Neath Port Talbot Council cuts will plunge transport for disabled kids into ‘chaos’

“Instead they are creating a cutthroat situation because everybody will be fighting for their livelihoods. It’s going to create mayhem.”

A TAXI boss claims school transport for disabled children will be plunged into chaos because Neath Port Talbot Council is so determined to drive down costs.

Neath Port Talbot Taxi Proprietors Association secretary Bob Hoyles has accused the authority of spending £1 million on a new “cutthroat” tendering process he says will end up saving the authority £1 million.

Mr Hoyles said the council had brought in a specialist company to create a website for transport providers to bid for contracts for special needs children and adults with learning difficulties.

He said the new system had been explained during a meeting at the Towers Hotel, attended by 120 bus and taxi firms.

“As long as you are registered with the website you can apply,” said Mr Hoyles.

“They put the contracts on the website and you put in your bid. Once all the bids are in it goes to auction and you are given the chance to reduce your bid.

“I’ve got four contracts. I’ll have to bid for every contract, just to be certain of getting work for my employees. They may offer me 100 contracts but I couldn’t run them.

“It’s going to cause chaos but I’ve got to maximise my chances, and so have the other 120 operators.”

Mr Hoyles said existing contracts expired on May 27. There were about 350 runs a day, each with a driver and escort, so theoretically 700 people could lose their jobs as there was nothing to stop firms from outside the county bidding for work.


“How can the council justify spending £1 million to save £1 million? There is no gain. All it needs to do is get someone from the trade to come in, sit down and put school runs together.

“Instead they are creating a cutthroat situation because everybody will be fighting for their livelihoods. It’s going to create mayhem.”

A Neath Port Talbot spokeswoman said: “It has been a longstanding objective of the council to achieve substantial savings in the area of home to school transport while maintaining and improving services.

“The council is committed to providing equal opportunities and assistance to all transport providers wishing to bid.”


Blind woman with guide dog sues taxi firm after being made to pay extra

A blind woman, Yvonne Saint-John, has won compensation after a taxi company charged her extra for travelling with her guide dog.

Yvonne was told her labrador Quaid might leave hairs on the cars’ seats, leading to a clean-up cost.

The grandmother was overcharged three times, including one journey when she was told to pay an extra £2.50 on top of a £7.50 fare.

Mrs Saint-John, who works as a volunteer helping other disabled people, said: ‘I rely on my guide dog to get from A to B and to have a social life. He is my lifeline and it’s not fair to be charged extra.

‘It had never happened before. My dog hardly moves once he is in the cab to drop any hairs, so it was ridiculous to charge me more.’

She reported the company, Eagle Cars in Peterborough, to council officers.

The cab firm was taken to court and told to pay £900 compensation and costs. Mrs Saint-John, of nearby Glinton, said: ‘I’m delighted with the outcome and hope other taxi firms will take this on board.

‘I thought twice about speaking out as I did not want to be further victimised but I feel this sends a strong message to other disabled people.’

Eagle Cars said its management had changed and it did not want to comment.

Disability discrimination laws ban extra fees for guide dogs.


Taxi fees could go up to cover costs

Karl Morrissey at the taxi rank in Wellingborough town centre
Karl Morrissey at the taxi rank in Wellingborough town centre

Taxi drivers say fees for their passengers may have to rise to help them offset the rising cost of their annual taxi licence fee.

Cabbies in Wellingborough say they are annoyed about proposals to increase their plate charge to £187.80.

The charge was £80 in 2009 and rose to £136 last year.

Taxi driver Karl Morrissey said the proposed increase is far beyond the rate of inflation and would squeeze drivers’ incomes at a time of recession.

He said despite drivers wanting to keep prices frozen for customers they had asked Wellingborough Council to increase the start-up rate of a journey by 20p to help offset the price rises.

The start-up rate is the amount on the meter when a journey begins.

Mr Morrissey, of The Dale, Wellingborough, said: “We have asked the council to put up the start-up rate of a journey by 20p. We haven’t had an increase in two years.

“Times are hard and the taxi drivers in Wellingborough are trying to keep their prices down.

“Takings aren’t going up at all because fuel is going up.

“We are just suffering at the moment and the council is trying to make it worse.

“The drivers are not happy. They are saying they don’t want to pay it but if it goes up, we have got no choice.”

Wellingborough Council’s chief executive Joe Hubbard said: “The basis for the proposed increase was to bring our vehicle licence fees more in line with the average – our previous fee being considerably below the local average of £191.”

He said the letter from the drivers would be considered before a decision was made.


Edinburgh’s ‘green’ taxi plan hailed by Kenny MacAskill

Edinburgh’s ‘green’ taxi plan hailed by Kenny MacAskill

Scottish justice minister supports local taxi firm’s carbon offsetting scheme, but opposes Leith biomass plans

Local MSP Kenny MacAskill has backed an Edinburgh taxi firm’s plans to offset the carbon from every booked journey it makes.

Central Taxis estimates it will save around 4,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere by signing up to a project capturing methane gas from China’s Tieling coal mines.

MacAskill, the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh MSP, said that while he backed the taxi initiative, he was against the carbon offsetting and other elements planned for a biomass plant at Leith docks.

To achieve carbon neutral certification, Central Taxis is working with the CarbonNeutral Company. It claims its carbon offset project in China is verified to standards that would allow all of Central Taxi’s contract customers to list greener travel in their corporate social responsibility activities.

Central Taxis’ chairman Bill Purnell was joined by the justice secretary to unveil a new ‘green’ taxi at Festival Square off Lothian Road. Purnell said:

“As a cooperative company, all of our drivers are behind this move and we are excited about the opportunity this offers our customers to engage in carbon neutral travel.

“We have always put innovation at the forefront of our customer service strategy and the decision to go CarbonNeutral for booked journeys is a major milestone for us.”

MacAskill said taxis were a ‘necessary’ part of his working life as an MSP:

“Clearly taking a taxi does have a carbon footprint, it does have emissions that come out. But we do have to take taxis, they’re a necessary part of city life everywhere in Scotland and therefore this opportunity to offset it, to see some good action take place elsewhere is all part of playing our part to meet the challenges of global warming.

“I do take a good few few taxis about so this is an innovative way that helps to offset the necessity. I and others do have to take taxis. Not every journey can be made on foot. We have to recognise that it does have a consequence and emissions.”

Asked what he thought of carbon offsetting in relation to the local biomass plant planning application, MacAskill said:

“The biomass plant application is one that I am totally opposed to, as indeed are the SNP group in the council, so I have made my views clear on that. I am a sceptic about certainly the site and indeed other aspects of it.”

His renewed opposition to the biomass plant is nothing new, but is likely to be welcomed by campaigners who last week lobbied the Scottish Parliament over the plans.


Former private hire driver banned from driving

A FORMER private hire driver from Birmingham has been banned from driving after illegally allowing a customer to get into his car when she hadn’t pre-booked the cab.

Amar Aftab, 28, of Heathfield Road, Handsworth, was parked outside The Village nightclub in the city centre’s Hurst Street in July last year when he was approached by a customer wanting to be taken home, Birmingham Magistrates Court heard.

Christine Howrie, prosecuting, said: “The woman agreed with Mr Aftab a fare of £10 but when they got to their destination there was an altercation between the defendant and his customer over the fare and she ended up reporting the incident to the police.”

Defending himself, Aftab, who had been found guilty of the two offences in his absence at a previous court hearing, said: “I thought the firm I worked for had a contract with The Village to pick up customers leaving there and take them home.”

However, the magistrates said they had “no choice” but to ban Aftab from driving for six months as he had two prior driving convictions.

Aftab was also fined £200 for plying for hire and £250 for driving without insurance and ordered to pay £200 court costs.


Council takes private hire driver off the road – because his car was the wrong shade of silver

A private hire driver has been put off the road – because his car is the wrong shade of silver.

Asif Khan has worked as a private hire driver in Manchester for seven years. But when he decided to swap his private-hire car from a silver Volkswagen Passat to a silver Honda Accord, he hit a snag.

The dad-of-two, from Cheetham Hill, was told by the town hall that his badge could not be renewed because the new car did not meet the council’s strict colour code.

Bosses have ruled that private hire cars must be white or silver – and have issued a colour ‘swatch’ showing the exact shades which qualify.

The rule was brought in by Manchester council as a safety measure to help crackdown on bogus taxi drivers.

But Mr Khan, 31, of Leicester Road, said there was virtually no difference between his new cab and the town hall’s chart of accepted colours.

Now he faces having to buy a new car – or pay a huge bill to get his cab re-sprayed.

He said: “I have been to the council twice and they say it is grey.

“The only way I can get it passed is by buying a new car or re-spraying it.

“But it’s practically the same colour as my old car. It says silver in the log book and on the insurance documents.

“I can’t believe it. I have a family and I am out of work now until they change their mind.”

A town hall spokesman said: “The council has had a colour policy for private-hire vehicles for several years to improve passenger safety by making it easier for members of the public to recognise properly licensed cars.

“Manchester’s licensed private-hire vehicles can be either silver or white, but difficulties have arisen because the DVLA’s definition of silver includes shades ranging from grey to blue.

“A clearer definition of silver was introduced in 2008 to avoid confusion and make it easier for taxi operators when choosing new vehicles.

“We have worked with the licensed trade to make sure private-hire operators and drivers understand the requirements, and over the last 18 months there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of vehicles that fail to meet the standard.

“However, some people do make mistakes and in cases like this we provide advice and refund the application fee.”


Colchester: Taxi driver robbed by passenger

A TAXI driver has been robbed by a passenger who he picked up outside a sports bar in Colchester.

The driver picked up a man from outside the Dog and Pheasant in Nayland Road at around 5.25pm on Saturday February 26.

The taxi driver was asked to take the man to the Greenstead Estate in Colchester and as they pulled up to Scarfe Way, Colchester, he was robbed.

The robber is described as around 5ft 3ins tall, of medium build, aged in his early twenties, and with short light-brown hair with a small amount of stubble on his face.

He was wearing a light-brown jacket with jeans and a light-coloured polo-style t-shirt.

Pc Trevor Clark said: “The passenger grabbed hold of the taxi driver and demanded money. When no money was handed over the man attacked the driver.

“Having managed to escape out of his own vehicle, the taxi driver saw the man removed a handheld PDA style phone from its cradle on the front dash of the vehicle.

“The man continued to threaten the taxi driver until another man came and pulled him away and dragged him off away from the scene.

“The taxi driver is very shaken up. I am appealing for anyone who saw the man described get into the taxi, a silver Skoda Octavia, in Nayland Road.

“I would also like to hear from anyone who saw the assault in Scarfe Way. The man who pulled the man off the taxi driver is a key witness who we need to speak to.”


Rossendale taxi drivers’ anger at new enforcement policy

TAXI drivers in Rossendale have quit a liaison group in protest at a controversial new licensing and enforcement policy which is being introduced across the valley.

Moves to introduce penalty points schemes for driving misdemeanours and stricter tests on taxis have taken the trade to the brink of strike action in the past.

Now 18 months after a new code of conduct and enforcement policy were first drawn up, it has been adopted by councillors.

Coun Alyson Barnes, Labour group leader, said: “There has been an apparent breakdown in communication between the trade and the council. This policy should be deferred for further discussions to take place.”

But Coun Jimmy Eaton, licensing committee chairman, said he had received no request to attend talks with cabbies over the issue.

Revisions were made to the policy after representations from the trade.

The number of points which drivers can accrue before being ordered to retake a Driving Standards Agency retest was raised from six to nine.

But if a cabbie racks up six or more point in one year they will have to give an explanation to the licensing committee.

In a joint statement David Pawlaszek and Glen Bulcock, chairmen of the Public Protection Association in Rossendale, which represents taxi drivers, said members were angered at claims they had refused to meet with councillors over the policies.

The statement said: “It has been decided that there is no further point in spending any more time to come to liaison meetings as they have been proven to be a waste of time, effort and money for all concerned,.

“Therefore they are disbanded forthwith and will no longer be attended by any representative of the trade.”

The new policy also says tests on cabs should be carried out by private garages as opposed to council licensing officials.


Taxi cap lift could hit town cabbies

CONTROVERSIAL plans to lift a cap on the number of taxi licences in Reading could “drive cabbies out of business”.

That was the view of taxi drivers in response to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition initiative to claw back £3.4m to balance the books.

It is part of the council’s Growing Revenue and Cost Recovery Project, a scheme drawn up by accountancy firm Deloitte to look at ways to generate more income by

reforming everything from waste management to advertising and sponsorship.

The document is yet to be finalised, but one idea includes uncapping the borough’s 240 Hackney Carriage licences, in line with other authorities and increasing the £260 charge to generate an estimated £83,500.

But Reading Taxi Association chairman Asif Rashid told last week’s cabinet meeting: “This isn’t the right time for new licences to be issued. We understand the council is facing a harsh financial climate, but we are facing financial difficulties too.

“A survey a year ago said there wasn’t any demand for [more] licences and it’s getting harder to find work.”

Tahir Abdullah, chairman of the Reading Cab Drivers’ Association, said: “Everyone is suffering. People are driving so many hours trying to find fares, and fuel is making it 30% more expensive to run a car than two months ago.”

Kirsten Bayes sympathised with the drivers’ “difficult situation” and said the final decision lies with the licensing committee.

But former Labour transport and planning leader Tony Page branded the package “a poverty of ambition”.

He said: “Hammering the taxis of this town isn’t going to be a solution for this council’s budget. They already pay a lot for licences.”

He also criticised the scheme for failing to create a “level playing field” because the proposed changes did not cover private hire vehicles.

But Cllr Richard Willis hit back by attacking the former Labour administration and said: “If they had shown ambition and commonsense we wouldn’t be in this situation, and the council coffers would be in a better position.”

Other recommendations in the project report include introducing charges to developers for street naming and numbering, and installing lamp post advertising banners, raising £16,920 and £13,500 respectively.


Traffic warden admits framing innocent motorist

A senior traffic warden walked free from court today after he admitted doctoring a map to frame an innocent motorist.

Geoffrey Urwin, 43, (pictured) altered the wording on a map to make it appear as though Peter Harry had parked in a ‘no parking’ bay.

Mr Harry, 67, successfully appealed the £60 parking ticket, before Urwin produced his doctored map, which was immediately spotted as bogus.

Urwin initially claimed a colleague had altered it, but yesterday admitted one charge of wilful misconduct at Exeter Crown Court.

But the judge stunned the court and gave Urwin a conditional discharge, branding the prosecution a ”nonsense”.

He said: ”I’m amazed this case has been brought before me.

”As you have seen this morning I deal with cases of immense seriousness , which is what Crown Court is all about.”

He added: ”I won’t say anything else in case I say something I regret.

“You receive absolute discharge. You may go.”

Urwin was parking support team leader with Exeter City Council when he ticketed Mr Harry’s white Nissan Almera in March 2009.

The retired builder, from Exeter, was legitimately parked in a bay and was stunned to return to his car to find he had been slapped with a ticket.

He immediately appealed, which was upheld, before Urwin altered the wording to read ‘Southenay’ – where parking is illegal – instead of ‘Southenay East’, where it is permitted.

Urwin admitted knowing about the falsification – which took place in June – but claimed his colleagues were to blame.

After yesterday’s hearing, Mr Harry slammed the sentence adding: ”After I received a ticket I went through the appeal process and it was overturned.

”But I then had an e-mail from a member of the council who knew that the map had been falsified. I was outraged and received legal advice telling me to take it to court.

”I’m furious at how the case has been handled. The man works in the public service and he has behaved dishonestly. How can the judge say that this does not belong in court?”

Devon County Councillor Percy Prowse, said after the hearing: ”It’s a disgrace.

”I do not understand why the judge did not comprehend the severity of the situation.

”The amount of money poured into our legal system and he did not even take the time to properly understand what had happened.”