claims involving Uber drivers are up 50 per cent in a year in the capital. The Sunday Times reported officers were concerned the US company was ‘allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public’.

Last week it was revealed the man arrested and charged with a terror related incident at Buckingham Palace worked for Uber. Mohiussunnath Chowdhury allegedly attacked three police officers with a samurai sword while shouting ‘Allahu akbar’. And in December 2015 a former Uber driver, Muhiddin Mire, tried to behead a stranger in a London Tube station, yelling: ‘This is for my Syrian brothers.’

All would-be minicab drivers in London must be checked against information held by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), a government agency, for criminal records, unsuitability to work with children or police warnings. TfL accepted these certificates until this year. However, it said this weekend that ‘following a recent review of policy’ it would no longer accept them from Onfido or any other ‘third-party provider’ but only its own contractor. TfL declined to describe its concerns about Onfido and other providers.

The company which runs using an app allows customers to book a taxi anywhere – meaning councils are powerless to regulate the company. Currently local taxi businesses are licensed by local authorities but the new technology firm operates across borders. Police figures show sex attack claims involving Uber drivers are up 50 per cent in a year in the capital.

Between February 2015 and February 2016, there were 32 claims made against the firm’s drivers in London. But in the past 12 months to February 2017, that figure shot up to 48 alleged attacks.

The Local Government Association (LGA), the body representing councils in England and Wales, said laws dating back to 1847 needed updating to protect passengers and create a level field. The LGA has urged the Government to support legislation to modernise the licensing system. It wants national minimum licensing standards for drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles, a national database of all licensed taxi and private hire vehicles drivers, and cross border hiring.

Councils cannot take enforcement action against the rising numbers of taxi drivers licensed by other authorities operating in their area, the LGA claimed.

Uber has been accused of failing passengers by not reporting sex attacks to the police in a letter from Scotland Yard. It argued while local mini cab companies and black cabs have to adhere to the rules, Uber and other firms from outside licensing areas escape scrutiny despite operating on the same roads. There are also concerns drivers who have been refused or had a licence revoked by one authority were able to be licensed by another authority.

Earlier this month, the Daily Mail reported that according to police, Uber had not been reporting sex attacks by its drivers. The firm was accused of putting passenger safety at risk by failing to inform officers of ‘serious crimes’ in a formal letter from Scotland Yard. The alleged offences included at least six sex attacks and an assault. In one case, the firm was alerted to a sexual assault on a woman by a driver but took no action after he denied it. The driver was only blocked from working after he committed a more serious attack on a second woman.

During the Rotherham child sex grooming scandal, a ‘common thread’ emerged that taxi drivers would pick the children up for sex from care homes and schools. The Mail also revealed earlier this year how David Cameron and George Osborne allegedly told aides to lobby Boris Johnson against curbs on Uber. When Mr Johnson was mayor of London in September 2015 he threatened to curtail the activities of the smartphone app.

Aug 30

SOUTHAMPTON’S cabbies fear they could be driven out of business

SOUTHAMPTON’S cabbies fear they could be driven out of business by a new council crackdown on pollution.

Angry taxi drivers are demanding a meeting with civic chiefs over plans to ditch ageing petrol and diesel cars for new low-emission vehicles.

But according to the city’s taxi groups, some of the electric and hybrid cars, being touted in a new council consultation, cost as much as £50,000.

Southampton Hackey Association (SHA), Ian Hall, fears this could drive already hard-pressed cabbies out of the business.

Mr Hall, a taxi driver of more than 35 years, said: “Southampton City Council is expecting us to buy these purpose built vehicles.“But some of the electric ones cost as much as £50,000.“There is no chance in a million of us being able to pay that for electric vehicles because we haven’t got the work in Southampton that they have for example in London.”

Mr Hall, who has urged the council to have a meeting with drivers, added: “I don’t think it’s fair that they are targeting taxi drivers and private hire vehicles.”

“We’ve got these big ships calling in at the port all the time. Surely they should be targeting them first?”

The city council’s online consultation, which ends on Monday, asks drivers about their preferred choice of vehicle, including hybrid, electric and hydrogen powered cars.

It also asks how the authority can financially support those taxi and private hire drivers who wish to ‘go green’.

The move comes after council chiefs secured a £250,000 grant from the government to help taxi drivers get compliant with the authority’s incoming Clean Air Zone (CAZ).

Civic bosses hope the zone, which could be enforced as early as 2019, will help tackle the problem of high nitrous oxide level in the city.

The authority hope to achieve this by introducing a penalty charge for high-emission vehicles, such as older buses, coaches and lorries.

This could also include certain taxis and older more polluting cars.

In a statement, the city council said it was “required” to introduce a Clean Air Zone and a penalty charging system by the government.

To avoid the charge, vehicles will need to be a minimum “euro 6 standard” – the current lowest emission band and applied to all new car registrations on or after September 2015.

Petrol vehicles will need to be “euro 5” – which are those registered on or after January 2011.

Talking about the taxi consultation, a council spokesperson said: “The council is currently undertaking a feasibility study that will help guide how the city’s CAZ will work. Consultation on our findings, with the public and stakeholders, will take place in early 2018.

“Southampton City Council will also be looking to identify funding opportunities to support taxi operators who may choose to adopt this technology, although this is not a requirement of the Clean Air Zone.”

Aug 30

Breckland District Council responds to taxi access warning

Research released by Muscular Dystrophy UK named Breckland District Council among a list of 15 local authorities in East Anglia which it claims have no current plans to respond to a law change.

But, council chiefs say “members felt that further national guidance was needed in order to reach an informed decision” on how to apply legislation. A change in the law, which came into force in April, means taxi drivers can now be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse to transport wheelchair users or attempt to charge them extra.

The law also states their taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) licence could be suspended or revoked by their licencing authority if they fail to comply with the new law. However, Muscular Dystrophy UK says that only applies to drivers on council lists of wheelchair accessible taxis.

And the charity has revealed that a Freedom of Information request showed 15 councils across East Anglia, including Breckland, had no current plans to produce such a list.

A spokesperson for Breckland Council said: “We are aware of this change in legislation relating to taxis and a report was considered by members in March, in advance of this coming into force in April. “At the meeting, members felt that further national guidance was needed in order to reach an informed decision, and that it would be more appropriate to wait until a clearer picture has emerged of how the legislation has been implemented nationally. “There are a small number of licensed wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the district and we have not received any complaints about the availability of these vehicles or of these companies refusing to carry a wheelchair. “Our committee is due to consider this decision on 22 November.”

However, disability campaigner Doug Paulley, who carried out the research, said: “It is disappointing that the government’s intent in bringing in this legislation is being undermined by the failure of many councils to undertake the required office work, meaning that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity. “While conducting this research, it became clear that many councils simply didn’t think to create them until prompted.”

Aug 30

Taxi drivers could be exploiting lax local rules to avoid tougher checks, LGA warns

Taxi drivers could be exploiting a postcode lottery to avoid stringent criminal records checks, the Local Government Association has warned. Inconsistencies in the level of checks carried out by different local authorities means that drivers with criminal records or poor driving standards could target places perceived to have rules which were less tough, a spokesman said. “Some might have limitations about certain types of previous convictions on drivers so there might be discrepancies on that in some areas, or they might not need to pass a local knowledge test, for example,” he added.

The areas with lighter requirements are well-known among the taxi community, he added, raising concerns that exploitative taxi drivers could play the system to target areas which do not carry out detailed checks. “Drivers may apply for a license in one council and be rejected, so then they go somewhere else and they say yes, because they meet the criteria there,” he added.

Councils are unable to take action against drivers operating in their area who have been licensed by a different council, the LGA added, causing “huge frustration” for local drivers who “may have had to comply with more rigorous licensing standards”.

Last year the council in Rotherham, where drivers were part of an organised ring which picked up and abused more than 1,000 young girls over 16 years, changed its taxi licensing policy to “rebuild trust and confidence in Rotherham’s taxi industry”. The new rules require drivers to have safeguarding training, banned them from having children in the front seat of a vehicle, and required the installation of cameras in most taxis.

The LGA is calling for a Government-enforced law which would create a “level playing field” for drivers.

Cllr Clive Woodbridge, deputy chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “In recent years, we’ve seen a number of child sexual exploitation cases that have involved taxi and PHV holders abusing the trust that has been placed in them, so there are strong safeguarding reasons for strengthening current legislation.” Existing legislation dates back to 1847, when horse-drawn hackney carriages required regulation, and is not suitable for modern taxi firms which use mobile technology, the LGA added.

The launch of Uber in many UK towns and cities has caused controversy among the existing private hire and taxi firms. The mobile app charges cheaper prices than local firms in some cities and enables passengers to electronically book cabs, raising complaints among taxi drivers in some areas that it essentially allows the “hailing” of a minicab.

Mr Woodbridge added that app-based firms are “causing concern about whether drivers are able to compete on a level playing field and has led to numerous and costly legal challenges which local licensing authorities are being forced to spend public money on.

Jul 28

Taxi driver who grabbed woman between legs faces jail

A TAXI driver from Leamington who grabbed a woman between her legs when she got out of his cab following a row about the fare has been warned to expect an immediate prison sentence. Balvinder Singh had denied sexually assaulting the woman after driving her home, claiming ‘it just did not happen’ a jury was told. But the jury at Warwick Crown Court took just two hours to find the 56 year-old of Tachbrook Road, guilty by a unanimous verdict.

Adjourning for a pre-sentence report, Judge Barry Berlin warned that a taxi driver convicted of breach of trust by a sexual offence against a passenger ‘ought to go immediately to custody.’ Prosecutor Tariq Shakoor said that in the early hours of Sunday January 17 last year a woman in her 50s made a complaint to the police that she had been sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. “The defendant’s case is that he was the taxi driver during this incident, but that no sexual assault took place.”

Mr Shakoor said the woman had been out for the night, socialising with friends in Coventry city centre, and had visited a number of pubs, ‘having a normal Saturday night out.’ At about 2.30 in the morning a friend she was with, but who lived in a different part of the city to her, left to go home. “She stays on, and eventually she too decides it’s time to go home. She leaves a public house and flags down a black cab close-by. There is no dispute the defendant is the driver.”

The woman shared the cab with a male friend who was dropped off first before continuing to her home. But when they arrived there was a dispute over the fare, which was higher than she thought it should be, which Singh said was because of waiting time while they dropped off her friend. The woman became abusive, and called the police to complain about being overcharged – but although the operator told her it was a civil matter, the line remained open and recorded the exchange, which ended with her paying Singh £10.

She complained she could not get out, so Singh got out to open the door, and when she got out he then grabbed hold of her. “He put his hand between her legs, over her clothing, in the area of her private parts. She couldn’t believe what he’d done,” said Mr Shakoor. “If you are sure that is what he did, that is a sexual assault. His case is that it just did not happen,” he explained.

He said during the incident the woman heard someone shout out, which caused Singh to let go, and he got back into the taxi and drove off – and she went inside and, ‘quite distraught,’ called the police again. The jury heard a woman who lived in the same street happened to be awake and could hear the argument over the fare, so got out of bed and looked out of the window. “She describes seeing the driver grabbing the female around the area of her waist and holding her in what she described as a bear hug, pulling her towards him. “It appeared as if he was trying to kiss her. She alerts her partner who gets out of bed and shouts out of the window.”

Following the incident, Singh was traced and arrested, but denied the offence, added Mr Shakoor. In court, Singh said he had kept his foot on the brake during the argument over the fare to keep the door locked so the woman could not make off without paying.

But he said it was then she who hugged him, apologising for the argument over the fare, so he had hugged her back. “She said she liked me. I said ‘no, I’m married, and I moved her with two hands, pushing outwards to her shoulders, and then got back into the taxi and drove away.” He denied touching her between the legs, and accused her of making it all up to get him into trouble.

After the jury returned its verdict, at the request of his barrister Jonathan Veasey-Pugh, Judge Berlin agreed to adjourn for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on Singh. But he commented: “He must realise this is a serious matter for which an immediate custodial sentence is highly likely, particularly in view of what is a breach of trust.” Singh was granted bail, but Judge Berlin warned him: “That must not in your mind mean that there is not going to be an immediate custodial sentence. “I take the view that a taxi driver who is convicted of breach of trust by a sexual offence committed against a passenger ought to go immediately to custody.”

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