SWEEPING changes aimed at ridding a city centre of long late-night taxi queues are set to come into force on Friday.
Since Durham County Council deregulated the taxi trade last year, hundreds of cabs have been competing for trade in Durham, creating noisy queues of vehicles lasting into the early hours.
The council’s latest attempt to solve the problem will see a night-time taxi rank on Claypath closed and replaced with a rank on the slip road to the Prince Bishops shopping centre entrance. This will operate from 6pm to 8am.
The existing daytime taxi rank, on the slip road behind Clayport Library, will continue to operate from 8am to 9pm.
The Claypath area which is currently a night-time taxi rank will continue to provide loading bays and disabled parking during the day, but will now be available for general public parking after 6pm.
The new regime will come into force on a trial basis, initially for six months, under a revised Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO). During that time, council chiefs want to hear whether it is working.
The changes were first announced in September. At the time, some residents supported them, saying they would stop cabbies queuing for trade up Claypath, onto Gilesgate and beyond.
However, some taxi drivers warned they would worsen congestion, with vehicles queuing onto New Elvet Bridge.
Coun Bob Young, the council’s cabinet member for strategic environment, said the council had tried a number of approaches, none of which had alleviated the disturbance.
However, he hoped the new trial would relieve the area of the problems, provide a suitable city centre location for waiting taxis and offer a convenient rank for passengers.
He said: “I would ask taxi drivers to work with us during this six month period and to queue safely and responsibly on the new rank.
“I would also warn those thinking of ignoring the new system that we will work with our partners at Durham Constabulary to enforce the changes where necessary.”
To comment on the changes, write to: Planning and Highways Team, Legal Services, Durham County Council, County Hall, Durham, DH1 5UL; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A union has called for the government to assist the black cab maker Manganese Bronze, which has called in administrators.
The Coventry-based firm, which trades as the London Taxi Company, had its shares suspended earlier this month after a fault with 400 of its vehicles.
The firm employs 288 staff, with 170 of them based at its factory in the city.
Union Unite said it would contact the government. The firm’s boss remains “hopeful” of a successful resolution.
The company had been trying to secure a loan from Chinese shareholder Geely, a partner since 2006.
Unite national officer Roger Maddison said: “We hope Geely is ready to come up with some assistance but if not then the government’s going to have to help.
“This is what the government’s plan for saving the economy is.
“They’re going to have to come up with some money and help and they’re going to have to come up with it soon.
“They’re shedding jobs in the public sector and expecting the private sector to pick up that work so when companies like London Taxis are in trouble they’re going to have to help otherwise their whole business plan is going to fail.”
The latest problem relates to a fault with the TX4 vehicle’s steering box which the company said had not put anyone in danger – but “in extreme cases, it could affect the ability to steer the steering wheel”.
Chief executive of Manganese Bronze, John Russell, said he was uncertain what effect going into administration would have on jobs but he remained optimistic about the future.
Mr Russell said: “We’re a business with a fantastic reputation, everyone calls us an icon and we had a huge amount of interest in what was happening to the company yesterday.
“I think that in turn will create a lot of interest and the administrators will have a lot of choices about what to do with the business.”
He said the catalyst for the firm’s problems was the credit crunch.
“Our business halved in the space of two years and we got into all sorts of difficulty in terms of the cost structure.
“When the recall was announced we suddenly went to a position where we couldn’t sell cars. We had no money coming into the business,” he said.
He said there had been efforts to protect the business: “Geely were very co-operative, very supportive but at the end of the day the business just couldn’t take on the debt that was being contemplated.
“Geely are going to play a part in this process. They are our partner, they are a key supplier to the business, they were a historic investor and there is a big debt owed to Geely as a result of this.”
Mr Russell said the key thing was for the steeling problem to be fixed so the business could start “generating revenue”.
“That will give us a period of grace whilst the administrator looks for options for the business.”
BEING rude, smoking in their vehicles and over-charging people are just some of the complaints that have been made against taxi drivers in the borough.
A typical complaint to Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council, the licensing authority, is rudeness.
But there have also been five occasions where the public complained to the council that taxi drivers were smoking in their cab – something which has been illegal since the Public Health Act in 2006 which ended smoking in work vehicles and is not a licensing matter.
The information was revealed by a Freedom of Information request made to the borough council. People have also complained that taxi drivers have parked on pavements, blocking their path. Three complaints in the last five years were from passengers who believed they had been over-charged.
A spokesman for the borough council said: “All complaints are investigated and all drivers are interviewed by the council’s licensing officer. The driver can opt to be accompanied by a taxi trade representative at this interview.
“Following the interview, the driver may receive a verbal or a written warning as a result of complaints for bad behaviour.
“Typically, 50% of drivers are given a verbal warning, with 30% being reminded to just be polite and professional and not to get involved in any heated discussions, and the remaining 20% given a formal warning.”
In the past five years there has not been more than one complaint against any driver.
The council would only suspend a license as a result of a conviction that would be shown on CRB checks, a DVLA licence check or an arrest that would undermine the safety of the public.
LANDAU driver Fred England thought common sense had prevailed, and his lack of a car driving licence would not close his family business.
The 43-year-old, whose father and grandfather were both horse-drawn carriage drivers, had been told his 25-year career could end due to the baffling law – which town hall bosses did not know existed until recently.
Licensing councillors agreed they would grant him exception to the law at a meeting last week, and he thought his troubles were over.
But to his horror Mr England got a letter through his door on Tuesday telling him they had reversed their decision, and he must cease work as a landau driver until he has got a car driving licence.
“I don’t know how they could give me it then take it back – it seems a bit naughty,” said Mr England, of Vincent Close. “I’m not happy at all.
Landau driver Fred England. Picture: Nick Butcher
“If you’ve got a driving licence you can go down the town hall and get paperwork to drive a horse which you know nothing about, and that’s all wrong.”
More than 600 people supported a petition to let Mr England keep his licence, and another campaign is gathering pace in light of the council’s U-turn.
It appears licensing councillors went against advice solicitors’ advice last Thursday, and that the original bad news for Mr England was accurate.
Council solicitor Chris Skinner told members of the panel in a report that they “gave no satisfactory reason for this decision. I am satisfied that they acted unlawfully”.
Mr England’s problems began when council officers discovered the authority had acted incorrectly for years – and that landau drivers must possess a car driving licence to get a landau licence.
He was told when he went to renew his licence, as he does every year.
Closure will come on Wednesday – when a special meeting will decide once and for all if Mr England will lose his landau licence.
He said he will wait until the verdict before he considers his options, including having to learn to drive a car to continue a trade of which he is already a master.
John Holmes, chairman of the licensing committee, said members were aware of the risks when they went against officers’ advice.
“We knew this could happen but not whether it would, but now it has we have to deal with it,” he said. “We knew we were going against legal advice at the meeting.
“It is not the ideal situation. We just have to wait and see if full council supports us or asks us to reconsider.”
Mr England said he was angered by the false hope, and had been pursuing ‘grandfather’s rights’ – where the law is waived due to age and experience.
Five out of 51 landau drivers in Blackpool are exempt on this basis, but a report to Yarmouth’s council said “there is no legal basis to grant such rights”.
A spokesman for the borough council said: “As the council has made what is deemed to be an unlawful decision, the council’s monitoring officer is duty bound to bring a report to full council highlighting that the decision is effectively illegal.
“This process is governed by national law and would therefore happen at any council in the country following such a decision.
“Full council will meet to consider whether to back the decision made by the licensing committee, regardless of it being judged to be unlawful, or decide whether to send the application back to licensing committee for another look.”
Timeline of the saga
For 25 years in a row, Fred England renews his license to drive the landau.
Monday, September 24, Mr England goes to town hall to renew his license, and is informed of the law the council have suddenly come across.
Tuesday, September 25, Mr England’s friend Jayne Parkin sets up online petition and his sister, Rachel England-Allen, starts the Facebook page Back my Brother to Keep his Hackney Carriage License.
Monday, October 1, the Eastern Daily Press features Mr England’s story.
Tuesday, October 2, local and national radio, TV and newspapers pick up the story.
Thursday, October 4, the Norwich Evening News reports how “support has flooded in for Fred England.”
Thursday, October 4, licensing committee day. Mr England is brought to the Town Hall in a Landau driven by a 16-year-old, as his supporters make a cheeky point. The committee decide, after much debate, to grant him his license.
Friday, October 5, solicitor Chris Skinner gets wind of the decision, and realises it is unlawful.
Mr England goes to Town Hall to see about his license. He says he was told to wait until Monday, as there is some paperwork to get through.
Saturday, October 6 and Sunday, October 7, Mr Skinner writes his report.
Monday, October 8, Mr Skinner rings up Town Hall, and is again told to wait.
Tuesday, October 9, the letter is posted through Mr Skinner’s door at 5.30pm.
A staggering £27m has been spent in Kent to ferry children to and from school in private taxis, private hire cars and minibuses in the last year.
Between April 2011 and March this year 10,838 school pupils across the county used hired transport, which includes taxis, private hire, minibuses and coaches.
Of that, £31,900 was spent by Kent County Council [KCC] on school transport to ferry just one child to and from Sevenoaks to Lewes in East Sussex.
But the longest single journey for a private taxi during the period was from Broadstairs to Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria – a distance of 347 miles.
In neighbouring Medway the longest journey was 195 miles – with the council forking out more than £12,000 for a single pupil travelling out of the towns to a specialist education school.
It is believed the majority of the money spent on private taxis by the two local authorities is for children with special education needs [SEN].
But mums and dads from the Kent Parents as Equal Partners forum [Kent PEPs] whose children have SEN, say the amount of money being spent on private taxis doesn’t reflect the service being given.
Debs Aspland, 41, from Ashford, has three children, her eight-year-old boy has autism, her seven-year-old son is blind and his twin sister has language and communication problems.
She says drivers in some of the private hire companies don’t speak English and are not trained to deal with disabled and autistic children, especially if they were to have a fit.
According to guidance by the Department for Education and Skills all local authorities should ensure all drivers and escorts taking pupils to and from school have undertaken disability quality training.
But Steve Wright, chairman of the Licensed Private Hire Car Association [LPHCA] disagreed, saying “drivers need to be trained to drive – and that’s all.
“All drivers that take special needs children should have an escort.
“That is someone who is trained to deal with special needs children.
“If there is not an escort that would worry me, but that’s not the role of the driver, it’s the role of the local authority to have someone who can communicate with the child.
“It’s not the driver’s duty to engage with the autistic child.”
As director of Kent PEPs, Debs carried out a survey of parents.
Nearly 200 responded, with more than 80% saying they hadn’t met their drivers before the school run.
Ninety per cent weren’t aware if the drivers had any disability training – with only three or four parents seeing Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) documentation.
She said: “You have to take them at face value in the morning – you don’t see their CRB check, so you don’t know if your child is going to be safe.”
But Mr Wright said: “If they’re using a licensed taxi or private hire it’s the law that they are CRB checked.”
Sam Leaning’s seven-year-old autistic son takes a private taxi to get to his specialist school in Ashford, 15 minutes away from her home.
Sam, 38, said it was”really scary” that she has no idea if the driver can deal with an emergency: “He’s got epilepsy and the escort and driver are not trained in what they would do if he had a seizure in the car or to administer medication.”
Jan Larkin’s autistic son travels around 30 miles in a private taxi from their home in Sittingbourne to Maidstone for his specialist school.
She said: “If it were somebody from the school driving the bus I’d have no problem with that because they know the children and what could happen – but it’s the fact they’ll have a bus driver that doesn’t know anything about the children.”
Mum-of-three Allison Williams’ autistic son also travels to New Ash Green.
She claims: “We’ve had drivers and escorts that can’t even speak English and when you’ve got children with language and social problems, tha’s ridiculous.”
The parent forum is calling for all drivers to have specialist disability training, which Allison says would, in the long run, cut costs.
“If the bigger companies have specialist training, quality escorts, drivers use to doing long distances and if they (KCC) planned the routes and pick ups better, they could keep the costs down.”
Debs added: “KCC have a legal duty to provide the transport because the children have got statements (SEN) – what they forget is they also have a duty of care.
“They don’t put out when they tender what the needs of the children are – they’ll just say how many children there are.”
In a statement a spokesman for KCC said: “In the majority of instances, transport is provided as it is a statutory requirement placed upon the council. KCC is committed to providing the most appropriate solution.
“Hired transport, including taxis, will always be a last resort.
“However, there are times when it is the most appropriate or only way to support the child’s journey to school.
“KCC only uses appropriately licensed operators and drivers. Operator and driver licensing is a function of Kent’s district councils. All drivers are subject to a CRB check.
“Where it is required, an escort will be provided with escorts receiving KCC escort and disability awareness training.
“Where a child has particular medical or other needs, the operator will be made aware and the escort will receive further information and guidance, usually from the school nurse.”
A Medway council spokesman said: The service currently provides for almost 1,400 children and young people, a figure that is rising as the population rises.
“We have recently approved a new travel policy that will help pupils develop independence and limit travel costs in a range of ways.
For example, it limits the use of individual taxis to only exceptional cases and encourages shared transport, which will not only be cost effective, but will help students develop confidence and independence as they approach adulthood.”
COUNCIL Leader Alan Melton’s attention was diverted tonight from ‘supermarket-gate’ to Wisbech where Lib Dem councillor and taxi drivers’ leader Dave Patrick sprung a protest against a £100,000 Horsefair revamp.
Off and running or more like not off and staying: taxi drivers’ Horsefair protest
Cllr Patrick has pitched up on the Horsefair with a mini bus and a caravan with the aim of stopping work getting under way on Monday by council appointed contractors.
The Wisbech councillor has fought to stop work going ahead on the Horsefair which he claims is unnecessary, will create even more hazards for pedestrians, and will threaten taxi driver jobs.
Under the scheme a new layout for drivers will see taxi spaces reduced from 15 to four, with drivers not allowed to queue as before to collect fares.
“There is no one I know who wants this scheme and it is a farce,” said Cllr Patrick. He believes there are many councillors who support him but are frightened to publicly say so.
But what has incensed him most, he says, is a promise he claims Cllr Melton made a fortnight ago to put the scheme on hold.
He claims Cllr Melton told him “not to worry about things at present” and because of that postponed a taxi drivers’ meeting planned for October 10.
But Cllr Patrick says he then found out – from this newspaper- that work had indeed been contracted to start from Monday.
He said taxi drivers are furious and that the report which suggested the changes was flawed. The only injury accidents on Horsefair had been on the access roads and now the council was proposing that pedestrians use a crossing, and near to oncoming buses, to get a taxi.
“The works that the council wish to undertake are against the wishes of nearly all members of the taxi trade, many members of the public and members of Wisbech Town Council who wrote a strongly worded letter against the council’s proposals.
“These works which will cost several thousands of pounds are nothing more than a white elephant and a total waste of public money which could be put to far better use especially in these times of severe austerity.”
Drivers he said are now decided unanimously “for further protest action to be taken by means of a peaceful sit in and occupation of our old taxi overlay bay. We feel that is the only option open to us in the circumstances.”
A spokesman for Fenland Council said: “A contractor has now been appointed: it is Danaher & Walsh.
“Work will start on site on Monday, October 15, with completion scheduled for the end of November.
“While the work is being carried out, taxis will be relocated on to the two existing ranks in Blackfriars Road adjacent to The Empire.”
Mid Sussex Taxi Association has raised its concerns on the need for more space if development plans go ahead at Haywards Heath Railway Station.Many readers have contacted the paper in recent weeks highlighting the need for an increase in the taxi rank’s capacity.
Mid Sussex Taxi Association said: “Historically and currently we have space to rank about 40 taxis. The plan as presently conceived reduces the rank capacity to 17 and takes us back to levels of service provided in 1967.”
Southern, which owns and runs the railway station, currently permits 105 taxis to operate from the Haywards Heath. A spokesperson for Solum Regeneration, which is promoting the development with Southern and Waitrose, said that the new rank would provide 18 taxi spaces on the forecourt, rather than the situation at the moment where the taxis are split between the forecourt and queuing on the car park access road.
They added: “We believe that the proposals we have put forward will improve the position for taxi drivers and their passengers – by increasing the number of taxi spaces on the forecourt, improving the free flow of traffic on the forecourt and by enhancing public safety. Taxi drivers are also likely to benefit from more business by being positioned outside the new Waitrose foodstore.
“We recognise that the taxi drivers want more space but we need to balance their needs with other station users including those that walk, cycle, come by bus or are dropped off by families and friends. After extensive consultation with many station users and interest groups, we believe we have got that balance right.”
A St Albans taxi driver has been jailed for ten months for conning the county council out of more than £150,000 in fake taxi journeys for the vulnerable.
Waqar Khan, 29, of Westbourne Road, Luton, sent bogus invoices in relation to a schoolgirl and a man with learning difficulties.
Khan denied two charges of converting criminal property and one of transferring criminal property.
He was convicted by a jury at St Albans Crown Court last month.
Prosecutor Laura Blackband told the court that between 2003 and 2006, Khan billed Hertfordshire County Council for legitimate journeys, taking the young girl to the local school and back and the man to Digswell Nursery.
For each return trip he earned a daily rate of anything between £48.50 and £100 – an agreed rate between the council and Khan.
The agreement was cancelled in December 2006 but he continued to invoice the council for £150,000 in taxi services.
Ms Blackband told the jury that Khan seized the opportunity to earn illegal money when the council mistakenly contacted him in July 2007 asking where his invoices were for the last seven months.
“At that stage Khan realised that the council were operating at fault, they didn’t realise that they shouldn’t have been asking about these journeys,” she said.
“He has effectively taken advantage of that and made up all these invoices and billed the council for them.”
Khan then sent in a string of backdated invoices for trips that had never occurred, which continued into 2008, it was alleged.
He told the jury that he had acted “honestly, reliably and accurately”, saying another person in his office did the invoicing.