Solihull’s Uber taxi row

SOLIHULL is considering joining with other neighbouring authorities who are united in opposition to Wolverhampton’s licensing of Uber taxis uncutting the borough’s licenced cabbies.

The Observer understands West Midlands councils including Solihull are considering a joint approach to government against licensing deregulation which has led to ride-hailing US firms such as Uber driving down prices in Solihull and the region.

Councillors say it has led to a ‘race the the bottom’, with passenger safety compromised by an alleged lack of driver training, and pay and holiday and sickness rights being driven down.

Elsewhere in the region, notably in Coventry, councils are joining with taxi drivers and trades unions to campaign against Wolverhampton’s liberal handing out of licenses to the new ‘out-of-town’ companies, which can operate across council borders.

Yet many passengers have welcomed the lower fares and phone tracking service of App-based Uber.

It includes ‘ride sharing’ and hailing a nearby taxi promptly using a mobile phone.

The company has been banned from London streets over safety fears, while critics have called the clampdown and infringement on the free market, and town hall and union protectionism.

Councils in turn say deregulation has broken the historic link between a local area and taxi licensing based on meeting needs and demand, with democratic accountability through local authorities.

They claim Wolverhampton doesn’t have the same standard of English language requirements, disabilities training, child sexual exploitation training, any local knowledge test, or six- monthly vehicle checks

But more than 800,000 people have signed a petition on the change. org website to save Uber as the firm fights the London ban.

The capital’s transport officials and mayor Sadiq Khan stripped it of its licence. Uber is appealing and it is hoped a compromise can be reached without major job losses among drivers.

Uber claims safety is of the highest importance and drivers go through enhanced background checks.

It claims its technology has gone further to improve safety, with trips tracked and recorded by GPS satellite navigation systems.

London Assembly Tories claim analysis shows Uber is 40 per cent cheaper than black cabs, and a ban will cost Londoners an extra £90million a year in fares.

Max McLoughlin, Solihull Green councillor, said: “This is a serious problem. We give a great deal of power to taxi drivers. We let them drive in places that other cars can’t. We allow them alone, in a locked space, with vulnerable people. It’s only right that a local authority says who can and can’t drive a taxi there.”

“This isn’t the case anymore and we’re seeing a race to the bottom on standards and safety. Councils like Solihull, who prioritise safety, end up losing out financially.

“This isn’t a problem with one local council or taxi company. This is a problem with one piece of legislation passed in 2015.

“If Solihull council aren’t satisfied that someone should have a taxi license, why should we have to pay for them when they appear on our streets?

“It means that council tax payers in Solihull are subsidising another local authority on a get rich quick scheme.”

“The responsibility lies with government and our MPs. They’ve made local authorities so cash poor that some will tread on others to balance the books. Not only that, they’ve also given them the tools to do so in the Deregulation Act 2015.”

source: https://solihullobserver.co.uk/

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.

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/

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/

Commons Questions – Rossendale

Taxis: Rossendale

Department for Transport written question – answered on 31st October 2016.

Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, pursuant to the Answer of 12 October 2016 to Question 46806 on taxis: licensing, what assessment he has made of the reasons for the increase in licence applications from Rossendale Borough Council between 2013 and 2015.

Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The legislation that provides for licensing of taxi and private hire vehicle services is enabling in its nature, giving local licensing authorities the discretion to set standards that they deem to be appropriate for their area. Rossendale Council has already made changes to the Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle application process to address the rapid rise in the number of drivers they license. Wherever a driver has been licensed, the licensing authority that issue that licence must have confirmed that the driver is a “fit and proper” person.

To help licensing authorities set standards the Department for Transport issues Best Practice Guidance. In addition to this, the Government has also introduced an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill that will make statutory all aspects of the guidance that are related to the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. Both parts of the guidance will be consulted on publicly once the Bill has received Royal Assent.

250 Derby taxi drivers get licenced in LANCASHIRE – to avoid local knowledge test

The Derby Telegraph reports that more than 250 Derby taxi drivers have registered in a town in Lancashire where they do not have to take a “knowledge” test.

A total of 254 people with Derby addresses are officially licensed in Rossendale, 103 miles away. There are 1,500 taxi drivers licensed with Derby City Council.

Rossendale Borough Council said it has handed out the licenses to people with Derby addresses since the start of 2013.

Derby City Council said it is powerless to stop drivers with licences handed out by other authorities from working in Derby because of a loophole in the law.

To obtain a Derby licence, drivers must first pass a knowledge test, which looks at their expertise in getting around the city, before they are awarded their badge. But some other councils do not require drivers to take the test.

Mark Keenan, managing director of Derby-based taxi firm Western Cars, believes this is the reason people are travelling further afield to gain their qualifications. He said: “Out-of-town councils should stop issuing licences for people who aren’t going to work in the area, it needs looking at.

“It drops standards and gives the trade a bad name, everyone gets tarred under the same brush. I find it very unfortunate for the drivers in Derby who have gone through what they have to go through with the knowledge test and proving their ability.”

Currently, the law allows anyone with a Hackney Carriage (taxi) licence to operate as a private hire car anywhere in the country. Taxis can pick up passengers anywhere but private hire cars have to be pre-booked by law.

Mr Keenan said drivers from Derby have, in the past, applied for a licence from the city council, failed the knowledge test and then obtained their licence elsewhere. He said this had happened in areas such as Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, East Staffordshire and South Yorkshire, as well as Rossendale.

When asked if the knowledge test in Derby was too difficult, Mr Keenan said: “No it’s not, 1,500 drivers in Derby have managed to pass so it can’t be that difficult. This has been going on for the best part of three years, now. We [Western Cars] made a decision that we would not have any vehicles or drivers on our books who had not taken the tests. We never have and that’s because some of these out-of-town vehicles don’t meet the standards that our vehicles do.

“I have people come to me for a job with other licences and I say, ‘Pass your Derby test and come back to me’.”

Not only is the city council powerless to prevent drivers from other areas working in Derby but it also has no jurisdiction to stop their vehicles for safety inspections. That, Mr Keenan says, is something that needs to be combated by a change in the law from central government.

Brian Yasin, part-time driver and consultant for Albatross Cars in Derby, agreed there was a problem that threatened to drop the standard of taxi services in Derby. He said: “Some of the other councils were throwing out badges like confetti. I know drivers with Rossendale badges who work in London.

“I have been driving a taxi for 17 years and I don’t use a sat-nav even now. When I started, I learnt my job but a lot of drivers now just use a GPS and don’t know the roads.” Mr Yasin holds workshops for drivers in an attempt to increase their knowledge of driving in the city.

Jamal Rashid, 25, also works as a private hire driver for Albatross. He said: “The cars are not insured to be used in Derby. Although the law allows them to do it, the insurance is given to them because the companies think they are driving in the area where they get their licences. It’s a big problem.”

Rossendale Borough Council said it introduced an “intended use policy” as part of its application process in an attempt to prevent out-of-town drivers gaining licences from the authority. A spokeswoman said: “Once a vehicle has been licensed as a hackney carriage it is a hackney carriage for the duration of that licence, wherever it is currently located, and can therefore be used for pre-booked purposes in any district in England and Wales.

“Additionally, it is not an offence for a licenced private hire operator to take bookings and then dispatch a hackney carriage licenced by a district which is different from that which licences the operator – a hackney carriage can lawfully be used for pre-booked work outside its district.”

Councillor Baggy Shanker, responsible for taxi licencing in Derby, said the council was aware drivers had been gaining qualifications in Rossendale. He said the council had been working with both Gedling and Rossendale councils in order reduce the number of out-of-town taxis operating in Derby. He said a “local knowledge test” had been introduced in Gedling and officers from Rossendale had visited the city to conduct spot checks.

Labour councillor Mr Shanker said: “Rossendale has agreed to carry out joint enforcement exercises and one such joint exercise has been conducted, during which five out of six vehicles licensed in their area had their licenses suspended. It is hoped that more such exercises will be undertaken in the future.”

The Department for Transport sets taxi licensing laws for England and Wales. A spokesman said: “There are currently no plans to introduce standardised licensing criteria. Excluding Hackney Carriages from obtaining a fare for a return journey to the area in which they are licensed would diminish the availability of Hackney Carriages or restrict the areas in which they would be willing to carry passengers.

“We are currently considering all recommendations in the Law Commission’s report which included national standards and will formally respond in due course.”

EXAMPLES OF TAXI LICENCE TEST QUESTIONS FOR APPLICANTS IN DERBY

Derby City Council knowledge test:

    •1. Where are the following located?

For example The Council House – answer would be Corporation Street.

    •2. Describe the route you would take with a fare between the following locations including road names and direction turns, roundabouts, exits.

McDonalds (Ashbourne Road) to Seymours Bar

    •3.Describe how you would proceed to these locations from the city centre and the roads you would use.

Belper

Rossendale Borough Council does not offer such a test. Applicants must only pass a basic skills test which, the authority says, involves “maths and English (BKSB Level 1 Functional Skills assessments) tests, together with customer service, licensing policy and child sexual exploitation awareness training”.

Read more at http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/

Private Hire drivers guilty of picking up illegal fares in Milton Keynes

Two private hire drivers have been convicted at Milton Keynes Magistrates Court of picking up passengers illegally – known as ‘blagging’ – in the town.

Bi Trazie Alain Fegone, of Nelson Way, Rugby, attended court and pleaded guilty to plying for hire and driving without valid motor insurance.

Javen Hussain, of Grantham Road, Luton, did not attend court, but was found guilty in absence of plying for hire and driving without valid motor insurance.

The prosecutions were brought as a result of a joint enforcement operation carried out by Milton Keynes Council’s Taxi Enforcement team and Thames Valley Police.

Private hire vehicles can only pick up passengers by prior appointment only – if a driver stops to pick up passengers on the street without pre-booking, it invalidates their car insurance.

Fegone was fined £40 for plying for hire and £120 for invalid motor insurance. He was also given six penalty points and has to pay costs of £320, with a victim surcharge of £20.

Hussain was fined £220 for plying for hire and £660 for invalid motor insurance. He was also given 6 points on his licence and has to pay costs of £930 and a victim surcharge of £66.

The court heard that on the weekend of May 7/8, enforcement officers, acting as members of the public, engaged the drivers on journeys which had not been pre-booked from one location to another in Milton Keynes.

At the completion of these journeys, taxi enforcement officers from Milton Keynes Council and officers from Thames Valley Police were waiting. Investigations showed neither of the drivers were allocated legitimate collections from the locations they were caught plying from.

The vehicles involved were displaying private hire door signs for Private Hire Operator Speedline and were licensed by South Northants Council.

Cllr Mick Legg, the Cabinet Member responsible for taxi licensing policy, said: “Licensed drivers are in a position of trust and members of the public expect that anyone driving a licensed vehicle has the correct licence and insurance to do so.

“These taxi drivers must take personal responsibility for the safety of everyone they carry in their private hire vehicles. Illegally plying for hire and driving without appropriate insurance cover means that passengers have little or no legal protection whilst travelling in these vehicles.”

Read more at http://www.onemk.co.uk/

Rossendale taxi licence applications facing backlog until next year

All private hire and hackney cab drivers are now required to pass a basic skills test

Prospective taxi drivers are having to wait until 2017 before they can pass a ‘basic skills test’ to get them on the roads, we can reveal.

Under new rules all new private hire and hackney drivers are required to complete a basic skills test, and Rossendale licensing bosses are only accepting new applications from those who have passed.

However, new drivers are now being told they have to wait until 2017 to take the test – despite many having already completed the other mandatory requirements.

A spokesperson for Rossendale council said the test is allocated on a “first come first served basis” and due to the level of demand is booked up until January 2017.

They said: “We do urge applicants to apply in the area in which they live and, or intend to work and to have in mind current and proposed policy requirements before proceeding to book a test slot.”

IT consultant Mohammed Khan has complained to the council after his brother-in-law was told he would have to wait until January 6 to take his test.

Mr Khan said: “They’ve implemented this for new drivers but haven’t provided enough adequate provision to enable people to get this test. It’s ridiculous that they only run the assessments Monday and Friday for less than three hours.

“This is a good requirement but they haven’t put the required resources for the assessments.”

The skills test was introduced as part of new policies cracking down on the trade following continuing criticism from other boroughs of the standards of thousands of Rossendale taxis operating outside the Valley.

Taxi drivers from Rossendale protested against licensing changes last month.

Rossendale Taxi Association member Glen Bulcock said it’s causing “a lot of strife” in the trade.

He added: “We pointed out these pitfalls but were ignored. Now people are out of work while they’re waiting for badges.”

Coun Steve Hughes, chairman of the licensing committee, said the situation was not “ideal” but its purpose was to ‘raise standards’ across the trade.

He said: “It’s a difficult situation to control given the numbers we have had come through and the demands on the service. It’s caused a backlog. It’s not an ideal situation that people have to wait so long. We know of the problem, we are just trying to work through it.”

However, he added: “It’s a need to raise the standards and taxis within Rossendale. It’s not necessarily about reducing the number of taxis. Although that is a consideration this is about improving the quality of the taxi service.”

A proposal to extend the requirement to pass a basic skills test to driver licence renewals is currently being consulted on.

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

Taxi driver convicted of fraud and stripped of licence for not declaring conviction

The Lancashire Telegraph reports that a TAXI driver has been convicted of fraud and had his licence revoked after failing to declare a conviction.

Shahid Javaid, of Arnold Street, Huddersfield, pleaded guilty on August 19 at Burnley Magistrates Court to fraud by false representation.

He was fined £80 in total and was ordered to pay £150 costs.

His licence has also been cancelled.

Rossendale Borough Council’s Licensing department had previously granted a hackney carriage licence driver to Javaid.

He had failed to declare his conviction of driving without insurance on a previous hackney license with another licensing authority when he applied to Rossendale Council.

The enforcement team at Rossendale collated a vast amount of evidence for the case which resulted in the guilty plea.

Councillor Steve Hughes, chair of Rossendale Council’s licensing committee welcomed this conviction.

He said: “This shows the important work our enforcement officers are doing and how their work is monitoring and making sure that taxis are a safe transport option for the public.

“It is simply unacceptable to fail to declare convictions on your application form and this case shows our enforcement officers will find out.”

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

Bath & North East Somerset Council respond to concerns over Bath-operating Bristol-registered Ubers

Bath & North East Somerset Council has responded to concerns that Uber minicabs registered in Bristol are operating in Bath.

The council has said it is “considering” the issue, raised by one reader in response to last week’s Bath Chronicle story about the lack of availability of Uber cars in the city.

In the UK it is not illegal for private hire cars to take fares in areas other than the one in which they are registered.

But there are concerns Bath-registered cabs are losing business to Uber drivers based in the neighbouring city.

Earlier this year one Bristol cab driver told the Bristol Post he had lost “10 to 15 per cent” of his earnings on last year amid a rash of London-registered Ubers taking fares in Bristol.

Uber launched in Bath on June 24. A B&NES Council spokesman said: “The operation of Uber taxis in Bath & North East Somerset was discussed at a licencing committee hearing in October 2015.

“At that meeting questions were raised about the operation of Uber as it is a new entry into the marketplace. Officers have therefore continued to monitor the operation of Uber drivers in the district.

“The council is aware of concerns expressed over allegations that Uber drivers who are licensed in Bristol have been picking up fares in Bath & North East Somerset.

“These concerns are being considered by the council. The council aims to ensure that the public are protected and that private vehicle hire and hackney carriages operate safely and in accordance with their licensing requirements.”

As with any private hire company Uber cars can sometimes be called to take fares to destinations outside the area in which they are registered.

But as the app searches out the nearest cars as soon as a user requests one, Bristol-registered vehicles finished with taking fares to Bath can then be called on to take Bath jobs.

An Uber spokesman said the company, which now operates in more than 20 UK towns and cities, encourages its drivers to work in the authority where they are licensed but “does not instruct partners on where they should work”.

He added: “Private hire drivers are able to start or end a trip anywhere in the UK provided that their private hire licence and vehicle licence match the licensed operator that processes their booking.”

Read more at http://www.bathchronicle.co.uk/