Criminals Are Dodging Council Ban And Driving For Uber In Southend

A seaside town has complained that Uber, the app-driven taxi service, is using convicted criminals to tout for business even though the council has banned them from working as cabbies.

Taxi firms in Southend, Essex, have been dismayed by the arrival of up to 50 Uber drivers operating in the resort.

Among the new drivers are two familiar faces — Nasser Hussain, 60, and Nisar Abbas, 37, who were stripped of their private hire licences by the council for operating a ring in which they and other drivers shared each other’s penalty points for speeding, running red lights and other offences to avoid being banned.

Uber drivers are required to hold private hire vehicle (PHV) licences issued by the local authorities, but the two men sidestepped their bans by applying through Transport for London (TfL) instead of Southend council.

Such “cross-border” drivers are exploiting a legal grey area, which has worked to Uber’s advantage as the company seeks to expand into new areas across the UK.

Other places affected by the tactic include Bristol, where dozens of Uber drivers are using London PHV licences to avoid the local council’s requirement that taxi drivers must take a special driving and city geography test.

At Southend Crown Court in 2010, Hussain and Abbas were each jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to 10 counts of perverting the course of justice.

The judge, Ian Graham, told Hussain, who lives in Southend: “You continued to carry the public when you should have been off the road altogether.”

Tony Cox, Southend council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “What I find astounding is that we did our part and removed these people from the road, but we now find we are impotent to protect the public.

“Uber are sticking two fingers up at licensing authorities like ours, and TfL is complicit in it.”

Despite complaints from the council, both Hussain and Abbas were still shown on TfL’s register of licensed drivers last week.

Steve ********, of the GMB union’s professional drivers’ section, said: “It is tantamount to an invasion and it is a much wider problem than Southend. Across the country, Uber are twisting the regulations to suit their ends. Local licensing systems are being sidestepped in the most cynical way.”

Uber now asks prospective drivers if they have had a PVH licence rejected or revoked.

An Uber spokesman said Hussain and Abbas still drove for the company but that their vetting was a matter for TfL.

A TfL spokesman said: “These are very serious issues, which have been raised with us and are under investigation

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

New taxi licences suspended by council amidst chaos at offices

The suspension comes after Knowsley Council removed the ‘street knowledge’ test and there was a spike in applications

The issuing of new taxi licences in Knowsley as the council struggles to cope with a deluge of applications.

The move follows changes to the licensing process which some critics say have made it too easy to for people to qualify to drive a taxi – specifically removal of the ‘street knowledge’ section of the application.

Also it is no longer a requirement for a Hackney cab or private hire driver to live in the area where the licence is issued.

Taxi drivers in Merseyside have been speaking out over the issue claiming would-be drivers are ‘scamming’ Knowsley Council by going into the borough applying for a licence and then going to Manchester or Liverpool to ‘work for Uber’ because they don’t have to have ‘ street knowledge to get a licence in the borough.

Now Knowsley Council licensing bosses say they “intend to look into the reasons for the increased numbers, which may include a review of existing policies to ensure that they remain robust and fit for purpose”.

A statement on the authority’s website said: “The current rate of applications is not sustainable as the council’s licensing service simply has not currently got the resources to manage and regulate the increasing level of drivers, particularly if some of these drivers have no intention of operating within in the Knowsley area.”

For a taxi licence in Knowsley applicants must pay £49, show you ”are a fit a proper person’, pass a DBS and DVLA check, a medical and have been driving for 12 months.

Once you pass the checks applicants must complete the Level 2 Certificate in the ‘Introduction to the Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver’ (QCF), which doesn’t include a ‘street knowledge’ test, before you are licensed to drive and take a driver skills assessment with council officers.

The temporary suspension is expected to last ‘no longer than 14 days’ and the council said “they would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause but it is felt that this is a necessary measure at this time”.

A Knowsley Council spokesperson said: “The volume of taxi licensing applications received has significantly increased recently.

“In December 2016, we received twice as many applications as we would normally expect and we are not resourced to process and regulate this many applications.

“As a result, we are reviewing our processes and the reasons for the increase in applications. This is anticipated to take a few weeks and whilst this review is being undertaken, we have introduced a temporary suspension of any new licenses being processed.”

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

Pirate cabs exploit licensing loophole to dodge knowledge tests

Express newspapers report that A YORKSHIRE mill town has been bombarded by applications from would-be-cabbies nationwide who see it as a soft touch for a taxi licence.

Private-hire drivers can be approved by any town hall to work anywhere in England and Wales

Huddersfield, famous for being the birthplace of rugby league, is at the centre of a minicab licensing storm.

Until recent deregulation, private-hire drivers could be licensed only by the local authority where they lived.

But they can now be approved by any town hall to work anywhere in England and Wales.

This has led minicab bosses to send new driver applications to councils that do not require knowledge tests.

Some councils are being bombarded by thousands of requests from drivers with no knowledge of the area.

Now Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire is rushing in a knowledge test after being swamped with non-local applications.

Senior Tory councillor Robert Light said: “Kirklees is seen as a soft touch.

We became suspicious after we had a lot more applications than normal from all over the place.

“A lot of other councils are bringing in knowledge tests. The duty of the council is to ensure public safety and Kirklees drivers don’t want outsiders taking their trade.

“We need to know taxis are legitimate and not putting the public at risk.”

More than 250 of those badged up in Rossendale in Lancashire are working more than 100 miles away in Derby, which has a tough maps test.

Paul Brent, chairman of the National Taxi Association, said: “These pirates are getting their licences in the sticks and working anywhere.

“Trafford in Greater Manchester, where I come from, got rid of the knowledge test and ended up with 3,000 applicants. It will take three years to clear the backlog.

“One guy was talking about working in London. He could not care less that he did not know where St Paul’s or Piccadilly was as long as he had his sat nav or phone.

“Councils can’t take enforcement action against cabs not registered in their area. So anyone getting into one risks getting ripped off. It is an absolute disaster.”

The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association said: “We are extremely concerned about cross-border hiring.

“The local licensing authorities do not then know the identity of who is driving or have the ability to check their criminal record or suitability to carry passengers in their area.”

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

Refused taxi ride because of guide dog

Paralympic double gold medal winner Libby Clegg, 26, suffers from Stargardt disease, a rare inherited condition that leads to the loss of central

TAXI drivers in Loughborough have left a Paralympic double gold medal winner stranded on the side of the road – because they didn’t want her guide dog in the car.

And the shocking incident hasn’t happened just once, but seven times at least.

Rio Olympian Libby Clegg, 26, suffers from Stargardt disease, a rare inherited condition that leads to the loss of central vision, that will eventually lead to a complete loss of sight.

And speaking to the Echo she says that on at least seven occasions in the last two years, taxi drivers in Loughborough have just driven off and left her and her guide dog Hatti, waiting for help.

Sometimes she has been left standing at Loughborough train station for half an hour waiting for a taxi with cabs just driving off.

This has also happened to her at least 20 times in London.

Libby, who lives in Loughborough, won gold medals in both the T11 100m and T11 200m sprints at the 2016 Rio Olympic games.

She told the Echo: “It is just ignorant, and I am just left absolutely shocked sometimes because I can’t believe what has just happened.

“Some people just don’t think dogs should be in the car, but it still isn’t an excuse to just drive off and leave someone stranded waiting for a taxi

“I think the best advice to anyone who has had similar difficulties to myself is to stay strong.

“I have learned that you really need to be able to speak up about issues like this.

“People need to know just how annoying and upsetting it can be when simple things like being able to get a taxi are made harder by ignorant and rude taxi drivers.

“I have sometimes admitted defeat and just walked home late at night.

“I really feel that sometimes it is just Hatti that is discriminated against, but also sometimes I definitely take it personally, just because I have a visual impairment doesn’t make me different to anyone else.

“Some taxi drivers are really helpful, and really good, but I have had too many bad experiences now that I just prefer to use my own private one.

“Hatti is part of my family now, I have had her for two years, but also she is a working dog, she is clean and very well trained, so I just don’t understand why people still have this stigma and won’t take myself and her in the car.”

Libby is an ambassador for the charity Guide Dogs and Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan recently attended an event run by the charity in Parliament, to show her support for a move that taxi drivers should receive disability equality training when getting their licence.

Mrs Morgan told the Echo: “I think it is outrageous that this has been happening, and it just shows that the call for the equality training is real.

“It is very worrying to hear from so many people who have been illegally turned away from taxis because they travel with an assistance dog.”

http://www.loughboroughecho.net/

Uber’s York licence to be reviewed, as complaints log is revealed

UBER drivers are coming from Leeds, Bradford and London to work in York, according to a council report.

City of York Council has received 72 complaints about Uber’s vehicles and drivers since the app-based service was allowed to operate in the city four months ago.

A union representing local drivers has now urged city leaders to rescind Uber’s licence, when it comes up for renewal later this month.

The company operates in 536 countries and works by customers ordering a taxi to their location on their smartphone.

It has proved controversial in other UK cities and York is no exception.

Thirty one complaints have been made about vehicles coming into the city from elsewhere, however investigations found 24 of the complaints were unfounded or could not be fully investigated due to insufficient evidence.

A council report said drivers of vehicles licensed by authorities in Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees and London appeared to have chosen to work in York.

Uber was reported 23 times for plying for hire – the process of a private hire car picking up passengers who flag them down instead of booking them – but 22 cases were deemed unfounded or could not be pursued.

Picking up people illegally means passengers would not be insured if the driver was involved in a crash.

Other complaints range from Uber cars not having the correct door signs and licence plates to no insurance and smoking in the cab.

Councillors will meet next week to discuss renewing the firm’s licence, which expires on Christmas Eve, but is facing strong calls from the GMB union to rescind it.

GMB, the trade union for Hackney and Private Hire drivers, met with Rachael Maskell MP, for York Central, on Friday.

Bill Chard, speaking on behalf of the GMB’s Professional Drivers’ Section, said: “These drivers have no connection with, and are not controlled or managed by City of York Council.

“GMB calls upon the council to withdraw Uber’s licence as they have proved that they are neither fit nor capable of operating safely in the city.

“GMB would like the council to confirm whether Uber’s operating licence was given on the basis of six licensed vehicles.”

A spokesman for Uber said: “Uber is fully licensed in York and abides by the same rules and regulations as other operators in the City.

“Uber is also licensed in surrounding areas and licensed private-hire drivers are not restricted from carrying out bookings in other areas provided the operator, driver and vehicle are properly licensed. Uber only uses licensed drivers and vehicles under its operating licences, and therefore such bookings are not illegal.

“York licensed drivers booked by other York private hire operators are also able to carry out booking in other areas, for instance picking up bookings from Selby.”

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

Jan 11

Criminals Are Dodging Council Ban And Driving For Uber In Southend

A seaside town has complained that Uber, the app-driven taxi service, is using convicted criminals to tout for business even though the council has banned them from working as cabbies.

Taxi firms in Southend, Essex, have been dismayed by the arrival of up to 50 Uber drivers operating in the resort.

Among the new drivers are two familiar faces — Nasser Hussain, 60, and Nisar Abbas, 37, who were stripped of their private hire licences by the council for operating a ring in which they and other drivers shared each other’s penalty points for speeding, running red lights and other offences to avoid being banned.

Uber drivers are required to hold private hire vehicle (PHV) licences issued by the local authorities, but the two men sidestepped their bans by applying through Transport for London (TfL) instead of Southend council.

Such “cross-border” drivers are exploiting a legal grey area, which has worked to Uber’s advantage as the company seeks to expand into new areas across the UK.

Other places affected by the tactic include Bristol, where dozens of Uber drivers are using London PHV licences to avoid the local council’s requirement that taxi drivers must take a special driving and city geography test.

At Southend Crown Court in 2010, Hussain and Abbas were each jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to 10 counts of perverting the course of justice.

The judge, Ian Graham, told Hussain, who lives in Southend: “You continued to carry the public when you should have been off the road altogether.”

Tony Cox, Southend council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “What I find astounding is that we did our part and removed these people from the road, but we now find we are impotent to protect the public.

“Uber are sticking two fingers up at licensing authorities like ours, and TfL is complicit in it.”

Despite complaints from the council, both Hussain and Abbas were still shown on TfL’s register of licensed drivers last week.

Steve ********, of the GMB union’s professional drivers’ section, said: “It is tantamount to an invasion and it is a much wider problem than Southend. Across the country, Uber are twisting the regulations to suit their ends. Local licensing systems are being sidestepped in the most cynical way.”

Uber now asks prospective drivers if they have had a PVH licence rejected or revoked.

An Uber spokesman said Hussain and Abbas still drove for the company but that their vetting was a matter for TfL.

A TfL spokesman said: “These are very serious issues, which have been raised with us and are under investigation

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

Jan 11

New taxi licences suspended by council amidst chaos at offices

The suspension comes after Knowsley Council removed the ‘street knowledge’ test and there was a spike in applications

The issuing of new taxi licences in Knowsley as the council struggles to cope with a deluge of applications.

The move follows changes to the licensing process which some critics say have made it too easy to for people to qualify to drive a taxi – specifically removal of the ‘street knowledge’ section of the application.

Also it is no longer a requirement for a Hackney cab or private hire driver to live in the area where the licence is issued.

Taxi drivers in Merseyside have been speaking out over the issue claiming would-be drivers are ‘scamming’ Knowsley Council by going into the borough applying for a licence and then going to Manchester or Liverpool to ‘work for Uber’ because they don’t have to have ‘ street knowledge to get a licence in the borough.

Now Knowsley Council licensing bosses say they “intend to look into the reasons for the increased numbers, which may include a review of existing policies to ensure that they remain robust and fit for purpose”.

A statement on the authority’s website said: “The current rate of applications is not sustainable as the council’s licensing service simply has not currently got the resources to manage and regulate the increasing level of drivers, particularly if some of these drivers have no intention of operating within in the Knowsley area.”

For a taxi licence in Knowsley applicants must pay £49, show you ”are a fit a proper person’, pass a DBS and DVLA check, a medical and have been driving for 12 months.

Once you pass the checks applicants must complete the Level 2 Certificate in the ‘Introduction to the Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver’ (QCF), which doesn’t include a ‘street knowledge’ test, before you are licensed to drive and take a driver skills assessment with council officers.

The temporary suspension is expected to last ‘no longer than 14 days’ and the council said “they would like to apologise for any inconvenience that this may cause but it is felt that this is a necessary measure at this time”.

A Knowsley Council spokesperson said: “The volume of taxi licensing applications received has significantly increased recently.

“In December 2016, we received twice as many applications as we would normally expect and we are not resourced to process and regulate this many applications.

“As a result, we are reviewing our processes and the reasons for the increase in applications. This is anticipated to take a few weeks and whilst this review is being undertaken, we have introduced a temporary suspension of any new licenses being processed.”

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

Dec 19

Pirate cabs exploit licensing loophole to dodge knowledge tests

Express newspapers report that A YORKSHIRE mill town has been bombarded by applications from would-be-cabbies nationwide who see it as a soft touch for a taxi licence.

Private-hire drivers can be approved by any town hall to work anywhere in England and Wales

Huddersfield, famous for being the birthplace of rugby league, is at the centre of a minicab licensing storm.

Until recent deregulation, private-hire drivers could be licensed only by the local authority where they lived.

But they can now be approved by any town hall to work anywhere in England and Wales.

This has led minicab bosses to send new driver applications to councils that do not require knowledge tests.

Some councils are being bombarded by thousands of requests from drivers with no knowledge of the area.

Now Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire is rushing in a knowledge test after being swamped with non-local applications.

Senior Tory councillor Robert Light said: “Kirklees is seen as a soft touch.

We became suspicious after we had a lot more applications than normal from all over the place.

“A lot of other councils are bringing in knowledge tests. The duty of the council is to ensure public safety and Kirklees drivers don’t want outsiders taking their trade.

“We need to know taxis are legitimate and not putting the public at risk.”

More than 250 of those badged up in Rossendale in Lancashire are working more than 100 miles away in Derby, which has a tough maps test.

Paul Brent, chairman of the National Taxi Association, said: “These pirates are getting their licences in the sticks and working anywhere.

“Trafford in Greater Manchester, where I come from, got rid of the knowledge test and ended up with 3,000 applicants. It will take three years to clear the backlog.

“One guy was talking about working in London. He could not care less that he did not know where St Paul’s or Piccadilly was as long as he had his sat nav or phone.

“Councils can’t take enforcement action against cabs not registered in their area. So anyone getting into one risks getting ripped off. It is an absolute disaster.”

The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association said: “We are extremely concerned about cross-border hiring.

“The local licensing authorities do not then know the identity of who is driving or have the ability to check their criminal record or suitability to carry passengers in their area.”

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

Dec 19

Refused taxi ride because of guide dog

Paralympic double gold medal winner Libby Clegg, 26, suffers from Stargardt disease, a rare inherited condition that leads to the loss of central

TAXI drivers in Loughborough have left a Paralympic double gold medal winner stranded on the side of the road – because they didn’t want her guide dog in the car.

And the shocking incident hasn’t happened just once, but seven times at least.

Rio Olympian Libby Clegg, 26, suffers from Stargardt disease, a rare inherited condition that leads to the loss of central vision, that will eventually lead to a complete loss of sight.

And speaking to the Echo she says that on at least seven occasions in the last two years, taxi drivers in Loughborough have just driven off and left her and her guide dog Hatti, waiting for help.

Sometimes she has been left standing at Loughborough train station for half an hour waiting for a taxi with cabs just driving off.

This has also happened to her at least 20 times in London.

Libby, who lives in Loughborough, won gold medals in both the T11 100m and T11 200m sprints at the 2016 Rio Olympic games.

She told the Echo: “It is just ignorant, and I am just left absolutely shocked sometimes because I can’t believe what has just happened.

“Some people just don’t think dogs should be in the car, but it still isn’t an excuse to just drive off and leave someone stranded waiting for a taxi

“I think the best advice to anyone who has had similar difficulties to myself is to stay strong.

“I have learned that you really need to be able to speak up about issues like this.

“People need to know just how annoying and upsetting it can be when simple things like being able to get a taxi are made harder by ignorant and rude taxi drivers.

“I have sometimes admitted defeat and just walked home late at night.

“I really feel that sometimes it is just Hatti that is discriminated against, but also sometimes I definitely take it personally, just because I have a visual impairment doesn’t make me different to anyone else.

“Some taxi drivers are really helpful, and really good, but I have had too many bad experiences now that I just prefer to use my own private one.

“Hatti is part of my family now, I have had her for two years, but also she is a working dog, she is clean and very well trained, so I just don’t understand why people still have this stigma and won’t take myself and her in the car.”

Libby is an ambassador for the charity Guide Dogs and Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan recently attended an event run by the charity in Parliament, to show her support for a move that taxi drivers should receive disability equality training when getting their licence.

Mrs Morgan told the Echo: “I think it is outrageous that this has been happening, and it just shows that the call for the equality training is real.

“It is very worrying to hear from so many people who have been illegally turned away from taxis because they travel with an assistance dog.”

http://www.loughboroughecho.net/

Dec 19

Uber’s York licence to be reviewed, as complaints log is revealed

UBER drivers are coming from Leeds, Bradford and London to work in York, according to a council report.

City of York Council has received 72 complaints about Uber’s vehicles and drivers since the app-based service was allowed to operate in the city four months ago.

A union representing local drivers has now urged city leaders to rescind Uber’s licence, when it comes up for renewal later this month.

The company operates in 536 countries and works by customers ordering a taxi to their location on their smartphone.

It has proved controversial in other UK cities and York is no exception.

Thirty one complaints have been made about vehicles coming into the city from elsewhere, however investigations found 24 of the complaints were unfounded or could not be fully investigated due to insufficient evidence.

A council report said drivers of vehicles licensed by authorities in Leeds, Bradford, Kirklees and London appeared to have chosen to work in York.

Uber was reported 23 times for plying for hire – the process of a private hire car picking up passengers who flag them down instead of booking them – but 22 cases were deemed unfounded or could not be pursued.

Picking up people illegally means passengers would not be insured if the driver was involved in a crash.

Other complaints range from Uber cars not having the correct door signs and licence plates to no insurance and smoking in the cab.

Councillors will meet next week to discuss renewing the firm’s licence, which expires on Christmas Eve, but is facing strong calls from the GMB union to rescind it.

GMB, the trade union for Hackney and Private Hire drivers, met with Rachael Maskell MP, for York Central, on Friday.

Bill Chard, speaking on behalf of the GMB’s Professional Drivers’ Section, said: “These drivers have no connection with, and are not controlled or managed by City of York Council.

“GMB calls upon the council to withdraw Uber’s licence as they have proved that they are neither fit nor capable of operating safely in the city.

“GMB would like the council to confirm whether Uber’s operating licence was given on the basis of six licensed vehicles.”

A spokesman for Uber said: “Uber is fully licensed in York and abides by the same rules and regulations as other operators in the City.

“Uber is also licensed in surrounding areas and licensed private-hire drivers are not restricted from carrying out bookings in other areas provided the operator, driver and vehicle are properly licensed. Uber only uses licensed drivers and vehicles under its operating licences, and therefore such bookings are not illegal.

“York licensed drivers booked by other York private hire operators are also able to carry out booking in other areas, for instance picking up bookings from Selby.”

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

Dec 08

Minibus taxi safeguarding loophole must be fixed, councils urge

A “worrying” loophole that allows people to drive members of the public in minibuses without having a criminal record check must be solved by urgently updating taxi licensing laws, councils warned today.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils, says the safeguarding flaw is a huge loophole which is putting the public at an increased risk of harm, including those who may be more vulnerable after a night out.

Under current laws, drivers of Public Carriage Vehicles (PCVs) – those seating between nine and sixteen passengers – are licensed by the DVLA but are not subject to a criminal record check.

This contrasts with councils whose licensing of taxis – both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles (minicab) – requires drivers to produce an up-to-date enhanced criminal record check. Councils have the power to refuse or revoke a licence if a driver has convictions or cautions, or has behaved in a way that they believe renders the driver a risk to the public.

The loophole means that drivers refused a taxi or minicab licence, or whose licence has been revoked by councils, are obtaining a PCV licence and then continuing to operate in the same area – sometimes working for the same company. The drivers are effectively operating as licensed drivers by transporting members of the public around in larger vehicles, despite not having had the same checks or being deemed not ‘fit and proper’ to do so by the council.

The LGA says the loophole is undermining work to safeguard taxi passengers and is urging the Government to amend the law to ensure that 9-16 seater vehicles are licensed by councils in line with the requirements for taxis and minicabs. The Law Commission made recommendations on this in its 2014 report into taxi licensing, but the Government has yet to respond to the report or introduce a taxi reform Bill.

Examples of drivers who continue to drive members of the public despite councils determining that they pose a risk to passengers include:

A taxi driver whose licence was revoked following a conviction for harassment and further allegations of harassment and inappropriate conduct with a child was granted a PCV licence.

A taxi driver whose licence was refused for issues relating to misconduct – mainly with young female and vulnerable passengers – was granted a PCV licence within six months, working for the same company.

A taxi driver whose licence was revoked for inappropriate conduct with two young female passengers – specifically using data from booking and dispatch records to call and text them from his mobile phone – is working for the same taxi company as a PCV driver.

A man who, after being refused a taxi licence twice, drove his car through the barrier of the site where the councils’ officers were based in order to confront them, is now driving a 16-seat minibus taxi.

As larger minibus taxis become more commonplace, the LGA says that it is vital that the public receives the same level of protection regardless of whether they are using a standard sized taxi, minicab or minibus.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“The majority of PCV drivers will be people who the public can trust, but this loophole provides an opportunity for unscrupulous drivers to continue to work in close proximity to passengers, even when a council has determined that they are not safe to do so.

“Anyone who books or flags down a standard taxi has the reassurance that all drivers are vetted and licensed by councils. The same safeguarding checks should apply to anyone driving a nine to 16-seat minibus

“Larger minibuses are often sent in place of a regular taxi to pick up individuals or small parties, purely because they are nearest to the pick-up point rather than because there is a requirement for such a large vehicle. They are used to take groups of children to school, or to drive groups home after nights out.

“It is therefore extremely worrying that councils’ proactive work to protect taxi passengers from harm – and particularly those who may be most vulnerable – is being undermined by this loophole.

“We are urging the Government to act quickly to address this and bring PCVs into line with other local taxi licensing requirements.

“Two-and-a-half years after the Law Commission’s report into taxi licensing, this issue shows why it is vital that the Government introduces a Taxi Reform Bill to address this and the many other anomalies hindering our taxi licensing system.”

source: http://www.local.gov.uk/

Dec 08

Bristol: Taxi drivers filmed turning away disabled passengers

Taxi drivers in Bristol are breaking the law by turning away some disabled passengers, an ITV investigation has found.

The City Council says it will launch an inquiry after we filmed hackney drivers telling a woman in a wheelchair they couldn’t give her a lift.

Kate Sweetman, who uses an electric wheelchair because she has multiple sclerosis, missed a concert after travelling from her home in Chippenham to Bristol because no hackney cab could take her to the venue.

ITV West Country filmed with her in Bristol city centre as four out of five drivers she approached said they were unable to help:

Reasons they gave included the size of her chair or weight restrictions on their vehicles. One didn’t have suitable ramps to get Kate into the back of the vehicle. Kate says her chair is no wider than a manually operated one.

“It makes you feel like a second-class citizen,” she said. “It smacks your disability in your face. Everywhere should be suitable for anybody to use. Your human right should be for you to use anything the same as anybody else.”

The chair of the Public Safety and Protection Committee, Cllr Sultan Khan Chair, told us drivers were committing a criminal offence by not taking Kate.

“They shouldn’t be doing that,” he added. “We can suspend their licence, we can revoke it if necessary. The bottom line is the hackney vehicles are wheelchair accessible and nothing can prevent them from taking passengers, whatever their disability.”

He said the local authority would be investigating the findings and reviewing its policies. It also intends to carry out undercover spot-checks.
The City Council issues just under 1,000 hackney cab licences in Bristol.

The Bristol Disability Equality Forum told us Kate’s experience was ‘depressingly common’.

source: http://www.itv.com/

Nov 19

Uber driver used as courier in drugs bust

A former rugby star was convicted after copying the hit TV show Breaking Bad to rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds by cooking crystal meth.

Lorenzo Bocchini, 36, set up a hi-tech drugs laboratory in his luxurious Little Venice home, where police recovered £300,000 of drugs, £33,000 cash and a stun gun.

Crystal meth at the flat was found to have been dyed blue — the colour of a narcotic created by fictional drug baron Walter White in Breaking Bad.

Bocchini’s brother Alessandro, 43, was arrested along with his wife Justine, 36, in the same police operation eight months earlier at their Bayswater home.

Officers recovered crystal meth, MDMA and £12,210 in cash. The couple pleaded guilty to a string of drugs offences, including possession with intent to supply crystal meth, the designer drug mephedrone, ecstasy and cocaine. They were jailed earlier for six and four years respectively.

Footage seized from CCTV inside their home showed the pair counting thousands of pounds worth of cash just hours before they were raided.

Police say the family members ran a wholesale drugs distribution network using an Uber driver as a courier to transport packages to users around London, referring to the deliveries as “T-bags”.

A financial investigation identified £100,000 of drugs money went via the couple’s bank accounts in the six months before their arrest.

In total, detectives believe they have identified millions of pounds of assets, including a flat in Dubai.

The family were targeted by detectives from Lambeth police’s Omega drugs and firearms team in a long-running surveillance and intelligence operation. Detectives had been investigating a spate of deaths from chemsex drugs such as GHB, including fatalities at a gay sauna in Vauxhall.

Today Det Con Matt Clark, who led the investigation, said: “The Bocchini family were making significant profits selling highly dangerous and addictive class A drugs. What we uncovered was the wholesale supply of crystal methlyamphetamine and other drugs, focusing on the ‘chemsex’ scene in south London.

“The use of crystal meth within this scene is hugely damaging and we believe there are strong connections to drug deaths, rape and child sexual exploitation, links which we continue to investigate.”

Alessandro was identified as a supplier of wholesale amounts of crystal meth and police raided his Bayswater house last November.

His wife Justine, the mother of two young children, told officers as the pair were held: “It was a good life.” During interviews, both denied possessing or dealing drugs and Justine claimed she just “baked cup cakes”.

However, photographic evidence from Alessandro’s phone showed a kitchen table laden with crystal meth in a preparation phase prior to sale, with a text message from him that read: “Well cooked my little chef.”

His brother Lorenzo was due to be sentenced at Southwark crown court on December 1 for drugs supply offences. He pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

When officers raided his rented flat in July, as well as drugs and cash they found sachets of dye used to colour the crystal meth blue in an apparent copy of the Breaking Bad series.

Police say all three offenders grew hooked on the drugs they supplied.

Det Insp Stephen Payne, of Omega squad, said the case was unusual because none of the main offenders were previously known to police.

He added: “In that sense it was like the Breaking Bad scenario. These were professional people who made a choice to go into this venture. They were not career criminals but were looking for an opportunity to make money out of nothing.

“They lived a high-roller, Breaking Bad lifestyle, not really knowing what to do with the cash. They even seemed to adopt the Breaking Bad signature of dying their crystal meth blue.”

Lorenzo Bocchini played as a prop for two Italian club sides in his career between 2000 and 2010, including for Viadana in the Heineken Cup.
In 2010 he was named by the British press as one of the players from the L’Aquila club who helped survivors when an earthquake hit the town.

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

Nov 19

Calls for taxi drivers to undergo disability awareness training

Research shows nearly half of guide dog owners have been illegally refused a ride in the past year because of their animal.

That’s what MPs are discussing with the introduction of a Private Members Bill by Andrew Gwynne MP that is being debated in Parliament today.

According to the Guide Dogs charity, there is an ongoing issue with guide dog owners being illegally turned away by drivers who do not want to carry their dog.

New research by the charity shows 42% of blind or visually impaired people were significantly more likely to be turned away by drivers because of their dog, while 38% of guide dog owners have been illegally asked to pay an extra fare for carrying their dog.

The charity said being discriminated against in this way is not only distressing, it can also stop people who are living with sight-loss do everyday things that most people take for granted.

Rosemary Howell, 28, is visually impaired and lives in rural Cambridgeshire.

She told Sky News she had been refused by three different taxi drivers because they did not want to take her dog, Una, who she has had for about two years.

The drivers had been given disability training but she said the experience left her feeling vulnerable and she would like there to be tougher penalties.

She said: “Even when I got in a taxi they didn’t seem that bothered and I felt very unwanted.

“Why should I have to be different from everyone else just because I have a disability and I have something that will help me?

“Taxi drivers need educating because then they might have a bit more empathy with service users who have guide dogs or assistance dogs because they understand that dog needs to go with the owner in the front.

“A lot of taxi companies say you have to have the dog in the boot, and you can’t have that because it has to go with the owner.

“If education is there to teach these people this is the law and this is what service dogs are, I think life for a disabled person will be a lot easier.”

Both the Licensed Private Hire Car Association and the National Taxi Association are backing the bill while Transport for London, which looks after 35% of England & Wales’ licensed vehicles, is introducing mandatory disability equality training for drivers.

Uber says any driver who refuses to take a guide dog will permanently lose access to its app and risks losing their licence.

source: http://news.sky.com/

Nov 19

Commons Questions: Tourism Action Plan

Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, in reference to page 11 of the Tourism Action Plan, published in August 2016, whether deregulating an element of private hire vehicle licences will be carried out through primary legislation.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The deregulation of private hire vehicles licensing where transportation is an ancillary element of the service provided will require primary legislation.

Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, in reference to page 11 of the Tourism Action Plan, published in August 2016, what assessment his Department has made of the effect on consumer safety of deregulating an element of private hire vehicle licences for owners of hotels to collect visitors from ports of entry.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Department for Transport is working with other departments including the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to consider how common sense regulation can be introduce where transport is an ancillary element of the service provided. Consumer safety remains the primary concern.

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