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.”


Taxi driver in gunpoint ordeal

A TAXI driver was robbed at gunpoint before being tied up and locked in his garage.

Derrick Thorner put his car away in his rented garage in Harbour View Road on Portland and was confronted by a six-foot-tall man wearing a balaclava and holding a handgun and a two-foot long spanner.

The man stole around £180, a mobile phone and drove off in the taxi before abandoning it in Wyke Regis.

The husband and dad-of-three told how he banged on his garage door for 20 minutes afterwards until he broke his way out and called the police.

“I’m scared and shocked,” he said.

“The whole thing was just unbelievable and I’ve never faced anything like that in my life with a gun thrown in my face.”

Mr Thorner, 46, arrived back in his silver Vauxhall Insignia at just before 1am yesterday.

He said: “I got out of the car and there was a bloke with a gun in one hand and a two foot iron ring spanner in the other and he said ‘get back in the garage.’ “He was coming towards me and had the gun pointing at me.

“He didn’t just show it to me he had it fully in my face at arms length away.”

The man demanded Mr Thorner’s money but the taxi driver had thrown his money bag to the garage floor and said he did not have any.

“He started searching me and said ‘if you run I’ll burn your house down.’ “It was either run or take a chance in fighting back but I played it safe.”

The robber told Mr Thorner to face the wall and said ‘don’t look at me’ as he searched the car and moved it out to search the garage when Mr Thorner told him where the money bag was.

After asking where Mr Thorner lived the robber said “you might not be the person I’m looking for.”

He used a yellow bungee rope out of the boot to tie his hands up and locked Mr Thorner in the garage despite him begging the robber not to.

The taxi driver made it home just before 2am and the car – which has a Hackney licence plate and a taxi sign on the roof – was later discovered at the Chesil Beach Holiday Park.

Mr Thorner thanked his fellow taxi drivers for their concern and appealed to them not to return home with their money in future if they can deposit it at a bank or anywhere safe.

Detective Constable Ed Meanwell, of Weymouth CID, said the gun is believed to be a pistol and the robber was wearing dark clothing.

He added: “This robbery was extremely distressing for the victim and I am determined to find the offender.”

DC Meanwell wants anyone who saw a taxi being driven erratically after the robbery to contact him.


Private Hire Operator guilty of sex offence against 15-year-old

THE owner of a Private Hire firm has been banned from driving schoolchildren after he sexually touched a teenage girl.

Sadiq Choudhry, who runs 24 7 Private Hire, in Swadlincote, was convicted by a jury of four offences of sexual activity with a child.

Choudhry has now been sentenced to a three-year community order and banned from working with children.

A judge at Derby Crown Court said this meant Choudhry, 45, would not be able to transport schoolchildren or young people in his private hire vehicle.

Judge Hilary Watson said Choudhry had preyed on the 15-year-old girl’s vulnerability and called his behaviour “reprehensible”.

She said: “I find your behaviour to be persistent. You ignored clear verbal warnings from her about your intentions but you persisted.

“Your sexual gratification was uppermost in your mind when you preyed on her vulnerability.

“You touched her body in a way that was wholly inappropriate.”

Judge Watson added: “Because of your denial of the offences, she had to go through the account of what happened.

“She had to answer questions from your barrister, who called her a liar.”

Judge Watson said she had decided to pass a community order because if she sent Choudhry to prison the sentence would not be long enough for him to undertake the appropriate rehabilitation programmes.

She ordered that Choudhry, of Broadway Street, Burton, should attend a sex offenders’ group programme.

She also said he should pay £1,240 towards the court’s costs.

He must sign the sex offenders’ register and abide by a sexual offences prevention order for five years.

This includes not going within 50 metres of an educational establishment unless passing in his work, or dropping off or picking up his own children from school.

He must also not be in the company of or seek the company of a child under the age of 16, apart from a blood relative.

Graham Blower, in mitigation, handed newspaper cuttings to the judge about Choudhry’s work in the community.

Mr Blower said: “By and large he is a pillar of the community.

“He has been a parish councillor over the years.”

He said that Choudhry had organised a large fund-raising effort in his community to help victims of the Pakistan earthquake in 2009.

Judge Watson said that references and newspaper cuttings showed “another side” to Choudhry.

She said: “They show a pillar of the local community and one who would put himself out for people.

“And it would appear that it is just this area in which you need considerable help.”

Taxi firms to install spies in the cab in a bid to beat the yobs

SPY cameras are being fitted in taxis to stop yob passengers attacking drivers.

A small number of private hire cars will be fitted with CCTV next month as part of a scheme to reduce incidents of “hate crime” — and police chiefs say they would like to see a camera in every taxi in Bolton.

It comes after a series of attacks on drivers in the town, which prompted one taxi firm boss to put up a £1,000 reward for anyone helping to convict a yob.

Police are cracking down on hate crime, which is defined as crime motivated by issues such as race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Taxi drivers, many of whom are Asian, are often victims of hate crime, and police a i m t o s t o p i t using CCTV cameras.

Ch Insp Alan Wood said: “It might lead to our hate crime figures going up, but it could also increase the detection rate.

“The best possible evidence is if we can get someone on CCTV doing it because it will also allow us to prosecute them.

“Eventually the cycle goes round — we stop offenders offending and we reduce hate crime.”

The CCTV pilot scheme will be funded by the Be Safe Partnership, a scheme run jointly by the police, Bolton Council, the fire service and other agencies.

Nick Astley, managing director of Metro Taxis in Tonge Moor, said: “We are hoping to randomly put CCTV in our cars so there’s more security to protect our customers and our drivers.

“I think anything that cuts down crimes against taxi drivers is great because it’s an ongoing problem.

“We want to do something about it before a really serious crime or accident takes place.”

Signs would be put up in the windows of any cars fitted with CCTV. About six hate crimes are reported every week in Bolton, but only about a quarter of them result in prosecutions.

Police have seen a steady increase in detection rates over the last few years but are still working hard to improve the situation.


Teenager pointed ‘gun’ at taxi driver to avoid £9 fare

David Arnott, 19, threatened the cabbie after travelling with two friends from South Bridge to the Craigour area of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Sheriff: Taxi passenger pulled out fake gun.

A teenager who pointed an imitation gun at a taxi driver to avoid paying a £9 fare was ordered to carry out community service.

David Arnott, 19, took a cab with two friends from South Bridge, Edinburgh, to the Craigour area of the city on May 15 last year.

When the taxi stopped Arnott jumped out and pulled out a fake gun, which the driver, William Simpson, believed was real. He then forced him to unlock the doors and let his friends out.

Fiscal depute Melanie Ward told Edinburgh Sheriff Court: “They arrived at around 12.15am and Arnott got out of the car but the other two were still inside.

Arnott removed an imitation firearm and pointed it at Mr Simpson and demanded the driver open the doors. Mr Simpson told the court he did not know the gun was fake and was so alarmed he told them to leave.”

The court heard Mr Simpson was able to finish his shift and then contacted the police.

Arnott, of Willowdean, Bridgend, Linlithgow, admitted intending to not pay the fare and pointing an imitation firearm at the driver.
He also admitted intending to pervert the course of justice by asking a friend to hide the gun for him.

Defence agent Chris Fehilly said Arnott was a nice young man who had gotten into bother after leaving the family home.

He added that he had one previous conviction at Justice of the Peace level for having no licence and no insurance and also said Arnott was back living with his family.

Mr Fehilly said: “It was to be frank an act of breathtaking stupidity by a young man who was extremely inebriated. The imitation firearm was essentially a toy from the property he had been consuming alcohol at and he stupidly took it out with him.

“It is fortunate the gentleman was robust and was able to continue work for the rest of the evening. He is now back in the family home and there has been no offending in the interim. He has taken the offence seriously.”

Sheriff Elizabeth Jarvie QC said she was persuaded not to impose a custodial sentence due to the lack of a long record of offending.

She ordered Arnott to carry out 300 hours of community service and to pay his victim £1000 in compensation.


“Was it worth it for £100?”… Dad-of-four speaks after terrifying taxi ordeal

THE taxi driver victim of a knifeman jailed indefinitely for attempted robbery has today asked “was it worth it for £100?”.

Andrew Michael Reed held a blade to the throat of Middlesbrough cabbie Mehrban Manga.

The would-be robber has since been told he will serve at least three years before being considered for parole.

And Mr Manga, who fought off the 31-year-old, said: “I think he should have got at least 10 years. Over the years he had been using knifes for his crimes.

“I’m pleased no one got seriously hurt. Is it worth doing that for £100? I was determined he was not going to get it.”

Dad-of-four Mr Manga finished off the last five hours of his shift following the terrifying incident last July.

And the 41-year-old said today: “I had to go back to work to calm down a bit. I did not want to go home and be upset.”

Having worked in the town for two decades, Mr Manga said he was just trying to earn a living when he was held up.

The self-employed family man was lured to a secluded spot in Aberdare Road, Grangetown, after picking Reed up in central Middlesbrough in the early hours.

Reed then put the blade to Mr Manga’s neck and demanded cash, but the cabbie grabbed the weapon and wrestled it away. The driver said: “There’s nothing brave about it, it was just reflex that’s all, it was instinct.”

Mr Manga said Reed’s shifty behaviour when he got in the taxi had made him wary. He said: “I was suspicious when he got in; a young lad normally gets in the front.

“He sat in the back. He slid over behind me which I did not like so I told him to move to the left and can you put your seatbelt on.”

Mr Manga said Reed did not specify where he wanted to be, before guiding the driver to a stop. “Towards the end of the cul-de-sac there were boarded-up houses and I said where do you want to be?” he said.

“I never kept my eye on him at the end because I thought he was getting out from the back. He had his legs behind me and he slid over and opened the back door behind me and he said ‘give us what you got’.

“I said ‘what do you mean? and next thing I knew something cold was touching my throat. Next thing, my hands were round the knife. With my right hand I grabbed hold of his knife and with the left hand, I’m sure, I grabbed hold of his wrist.”

Mr Manga used such force that he bent the knife, pictured inset, at a 90 degree angle, before his thwarted attacker fled the scene after about 40 seconds.

He said: “I don’t know whether he wanted to stab me, but he wanted to overpower me to get the money off me. At that time I didn’t think of anything. You either face potentially being stabbed or you take it off them.”

A police chase ensued and Reed was tracked down in St Nicholas Court, Grangetown, where he was living. He was hauled before Teesside Crown Court this week, where he was locked up indefinitely for the protection of the public after pleading guilty to attempted robbery and possessing heroin.

The court heard Reed had a history of offences where he used knives to threaten people. In August 2005 he was jailed for a total of nine years for two aggravated burglaries involving knives in Grangetown the previous December.

He was released on June 22 last year.


Vital maintenance for Edinburgh Waverley station’s south ramp

Vital maintenance for Waverley station’s south ramp

By A. Samuel · February 25, 2011 · Refurbishments, Stations

Waverley Station Edinburgh

Edinburgh Waverley station’s south ramp is to undergo a programme of essential refurbishment between March and May as part of the £130m project to renew the station’s roof and enhance its passenger facilities.

From Friday March 4 until the end of May no taxis or private vehicles will be able to access the station while the structure is excavated, waterproofed and resurfaced.

To help reduce disruption for passengers an additional taxi rank, accommodating up to 12 taxis, will be created on Market Street for the start of the works and the existing taxi rank on Waverley Bridge will also remain available.

For passengers with restricted mobility, step-free access will be available via New Street car park where free, time limited, pick-up and drop-off by taxis and private vehicles will be permitted.

In addition, a dedicated phone-line will be installed close to the existing taxi rank for passengers with restricted mobility to contact customer support at East Coast trains. They will provide assistance and arrange taxi pick-up from New Street car park.

Ron McAulay, Network Rail director Scotland, said: “This project is vital to the long-term future of one of Scotland’s busiest stations and disruption for motorists cannot be avoided.

“We have done everything possible to minimise the length of time the ramp will be unavailable and to put in place a range of measures to limit inconvenience for passengers.”

Network Rail’s £130m upgrade to Edinburgh Waverley will see the station’s 34,000m2 roof entirely replaced by 2014. Funded through Network Rail’s renewals budget, the project will see 28,000 clear glass panels installed over the next three years, flooding the station with natural light and improving the environment for passengers.

The improvements to Waverley will also result in new fully-accessible entrances from Market Street and from Princes Street. The concourse will be resurfaced, furniture will be cleaned or removed and building exteriors will get a makeover. Work will progress in phases with minimum disruption to train services and the operation of the station.

The project to enhance Waverley Steps began two weeks ago. The government-funded scheme will improve accessibility to Princes Street by creating a new covered step and escalator access between Princes Street and the north entrance to Waverley as well as lift access from the station to Princes Street via the roof of Princes Mall.

The first phase of the works will take around 10 months with the steps reopening in December 2011. The second phase of the works to install lifts will completed by July 2012.


Is Weston-super-Mare train station right to double licence fee for taxi drivers?

TAXI drivers operating at Weston-super-Mare train station say they may stop running taxis from the destination in the future after their licence fee was doubled.

First Great Western used to grant the permits to self-employed drivers wanting to pick up passengers from the town centre station at a cost of £300 a year.


However, from this month the licences will be granted by Cabfind, a supplier of taxi management services, which has stated the fee will rise to £600 a year.

Drivers at Weston station are outraged at the massive hike and are refusing to pay the amount saying it is far too expensive, particularly with the majority of passengers walking to town instead of using taxis.

They have held talks with Cabfind, who said it was prepared to drop the figure to £480 but said all drivers must may the amount in full by February 28.

Richard Hopkins, 40, a taxi driver of 12 years, who has operated from Weston railway station for the past three years, says it is unfair and the drivers are not prepared to pay the huge fee.

He said: “Up until now First Great Western have issued the licences but Cabfind take over at the end of the month.

“They are coming in and putting up the licence fee by 100 per cent, which is doubling it from £300 to £600.

“The firm says the reason for the hike is because they base the licence fee on footfall of passengers departing at Weston but they cannot go on that.

“Most people leave the station on foot as we are only five minutes’ walk to the town centre and the beach.

“I have spoken to all the other drivers and they are not willing to pay £600.

“Cabfind has since said it will give us a discount of 20 per cent bringing it down to £480 but this is on the basis of us renewing our licence by the end of the month but this is still too much.

“At the end of the day we are in a recession and we should be getting a discount if anything.

“If drivers are not prepared to pay it, passengers may find no taxis waiting at Weston station.

“One of the longest serving drivers at the station, of 25 years, says he will not bother at that sort of price.”

Mr Hopkins said drivers are also angered by the news Cabfind has awarded a contract to Apple Cars to transport passengers elsewhere in the event of trains stopping, which is a service they have always provided.

He added: “We were under the impression we would still get the work if a train stopped working or there were delays and passengers needed transporting to Bristol Temple Meads by taxi, but we have now heard that has been given to Apple.

“We may as well go and work from another rank for free.”

The Evening Post contacted Cabfind but they declined the opportunity to comment.