TAXI DRIVERS today blockaded council offices in a Shropshire town in protest at a shake-up of licensing laws in the county.
Members of Bridgnorth Drivers’ Action Group blocked the entrance and exit to the car park at Shropshire Council’s Westgate offices in Bridgnorth as part of the battle against controversial plans to remove licensing zones in the county.
Six drivers and two customers on horseback took part in the protest which started at 12.30pm and lasted about an hour. Drivers claim the move to remove the zones would destroy livelihoods and put people at risk.
Duncan Gordon-Wells, action group chairman, said: “We are opposed to what Shropshire Council is trying to bring in. We have support from drivers in Shrewsbury.
“We are looking at possible further action. We just want Shropshire Council to wake up to what’s going on.
“It is okay making big decisions in Shrewsbury but they’re not relevant to the rest of the county. Towns have got different characteristics and this should be recognised by the council.”
Mr Gordon-Wells said the planned changes could affect trade, with potential rises in fares putting people off using taxis.
Sheena Parry, a licensing consultant for the taxi drivers, supporting today’s protest, said there was a safety issue, as teenagers wanting to get to reach rural areas could find themselves being taken by drivers who did not know the area.
Currently the county is zoned into five areas — Bridgnorth, North Shropshire, Oswestry, Shrewsbury and Atcham and South Shropshire. Council bosses want to create one zone and set a single rate card.
Drivers claim fares in some areas could rocket by 300 per cent and some streets would be overrun by hundreds of taxis.
The council has previously said that there were “significantly inconsistent” approaches to taxi licensing which needed to be regulated.
Passengers doing ‘runners’ after taking a taxi ride have fuelled a fightback by Cambridge’s licensed drivers.
Hundreds of people have hired a taxi and then made off without paying after being driven to their destination, say taxi union leaders.
They are calling for a police crackdown on the problem after a News investigation uncovered a general increase in such offences.
In 2008, 41 ‘ride and run’ incidents were recorded by Cambridgeshire police, rising to 70 the following year and 60 last year, a Freedom of Information request by the News has revealed.
But taxi drivers say the true figure will be much higher, as many incidents are not reported.
Glenn Hall, chairman of Cambridge City Licensed Taxis, said: “We’ve always reckoned that about 40 per cent of these incidents are not reported to the police but they can make a big dent in our livelihoods.
“Until recently the police were saying it was a civil matter but it is in fact theft. It would be the same if you had a meal at a restaurant and didn’t have the means to pay. We would like the police to take this theft issue more seriously.”
He added: “It was this that stopped me from doing nights. I got tired of losing money from runners, as we call them in the trade. Often these things can lead to a driver being attacked.”
A police spokeswoman said: “We take all reports of ride-and-run seriously and will always attend incidents.
“Last month two people were charged in connection with ride-and-run incidents in the city and officers attended another incident where two women were made to pay for their fare after hiding from their driver.
“We actively encourage drivers to report these incidents and ensure they get as much information as possible from the customers to ensure we can trace suspects.”
She added: “To reduce the risk of such incidents we would advise taxi drivers to ensure the address they are being asked to drive to is genuine, ask to see money up front and get a phone number from the person using the taxi.”
Taxi drivers in Shropshire today revealed plans to surround a council building in the latest protest at a shake up of licensing laws in the county.
Members of the Bridgnorth Drivers Action Group say they will stage the action outside Westgate Council Offices in Bridgnorth on Monday, which will see cars and tractors surrounding the building in protest at controversial plans to remove licensing zones throughout the county.
They today claimed the move to remove the zones would destroy livelihoods and put people at risk.
Action group bosses say dozens of vehicles will descend on the Shropshire Council building at 12.30pm and stay until mid-afternoon.
The Valentine’s Day blockade in Bridgnorth follows recent protests in Shrewsbury which saw about 100 angry drivers carry out a double loop of the town centre before honking horns outside the Shirehall.
TAXI drivers have called for urgent talks with council bosses after voicing fears their livelihoods are being threatened by overzealous parking wardens.
Since enforcement of parking rules were handed over to Redditch Borough Council from the police in 2009 taxi drivers say they have been unfairly targeted with tickets being issued for leaving their cab on the rank while going to the toilet, while helping elderly passengers in and out of their cars and in one case for parking on double yellow lines, even though they were clearly parked within the taxi rank.
The situation came to a head about 9.30pm last Friday (February 4) when Basharat Hussain was issued a ticket for parking on double yellow lines outside Steps Bar and Bistro on Evesham Road in Headless Cross. Although there is a taxi rank nearby it only holds space for three cars but drivers say in the past officials have always allowed taxis to park elsewhere to avoid large numbers of people hanging around late at night.
Mr Hussain told the Standard if the situation continued it would force drivers out of business.
“I have been parking there for the last 10 or 11 years and have had no problems. There were two or three other cars parked up there, that weren’t taxis, but he only issued me with a ticket.”
In response drivers decided to leave the area and stop working for the evening for fear of being penalised further. When news spread enforcement was taking place drivers in the town centre, who are forced to park outside the Unicorn Hill taxi rank at busy times due to a lack of space, followed suit.
It left hundreds of late night revellers stranded on one of the busiest nights of the week.
Safder Hussain, chairman of Redditch Taxi Association, apologised to the public for getting caught up in the dispute and said they wanted to meet with the council to find a solution.
“Some tickets are overturned, but it takes months and is a lot of hassle and running around,” he said.
“We’re not asking for preferential treatment. But if the signs are clearly visible and drivers are working offering a valuable service to the residents of Redditch, at least be sensible about it.
“The council have acknowledged there is a problem in Headless Cross, which is why they have agreed to extend the rank, so why take this action?”
A spokeswoman for the council said they had organised a late night patrol involving parking officers and a police officer in response to concerns from residents about drivers parking in front of crossings and causing an obstruction.
“Any driver who contravenes Traffic Regulation Orders will be issued with a Penalty Charge Notice. Taxi Drivers are treated exactly the same as any other motorist, and of course are not targeted,” she said.
“It would be totally unacceptable for the council to ignore such matters.”
This consultation is being issued for comments on changes to the minimum standards for vision, diabetes and epilepsy in relation to driving. Driver licensing in Great Britain (GB) is carried out by Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and in Northern Ireland (NI) by Driver and Vehicle Agency (DVA). This document relates to licensing standards across the United Kingdom (UK); any reference to DVLA applies to DVA.
This document seeks views on changes to the medical standards for vision, diabetes and epilepsy.
The call went out just after 7.30am. Taxi dispatcher Maureen Lansley’s car had been clamped and the clamper van was blocking her in until she coughed up the fine. But the drivers at AC Cabs knew exactly what to do. They sent in the taxi-cab cavalry.
Within minutes, every available car in the area was racing to the aid of poor Maureen, the voice of the airwaves behind a thousand assignments.
Two cabs went into the car park and made sure the van was going nowhere. Others blockaded the exit while black cabs, minicabs and people-carriers encircled the site and kept the van corralled.
Oh, what a glorious moment for the ordinary driver against the curse of the clampers. For what followed was a nine-hour siege (‘ongoing dispute’ was the police’s phrase) involving more than 20 taxis and up to 40 drivers at its peak.
Last night Maureen’s ancient blue Renault was triumphantly freed after cab boss Ian Saxton gallantly paid an £80 fine to prevent his drivers facing arrest.
To cheers and applause from onlookers – and shouts of ‘power to the people’ from spectators in nearby flats – Keith the unfortunate clamper produced the key to the heavy duty padlock, took off the clamp… and finally got to go home.
Meanwhile Maureen was hailed as a heroine for refusing to bow to the clampers. Not to mention avoiding the £150 penalty she would further have incurred if a tow truck had been called out.
The drama began yesterday as Maureen, 53, was setting off for work at the cab company, where she assigns jobs over the radio to a fleet of local drivers.
Her car was parked in her own numbered space outside the flat where she lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex. According to the clampers, it was not displaying a permit. According to Maureen, who does have a valid permit, it had simply slipped down behind the tax disc.
Even when she produced it, however, the clampers would not budge. They refused to remove the clamp until she paid £80, parked their white van in front of her car, and sat in it with their arms folded
‘I don’t see why I should have to pay £80 to park in my own space,’ Maureen said. ‘I already pay £1,000 a year in service charges and ground rent for that privilege. I called work to say I would be late. The next thing I know, all these drivers turned up.’
Paul Sutton, 60, blocked in the clamper van with his cab. ‘I came off duty and headed here as soon as I heard it over the radio,’ he said. ‘We are a brotherhood. We back each other up. I parked up to stop the clampers’ van from leaving.
‘Then the police turned up. The way I see it, the police are there to act on everyone’s behalf. But unfortunately, it always seems to be for the benefit of the clampers.’
The private car park is overlooked by several blocks of flats, some owned by Southend United footballers. Residents joined passers by to witness the stand-off and congratulate the cabbies.
The two clampers work for Preston-based National Clamps (motto: ‘We care!’) which is a member of the Parking Enforcement Trade Association. Its website boasts that ‘tried and tested management methods have proven to be almost 100 per cent effective in solving most parking related problems’. Safe to assume that being held captive by taxi drivers, however, is a problem previously untested.
Cowboy clampers who demand release fees after immobilising cars on private land are to be outlawed under new legislation, being introduced in the wake of a long-running campaign by the Daily Mail.
‘We clamped the lady’s car because she had no permit on display,’ Keith the clamper explained.
A photograph showed two tax disc holders on the windscreen but no permit, which is a green roundel the same size as a tax disc.
‘I saw her come out, sit in her car and put the permit in. She has accused me of getting into her car but I would not do that. It’s nothing personal, I do not know whose car it is when I clamp it. The rules are the rules. If she had a permit on show she would not have been clamped.’
Looking around him he added: ‘I have never had anything like this before, people blocking us in. It is not right and it is not fair.’
The siege of Southend was quelled after police warned the taxi drivers they could face arrest for threatening behaviour and public order offences.
Mr Saxton, the cab firm’s 58-year-old managing director, arranged to pay Maureen’s fine. ‘We came to support her because it was a complete injustice,’ he said. ‘And taxi drivers will always rally round when there’s an injustice being done.’
Up to 100 taxi drivers were due to take part in a two-hour demonstration in Shrewsbury today over plans for a shake-up of the black cab service in Shropshire.
Shrewsbury Drivers Action Group had initially planned to stage an all day picket at the Shirehall but claimed that due to massive public support, it had decided on a shorter protest to avoid customer disruption.
Members say they are outraged at Shropshire Council’s proposals to de-zone the county’s taxi structure.
Today’s picket was expected to run from midday until 2pm.
It follows a protest in Shrewsbury on January 28 when about 100 taxi drivers took part in a rolling roadblock.