Tougher tests for taxi and private hire drivers in Telford

The Shropshire Star reports that taxi and private hire drivers in Telford are to be trained by the company police forces use to give speed awareness courses.

From this month, anybody applying for a licence from the council will have to undergo an hour of training before taking an extensive exam on rules and regulations on becoming a taxi or private hire driver, plus a practical driving test.

TTC Group, which will run the Knowledge and Driving Standards Test, aims to explore some of the challenges and scenarios facing the drivers, including the rules and regulations of holding a hackney carriage or private hire licence and how to report collisions.

This comes as the Department for Transport is currently in consultation on whether to enforce more extensive checks on taxi drivers in efforts to close loopholes in the system and ensure the safety of residents.

Angie Astley, assistant director of neighbourhood and customer services at Telford & Wrekin Council, said: “Our officers apply the highest standards when we license drivers, and our partnership with TTC is to ensure the safety of anyone using a taxi or private hire vehicle.

Spot checks

“Every driver applying for a licence with Telford & Wrekin Council will receive one hour of training with an experienced road safety expert before sitting a Knowledge Test on what it means to be a taxi or private hire driver and the behaviour expected of them.

“Prior to any licence being granted, drivers must pass this test in addition to taking and passing the Driving Standards test, which is a one-hour practical exam on the road.

“If you book a private hire vehicle or hail a taxi that has been licensed by Telford & Wrekin Council, you should be safe in the knowledge that they meet our high standards – our officers will act on anyone who doesn’t.”

Spot checks conducted in Telford by police officers last year resulted in three private hire drivers facing enforcement action for picking up unbooked fares.

Andy Wheeler, business development director at TTC Group, said: “We have a proven track record in improving driving safety and behaviour and this latest contract will tap into our expertise and systems to help Telford & Wrekin Council ensure every taxi driver on local roads has gone through the right knowledge and practical driving tests.

“Hopefully, the individuals looking to secure their badges will also benefit from the new approach, advice and guidance we can offer.

“Education can play a crucial role in improving the safety of our roads.”


Taxi drivers fear new laws could create a ‘robbers’ charter’ for fare dodgers in Liverpool

Cabbies think they could become victims of crime if council proposals come in to force

New laws for Liverpool cabbies – including a BAN on hated up front charges

Taxi drivers are worried new city-wide rules could create a ‘robbers’ charter’ for fare dodgers in Liverpool.

The council’s licensing committee gave their support to new byelaws that are being proposed in an attempt to bring in more modern regulations for cabbies.

But some drivers have said a proposal to completely ban upfront charges for passengers travelling in the city could encourage those who might want to exploit the changes.

Eddie Wiles, of Liverpool Electronic Taxi Union, raised concerns about passengers in the city knowing that drivers wouldn’t have powers to demand any money upfront.

He said: “We do not want a robbers’ charter.

“We do not want every scally in the city coming up to us and saying ‘Well they can’t demand upfront payment from us’.”

However Liverpool council licensing officers said the new laws were necessary as some customers had been asked in the past by drivers to hand over belongings like their mobile phone as collateral.

Other new byelaws up for debate at this morning’s meeting were plans to force all taxi drivers with a card machine into taking payments by card if the customer requested to do so.

There are also more specific rules brought in to ensure that drivers are fully trained in using facilities in their cars designed for wheelchair users.

And councillors proposed setting up a working group to make sure cabbies remain fully aware of how to use these.

Currently, new drivers have to be trained in the use of tools like the wheelchair ramp but there is no requirement for refresher training.

Having been backed by the licensing committee, the proposed byelaws will now go to the full council for the next stage of approval.


Manchester Airport taxi rank relocation row resolved

Taxi drivers who staged a blockade at Manchester Airport in protest at the relocation of a cab rank have struck a deal with the airport.

Hundreds of Hackney carriage drivers took part in a go-slow and other demonstrations earlier this week.

An airport spokeswoman said “a compromise” had been reached over the arrangements for them to collect passengers at Terminal 3.

A spokesman for the drivers said they were “happy” with the deal.

Drivers claimed moving the taxi stand at Terminal 3, among a number of changes introduced on Tuesday, had hurt trade and caused problems for disabled passengers.

They staged the protest on Monday, claiming the new rank was a 10-minute walk from the front of the terminal.

They also staged go-slows round the airport.

Ali Qureshi from the Airport Taxi Association said: “We’ve won – the airport has backed down.”

An airport spokeswoman said: “While it was our preference for drivers to use the proposed new rank for a trial period, it was clear following a series of disruptive protests that this would not be accepted by the Hackney trade.”

Cabs can use four of the forecourt bays to collect passengers on the condition this can be reduced to two bays at busy times, she added.


Uber to learn London license fate with judge’s ruling on Tuesday

LONDON (Reuters) reports that – Uber will hear on Tuesday if a bid to overturn a ruling stripping it of its license to operate in London, its biggest European market, has succeeded after it said its corporate culture and practice had changed.

The taxi-hailing app overhauled its policies and personnel in Britain after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew its license in September for failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

While the appeal process is ongoing, Uber can continue to operate in the city, and Tuesday’s decision can also be appealed, meaning the whole legal process could take years.

With backers including Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and BlackRock (BLK.N) and valued at more than $70 billion, Uber has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional taxi operators, angering some unions.

Uber, which has about 45,000 drivers in London, introduced several new initiatives in response to the ruling, including 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to police. It has also changed senior UK management.

The ruling has also been a test of Uber’s new management at the board level, with chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took charge the month before TfL’s decision, pledging to “make things right” in London after the ruling.

Uber’s corporate culture has changed since Khosrowshahi’s arrival, company officials told the court on Monday, promising better practices and more transparency.

After its application for a five-year license was rejected last year, Uber is now seeking an 18-month one to prove to the authorities that it has reformed. But Judge Emma Arbuthnot on Monday said she thought 18 months “would be rather too long.”

TfL’s lawyer told the court on Monday that if Arbuthnot does decide to give Uber a London license, it should be under strict conditions which the regulator has agreed with Uber, and for a short time-period, as there are questions over whether the changes implemented can be relied upon.

The court will hear evidence from Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, on Tuesday, after which Arbuthnot plans to make her decision, the judge said on Monday.

The ruling is set to be made on Tuesday but the full judgment would follow later, she said.

Reporting by Alistair Smout, additional reporting by Costas Pitas, editing by Alexander Smith


Drug testing for taxi drivers plan after fatal Belgrave Middleway crash

The taxi driver who died was found to have cocaine in his system

Drug testing for taxi drivers in Birmingham has moved a step closer following a tragic road collision where six people were killed.

Inquests into the victims who died in the crash at Belgrave Middleway on December 17 heard that one of them, taxi driver Imtiaz Mohammed, aged 33, had cocaine in his system although it was not said to have caused the incident.

Senior Coroner Louise Hunt subsequently wrote to Birmingham City Council as well as Sandwell Borough Council – which had issued his hackney carriage licence – expressing concerns there was no drug testing policy in place at either authority.

In her letter she said: “The level of cocaine metabolite would have resulted in the deceased being over the legal drug drive limit. This did not contribute to this collision.

“However West Midlands Police raised concerns at the inquest that there was presently no system in place to monitor and check whether taxi drivers are over the drug limit whilst driving.

“They confirmed in evidence that some sort of testing was required for the safety of passengers.

“In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you have the power to take such action.”

This week Birmingham City Council’s licensing and public protection committee approved a proposal for officers to produce a draft drugs testing policy for drivers.

Questions were asked about how it might be implemented while Manawar Hussain, from T.O.A. Taxis stated it would have an impact on drivers.

But Emma Rohomon, acting head of licensing, said the details would not be known until the policy had been drawn up stating it would be brought back to the committee who could reject it if it was not feasible.

She added the council was under a legal obligation to respond to the coroner’s letter.

Imtiaz Mohammed was killed alongside his two passengers Lucy Davis, 43, and her partner Lee Jenkins, 42, when the taxi was hit by a speeding Audi travelling in the opposite direction.

Three of the four people in the Audi, driver Kasar Jehangir, 25, Mohammed Fahsha, 30, and Tauqeer Hussain, 26, were also killed while fourth man Zakkria Khan, 18, survived.

The coroner ruled the collision was caused by the excessive speed of the Audi which was estimated to be travelling between 94mph to 100mph on the 40mph route.


Bolton Licensing chiefs hit private hire driver duo with suspensions

LICENSING chiefs handed out suspensions to two private-hire drivers earlier this week.

Bolton Council’s traffic matters licensing sub-committee imposed the penalties at a town hall meeting earlier this week.

Members heard a private hire driver was caught breaking the speed limit on a motor in November last year.

They acknowledged the driver had declared his conviction as required by the conditions of his licence. But the driver had previously appeared before the committee in April 2011 in connection with three other offences.

The panel imposed a hit with a two-week suspension, noting that “drivers have a duty to adhere to speed limits at all times and exceeding them can be a real danger to public safety.”

A second private hire driver was suspended for four weeks. He had committed two “minor and intermediate offences” in August and December last year, including exceeding the passenger vehicle speed limit.

But members were concerned he had failed to declare either of the convictions and felt the offences occurring within four months of each other — suggested he was “developing a pattern of bad driving habits”. But the panel also renewed two private hire vehicle licences after finding the drivers to be “fit and proper persons”.


Ex-councillor’s taxi licence suspended over shocking Facebook group ‘bullying’

The Liverpool Echo reports that a former Halton councillor’s taxi driving licence has been suspended for a week over a Facebook group he set up that featured ‘offensive’ and ‘bullying’ comments towards council officials.

But an initial three-month suspension imposed against John Gerrard, former Labour member for Mersey ward in Runcorn, was set aside when he appeared at Warrington combined court on Friday to appeal against it, with the decision to take effect 21 days hence from the hearing.

District Judge Bridget Knight said she was giving Mr Gerrard the benefit of the doubt.

The matter relates to a 48-hour window from November 1-3, when a ‘Halton Taxi Owners & Drivers’ Facebook group set up by Mr Gerrard, briefly became public.

Mr Gerrard was also the group ‘admin’ and was a serving Labour councillor at the time.

Halton Council’s legal counsel Malcolm Hope told the court that Mr Gerrard himself had been party to making offensive comments, referring to the local authority taxi enforcement officer Nick Wheeler as a ‘d***’ and senior council traffic officer Stephen Rimmer a ‘t***’.

Former Halton councillor John Gerrard’s former Facebook profile picture and header. He told the court he could not discuss the police badge’s relevance and his former employment in an open setting.

Judge Knight dismissed Mr Gerrard’s claims that ‘d***’ had been a ‘nickname’ for Mr Wheeler, and that predictive text was to blame for him calling Mr Rimmer a ‘t***’ when he had meant to say ‘twit’.

Most of the ‘offensive’ comments were about Mr Wheeler. Mr Hope said the official had been ‘ridiculed, degraded and insulted throughout these posts’.

When quizzed by Mr Hope, who claimed the Facebook page had a sparked a ‘witch hunt’ from a social media ‘mob’, Mr Gerrard denied being a ‘bully’ or ‘abusive’ and disputed that the tone of the comments was ‘bullying’ or ‘threatening’.

The former Labour councillor, who was an elected member until May when he did not re-stand for election, told the hearing he was bad with computers and had not known how to log in to his Facebook taxi group.

Two other taxi drivers were each suspended for one month in January by Halton Council’s regulatory committee for offensive comments they made about Mr Wheeler in the Facebook group, but did not appeal and apologised as required by the committee.

The hearing heard two others had received warnings.

Mr Gerrard’s solicitor, Anthony Schiller, said his client had an ‘exemplary’ record as a taxi driver spanning 20 years, and had no penalty points, had a clean Disclosure And Barring Service certificate and had received no sustained complaints but had been praised for his work including with vulnerable residents.

He urged Judge Knight to replace Mr Gerrard’s ‘disproportionate’ suspension with a lower penalty.

He said the comments made against Mr Wheeler by the two drivers who had been suspended for one month by Halton Council’s regulatory committee had been more ‘colourful’, adding that this suggested the panel members had an ‘axe to grind’.

Judge Knight remarked that social media users may say lots of things due to ‘freedom of speech’, saying that she herself had been called an ‘incompetent cow’ on Youtube.

In her summing up, she said Mr Wheeler’s authority and ability to do his job had been undermined but that it was reasonable for staff in the same job to have a ‘talking shop’ and the group was public for a short time, remarking ‘we’re only talking about 48 hours’.

She said: “All what was being laid at his door was by misinformed people.

“They had got the wrong end of the stick but naturally that unleashed personal venom.”

She added: “I am giving him (Mr Gerrard) the benefit of the doubt.

“He knew it was a closed site, he was encouraging rather than saying to them ‘listen chaps, we’ve gone far enough’.

“It wasn’t just chaps, it was women as well who raised some of the more vile comments.

“He never said ‘we’ve gone too far, let’s keep this proper and professional’ and for that he must bear some responsibility.”

The judge rejected an appeal from Mr Schiller for the council to pay costs.

She said the committee members were ‘doing exactly what they are elected to do’ in ‘benefit of the public’, adding: “There will be no costs.”


Fine for Alness man who hurled abuse at taxi driver in Inverness

Inverness Sheriff Court heard yesterday that Sam McKevitt, of Braeface, was “so drunk that he couldn’t stand, far less speak”

A Christmas Eve night on the town proved costly when a 23-year-old Alness man fell out with a taxi driver.

Inverness Sheriff Court heard yesterday that Sam McKevitt, of Braeface, was “so drunk that he couldn’t stand, far less speak” when he got into a cab in Inverness city centre.

The court heard the driver asked him for his address and he replied: “106 boom boom boom.”

But the driver was not amused and despite repeated attempts to find out where McKevitt wanted to go, he stopped and McKeviit got out of the vehicle.

Fiscal depute Fiona Murray told the court that McKevitt was then abusive and offensive towards the driver, making a prejudiced comment about him being a Muslim.

Defence agent Clare Russell said the taxi driver then made an offensive comment about her client’s mother.

“But that was no excuse for what went before.” she added.

Sheriff David Sutherland fined McKevitt £500.


Birmingham Private Hire driver stripped of license

A private hire driver has been stripped of his licence after licking a woman’s face.

Birmingham City Council revoked the licence of the private hire operator, who has not been identified, following a report of sexual assault made to West Midlands Police.

The female passenger told officers that the driver initially grabbed her by the scarf before attempting to ‘stick his tongue down her throat’.

The woman managed to pull away and still offered to pay him the fair before he tried again to kiss her, but instead licked her face.

The incident was referred to the council on April 19.

On the same day licensing officials visited the driver’s home address to inform him his licence had been revoked.

The case was included in a report which went before the council’s licensing and public protection committee today (Wednesday, June 20).

It said: “On 19 April 2018 the Licensing Enforcement Section received information from the West Midlands Police: on or about the same date a female passenger was assaulted in a sexual manner by the driver of a private hire vehicle: the driver grabbed her by her scarf and attempted to ‘stick his tongue down her throat’.

“She was able to free herself and leave the vehicle.

“She approached the driver’s window to pay him but he again grabbed her by the scarf and tried to kiss her but ended up licking her face and nose.”

Emma Rohomon, the council’s acting head of licensing, informed the committee that the driver has since appealed to magistrates against the revocation.