Taxi drivers won’t be forced to take BTEC after all because courses ‘cost too much’

THE high cost of courses to improve the level of service from taxi drivers in Christchurch has led to councillors rejecting the idea.

At a meeting of the licensing committee on Monday, members discussed plans to ask drivers to complete BTEC and NVQ qualifications in a bid to raise the quality of service for passengers.

They also discussed whether to introduce a safeguarding module for drivers to complete.

However, members felt the fees involved in the BTEC and NVQ courses were too high.

The discussion came after Bournemouth council asked their drivers to complete BTEC and NVQ courses, which led to a concern that drivers were moving to Christchurch to work.

Officers warned that there could be strong opposition to the measure, especially with a lack of government funding.

Councillor Bernie Davis, portfolio holder for safe and healthy communities, said: “Members requested that officers investigate the feasibility of introducing BTEC and NVQ qualifications for hackney carriage and private hire drivers (taxi drivers).

“We were aware that other nearby local authorities required taxi drivers to complete such courses and that this may have resulted in a displacement of applications to Christchurch. It was also felt that such qualifications may improve the general level of service offered to the public.

“At the licensing committee meeting, members decided that the fees presented made it unreasonable to make the qualifications a requirement.

“However, we have requested further investigation into other providers to ensure best value.

“Members did agree to introduce a new safeguarding module, following high profile national case reviews relating to taxi drivers and the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults.”

The safeguarding module follows the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rotherham.

A report to the committee said officers had considered an e-learning course and seminars, but had “reservations” they could be too in depth and irrelevant.


Coroner orders changes to taxi licensing after ‘unfit’ taxi driver killed motorcyclist in crash

A coroner has today ruled that the death of a motorcyclist killed in a head-on crash with a taxi was an ‘unlawful killing’.

Mark Buckley from Mansfield died after the crash in March 2014, having suffered “unsurvivable” injuries.

Nottinghamshire Coroner’s Court was told the taxi driver, Kevin Wiesztort, was unfit to be on the road due to lack of sleep – and the coroner has now demanded changes to licensing rules.

Mr Buckley’s partner Rachael Price told our reporter Charlotte Cross that she hopes those changes will save lives:

In a statement after the conclusion of the three-day inquest hearing, Ms Price said:

The last two and a half years have been incredibly difficult. Mark was such a positive, loving and funny man to be around and now we somehow have to rebuild our lives with only his memory.

My decision to pursue marks inquest to be resumed was because I believed that circumstances that occurred leading up to his death, if acted upon and monitored prior to the collision could have prevented it from happening.

Over the last three days the evidence I have heard has confirmed this.

To hear Dennis Lamb, the proprietor of Aaeron Cars, admit part responsibility into Mark’s tragic death was a bittersweet admission. I will be monitoring closely the outcome of his firm’s review in respects to his licensing conditions.

Mansfield District Council have worked closely with other licensing bodies across Nottinghamshire to implement changes to policies and procedures from the start of Mark’s inquest and I am hoping it will improve the future safety for the general public. I also hope other counties will look upon these changes in Nottinghamshire and review their practices to ensure this has national impact.

I hope to see safer practices enforced on taxi companies and their drivers in the hope that this can stop other people having to go through the pain and heartache we have been through.

I have offered to work closely with the licensing bodies to raise awareness in these matters and hope that going forward it can only be a positive step towards achieving this goal.

– Rachael Price

Mr Buckley, a father-of-three, was hit head-on in the crash with Wiesztort’s Fiat Doblò taxi, at around 5.30am on March 30, 2014 – Mother’s Day – as he travelled along the Derby Road in Kirkby-in-Ashfield.

Wiesztort had veered onto the wrong side of the road and smashed into Mr Buckley’s Yamaha, throwing him from the bike.

The court heard that less than two hours before the smash, Wiesztort’s customers David and Michelle Newton, who had been travelling from Mansfield to Birmingham Airport, had lodged a complaint with his employers Aaeron Cars.

They told the operator he should not be behind the wheel. He had been swerving between lanes, fluctuating speed without warning, and at one point took his jumper off over his head while on the M1, leaving them frightened for their lives.

The court heard that complaint was, in essence, ignored by the owners of Aaeron Cars, Dennis and Edna Lamb.

Mansfield District Council’s licensing chiefs have now launched an urgent, 28-day review into Aaeron Cars’ operating licence, after what the court heard were repeated failures to meet standards.

Officials from councils across Nottinghamshire have also joined together to overhaul licensing standards, introducing new guidelines to restrict who can get a taxi driver or operator licence.

These include stricter fitness to drive testing, tighter monitoring of drivers’ hours, and every taxi firm having a proper complaints handling procedure.

Nottinghamshire Coroner Máirín Casey said she hoped other councils would follow suit in raising standards.

Nottinghamshire Authorities Licensing Group are leading the way nationally in terms of the changes they have implemented in this case. This is much to be commended and is a fitting legacy for Mr Buckley.

– Máirín Casey, Coroner

In tribute, Mark’s family has described him as “thoughtful, funny and kind”.


Minicab company owner to have licence reviewed after driver caused motorcyclist’s death

The owner of a Minicab company that failed to act upon a complaint against a dangerous driver who killed a motorcyclist is to have his licence reviewed, an inquest has heard.

Hayley Barsby, deputy chief executive of Mansfield District Council, told coroner Mairin Casey that the authority will review Dennis Lamb’s operator’s licence within 28 days as a result of evidence heard in the inquest into Mark Buckley’s death.

The 34-year-old was killed in the early hours of March 30, 2014, when Minicab driver Kevin Wiesztort collided with him on the A611 Derby Road at 5.30am

Wiesztort admitted causing death by dangerous driving and was jailed last year for 45 months.

On Monday, the inquest heard that a dispatcher at Mr Lamb’s company Aaeron Cars, in Mansfield, received a complaint about Wiesztort’s driving and reported the issue to his wife Edna Lamb.

Mrs Lamb failed to act upon the complaint and just hours later Wiesztort hit Mr Buckley’s motorcycle.

The inquest heard that the company had no formal complaints procedure at the time of the accident but Mr Lamb said that he has since introduced a complaints sheet where employees can document them formally.

The hearing heard that Mr Lamb is subject to a “strict 12 month warning” until February next year to assess his fitness to hold an operator’s licence.

Miss Casey told the inquest that, following his evidence, Mr Lamb “concedes” that he failed to implement a complaints procedure or train staff in how to deal with them.

As a result, Mrs Barsby said she was concerned that Mr Lamb had been unable to adhere to the requirements of his notice.

She said: “Mr Lamb was to implement a complaints procedure and he was to train staff.

“I think it’s very clear on the evidence that Mr Lamb gave yesterday that that has not been put in place.”

Mrs Barsby told the court that the review of Mr Lamb’s operator’s licence would be a priority.

She said: “We will be requesting him to attend a panel hearing in order to satisfy that he is fit and proper to hold that licence.”
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Police family liaison officer Helen Neaverson told the inquest that efforts could have been made to stop Wiesztort from driving if a complaint had been made to the police that day.

She said: “There’s a chance that we would have been able to find the vehicle – it wasn’t a particularly busy time of day – we would have known the route back to Mansfield and we would have been able to, potentially, put vehicles out looking for the Minicab driver.”

Samantha Yates, licensing team leader at Mansfield District Council, told the inquest that a letter was sent to Mr Lamb following a hearing with the authority in February, requiring him to implement a complaints procedure.

She said the council believed that Mr Lamb had fulfilled the requirement, however he admitted that that was not the case during the inquest proceedings.

Miss Yates said future checks will have to go further to find out “is this a reality or a piece of paper”.

Mr Buckley’s partner Rachael Price was also able to the witness.

During her questioning, she stated that Wiesztort continued to work for Aaeron Cars after the accident.

Coroner Miss Casey interjected and asked Miss Yates when Mr Lamb reported the incident to the council.

Referring to a report, Miss Yates said that he notified the council that one of his cars had been involved in an accident on April 1, 2014.

Miss Casey said that Mr Lamb had given a “partial account” and had left out crucial information relating to Mr Buckley’s death.

As a result, the council only investigated whether or not the vehicle involved in the accident was fit to be on the road.

The coroner asked Miss Yates what action would be taken if the council received a similar call now.

She said that a full investigation, including questions relating to any people involved in the accident, would be carried out.
The inquest continues.


Taxi driver Abdo Al Arab loses his appeal against Taunton Deane Borough Council revoking his licence

Barred taxi driver who ‘gave false address’ loses appeal to get licence back

A CABBIE who gave a false address to try to get a licence has been told the council was right to block his application.

Magistrates have upheld Taunton Deane Borough Council’s decision to revoke Abdo Al Arab’s taxi and private hire vehicle and driver’s licence.

Licensing officers at the Deane House became suspicious when Al Arab gave his address as a property in Taunton, having previously supplied a Bristol address.

Their enquiries revealed that the premises was actually vacant and had been for some time and there were complaints about Al Arab using his taxi in Bristol.

They suspected Al Arab of trying to get round the authority’s rules, which state that drivers living outside the district must prove they will use their licence to drive in the Deane and not elsewhere.

The policy was introduced in August 2015 in response to an influx of applications from drivers based in Bristol looking for an easier and cheaper route to obtain their taxi driver licence.

He was interviewed by council officers who subsequently revoked his licence.

Al Arab appealed the decision at Taunton Deane Magistrates’ Court, where the bench believed he had made a false statement on his application and upheld the council’s decision.

The district council was awarded costs of £300.

After the case, Cllr Patrick Berry, Taunton Deane Borough Council’s executive member for environmental services, said: “It is very important that the travelling public has confidence in taxis, their drivers, and the local authority that issues their licences.

“We have taken positive actions to ensure that the taxis and drivers that are permitted to operate in Taunton, live in or near the area and have the necessary knowledge of the towns and the surrounding countryside.

“So our message to the taxi drivers is, ‘You have to work here to have a licence’.”


Killer taxi driver put passengers through “pure hell”, inquest is told

Taxi customers described a journey as “pure hell” and made a complaint about their driver just hours before he ploughed head-on into a Mansfield motorcyclist and killed him, an inquest was told.

Mark Buckley, 34, died when a taxi smashed into his Yamaha 125cc bike on the A611 Derby Road in the early hours of the morning.

Kevin Wiesztort is thought to have fallen asleep and his Fiat Doblo careered into the path of the bike ridden by the father-of-three who had been heading to work in Annesley.

However, the inquest into the death of Mr Buckley, held at Nottingham Coroner’s Court today, heard that a couple who had used the taxi in the hours before had even phoned the cab operators, Aaeron Cars in Mansfield, to complain about him.

Wiesztort had taken the pair, who are from the Mansfield area, to Birmingham Airport where they quickly rang the company.

Statements taken by David and Michelle Newton were read out at the inquest and had described his driving as “erratic”.

They said his speed fluctuated, he was fidgety and weaving in and out of lanes on the motorway, even crossing the rumble strips at one point.

The couple suspected he had either been drinking or was on drugs, and told the cab company that they did not want him picking them up when they returned from holiday.

Mrs Newton said: “I could not get out of that taxi fast enough. I told him he was not fit to drive and a danger.

“He had no right to be behind the wheel.”

The inquest was told how the cab radio operator, Stephanie Dudley, had taken the call from the angry passengers and she had contacted Wiesztort shortly after he had dropped them off.

He had stopped off at a garage to get an energy drink before heading back to the Mansfield area, but assured her he was fine.

Coroner for Nottinghamshire, Mairin Casey, asked Stephanie Dudley if the police had been contacted over his driving, to which she said they hadn’t.

Following the fatal smash, Wiesztort, 36, was found to have no alcohol or drugs in his system, but said he only had nine hours sleep in the three days previous to the accident which happened at around 5.30am on Sunday, March 30, 2014.

Wiesztort said he had no recollection of the incident, which happened near to Notts Golf Club.

Forensics suggested the taxi had veered completely over to the wrong side of the road, while conditions were described as being “extremely foggy”.

For his part, Wiesztort was jailed in February, 2015, for 45 months after admitting causing death by dangerous driving.

Earlier in today’s proceedings, Mr Buckley’s partner of seven years, Rachael Price, read out two heartfelt statements.

She said: “I would like to say it’s got easier, however, it hasn’t.

“In fact, at times, things have got much harder.

“We put our trust in taxi driver and expect certain standards to be in place.”

She told the coroner that she wanted to know what happened to the complaint made by the couple in the hours before her partner’s death and if any policies were put in place to prevent drivers from taking to the road if they were unfit through drink, drugs or even tiredness.

The inquest is expected to be completed tomorrow, Tuesday, October 25.


Taxi drivers could be forced to take BTEC to ‘improve quality of service’

CHRISTCHURCH council could ask taxi drivers to complete BTEC and NVQ qualifications in a bid to ‘improve the level of service’.

A report to the licensing committee which meets today asks members to decide if they want to introduce new measures and go out to consultation with the taxi trade on the proposals.

They will also discuss whether to introduce a safeguarding module for drivers to complete.

It comes after Bournemouth council asked their drivers to complete BTEC and NVQ courses, which led to a concern that drivers were moving to Christchurch to work.

The report said: “It was also felt that such qualifications may improve the general level of service offered to the public by taxi drivers.”

Across the different council areas there are variances on the requirements for taxi drivers.

Bournemouth and Poole run safeguarding courses, Christchurch and East Dorset require English spoken tests for hackney carriage drivers and some authorities do knowledge tests on the area and aspects of the law.

The courses at Bournemouth are run by Bournemouth and Poole College and cost around £800 per driver.

Some of this is paid for via a government contribution, but this may not be available after 2017.

Previously, when the policies were reviewed, the idea of qualifications were “vehemently opposed” by the Taxi Liaison Forum, the report to members says.

And council officers have warned about the possibility of even stronger opposition in the light of the lack of government funding.

Councillors on the licensing committee will also be asked to look at a new safeguarding policy following the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rotherham.

Officers have considered an e-learning course and seminars, but “have reservations” they could be too in depth and irrelevant.

“There is also concern that applicants would not complete the on-line course themselves, but instead enlist help from others.”

The practicality issue is also raised, with officers suggesting questions to be included as part of the council’s Knowledge test.


Hackney Carriage/Private Hire Driver Licence Conditions

Comparison of Dorset Policies – Appendix 1

Summary of BTEC and NVQ – Appendix 2 , item 4

The Valley has more taxis per head than London

The map of the 30 mile borough radius for taxi drivers addresses. Map from Rossendale Borough Council licensing documents
The map of the 30 mile borough radius for taxi drivers addresses. Map from Rossendale Borough Council licensing documents

Rossendale is the taxi capital of the UK with more cabs per head than London, government figures have revealed.

Valley taxis have become notorious for operating outside the borough but the shock figures show that there are more Rossendale licenced taxis and minicabs by population than anywhere else in England or Wales.

The taxi and private hire vehicles statistics released by the Department of Transport, show 1,610 taxis and minicabs in Rossendale in March 2015, – which works out as one for every 42.9 people.

London, by contrast, has one cab for every 100 people who live there.

Uttlesford in Essex has the second most, proportionately, with one for every 76.9 people.

By July of this year the number for Rossendale had risen again to 2,523 – which works out as one cab for every 27 residents.

The data shows that the total number of licensed cabs in the borough rose a staggering 412 per cent between 2013 and 2015, and the number of licensed drivers rose by 311.

Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen said he was “shocked” by the figures.

He said: “These figures are of huge concern.

“It seems that Rossendale’s taxi licensing is a magnet to all and sundry to seek a licence without working in the Valley.”

The statistical release by the DofT states: “Rossendale Borough Council had the greatest increase in both total licensed vehicles and driver licences in England.

This is likely due to the fact that although taxis can only be driven by drivers licensed by Rossendale Council, once a vehicle becomes a licensed taxi, the law allows it to accept pre-bookings in any district in England and Wales.”

Local authorities in Sheffield, Bradford, Rochdale and Derby have all publicly criticised the number of Rossendale-licensed cabs operating in their areas.

David Lawrie, chair of the Rossendale Taxi Association said he was “surprised” by the figures, but that new policies were in the process of changing the taxi industry.

He said: “The infrastructure in Rossendale is very different to London. The only transport we have seven days a week, 24 hours a day is taxis.

“I take on board that the majority of those vehicles are operating outside the borough, but once the intended use policy kicks in March they will revert back to where we were 15 years ago where we saw a maximum of 300 licensed vehicles.

“In 12 months there will be a drop from thousands to hundreds of licenses, which is a good thing for local drivers because we get negatively criticised – even though it’s the council that messed up and issued all these licenses.

“Years ago we told them to introduce a cap and they refused. This is the result.”

The intended use’ policy approved in January, sets out the council’s plan and requirements for hackney licensing and renewal. Members of the licensing committee agreed to “refine” to reject applicants whose address is beyond a 30 miles radius from a fixed point within the borough.

Councillor Steve Hughes, chair of the council’s licensing committee, said that the statistics were not “ideal”.

He said: “We obviously know there is a problem with the numbers of licensed vehicles we have and we are doing work to try and bring our policy to where it needs to be to increase the Rossendale taxis operating within the Rossendale area.

“We have been admittedly slow to dealing with the loopholes that have been created with the change in policy at a national government level.

“Other authorities have reduced their numbers of licenses more quickly but we are doing what we need to do to get there.

“There is a need for national policy that would help sort this situation out quickly and effectively.”

He added: “The intended use policy has significantly brought down the number of licence requests we are receiving and the consultation that has just concluded will make even more changes and hopefully bring that number down to ensure that we don’t have this problem moving forward.

“What I want is to make a fair and open process so that local people can have an opportunity to get into the taxi business but that doesn’t create the numbers we have” currently.”


“Words can’t express your stupidity” — Angus taxi driver sacked after touching teenager

An Angus taxi driver was sacked by his employer after he sexually assaulted a teenager, a court heard.

Brian Michie from Brechin appeared at Forfar Sheriff Court and admitted assaulting the female at his home.

The court heard the 60-year-old had become “attracted” to the teenager and had “made a move” on April 23 this year.

But he was told by a sheriff that words “can’t express” his stupidity at grabbing the young woman’s breast.

The court heard Michie had been working as a private hire driver in the area but was no longer licenced.

Defending Michie, solicitor Robin Beattie said his client had been sacked as soon as the offence was reported to his former employer.

He told the court: “He was previously working as a taxi driver.

“However he was sacked on the day of his initial plea in the court.

“That’s not surprising,” said Sheriff Gregor Murray.

Mr Beattie continued: “I think that’s one of the conditions of being a licenced driver.

“She…was friendly to him, at least until the offence.

“He accepts that he was sexually attracted to her and that was what caused him to make a move.”

Sheriff Murray told him: “Words can’t express your stupidity and the folly of what you did, and you’ll have to pay for that.”

The sheriff imposed a community payback order with supervision requirements, and 125 hours of unpaid work to be completed within nine months.

Michie was placed on the interim sex offenders register at his plea, and will remain on the register for the term of the order.

Michie, of Drumachlie Park, admitted a single charge on summary complaint of sexually assaulting the woman by touching her breast, contrary to section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act (Scotland) 2009.


Taxi drivers fined £4,000 for illegally plying for hire during the 2016 Gold Cup

Four taxi drivers have been fined almost £4,000 for illegally plying for hire in Cheltenham during the 2016 Gold Cup.

Sarah Hughes, licensing enforcement officer for the borough council, said the prosecutions are a “warning to drivers who wish to capitalise on the additional footfall” during race week.

Duncan Holder, of Solway Road in Cheltenham, was ordered to pay £1,550 in fines and costs on Monday, October 17 after pleading guilty to the offence by post.

Manunur Rashid, a licensed Hackney Carriage driver with Malvern District Council, attended court and was represented.

He pleaded guilty to illegally plying for hire and was ordered to pay £753 in fines and costs while Ephraim Chimuka of Reservoir Road, Gloucester also pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay £848.

Aziz Ur Rehman of Pilgrove Way, Cheltenham, pleaded guilty by post and was ordered to pay a total of £820.

The four most recent convictions follow a successful prosecution of Steven Rising for the same offence.

A further four drivers pleaded not guilty and trial dates have been set for early 2017.

Councillor Andy McKinlay, cabinet member for development and safety said: “We are pleased that the work by officers to stamp out illegal taxi activity during the March races is bearing fruit and we are now seeing successful prosecutions.

“Such illegal activity can significantly compromise public safety and protection and the council will do whatever it can within its means to continue to focus resource and effort to bring those guilty to justice.”

What is plying for hire?

British transport union RMT says: “Under existing regulations, private hire vehicles (PHVs) may only pick up passengers when pre-booked, rather than from a rank or in response to being hailed.

“These regulations provide passengers with important safety protections against unregulated drivers who have not undergone extensive criminal record and medical checks, or had to pass a formal taxi driving assessment like licensed taxi drivers.

“However, Smartphone apps such as Über are circumventing the law governing the taxi and minicab industry.”


Uber driver who called passenger a black c*** before punching her avoids jails

An Uber driver who called a passenger a ‘black c***’ and then punched her in the face in a fit of anger has avoided jail.

Shahab Akbar, 33, hurled the insult at Taleka White, 27, before trying pull her from his cab and punching her twice in the face after a row over two drop-offs.

The former driver, who has since had his licence removed, pleaded his innocence but was found guilty of racially aggravated common assault last month.

Yesterday, magistrates in Croydon handed him a 16 week suspended prison sentence and a 200 hour community order following the incident in Addiscombe on November 29 last year.

His victim was left with a lump on her head, bruising to her face and a bloodied wrist and knuckles.

She told the Evening Standard: ‘I no longer trust minicab drivers. I have become very concerned about how I get home from a night out.

‘It has taken the fun out of my life. I have become the designated driver for my friends.’

The court heard how the attack occurred after the victim and a friend used the app after a night out in Croydon.

Prosecutor Angela Mahadeo said Akbar grew angry when he became confused over where to drop off her friend, he then began to insult Taleka as she continued the journey alone.

Ernest Aduwa, for the defence, said it was an ‘isolated incident’ and his client, of Lampits, Hertfordshire, was a man of good character and had no previous convictions.

He told the court: ‘Whilst he doesn’t accept that he committed the offence. He does accept that the behaviour alleged is unacceptable.

‘He would like me to tell the court that this whole experience has been embarrassing for him and has been quite traumatic and left him feeling ashamed.’

Akbar was ordered to pay £500 in compensation to the victim, an £150 victim surcharge and £600 in costs.

A spokesman for Uber told the Standard: ‘We were appalled by this horrific incident. Uber does not tolerate violence or discrimination of any kind.

‘We assisted the police with their investigation and immediately stopped this licensed driver from being able to use our app.’

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