Taxi drivers across Shropshire have reacted angrily to new blanket fares which have been welcomed by councillors – in a development billed as the first battle of a long war.
Moves to bring in a unified fare structure and overhaul licenses of all Hackney carriages in Shropshire were backed by the council’s strategic licensing committee yesterday and will come into force if backed by Shropshire council’s cabinet next month.
But the steps to bring about a “common set of conditions” have been met with fierce opposition from cab drivers who claim the zones need to remain to protect the unique conditions of each area.
Under the proposals, five operating areas based on the former borough and district councils would be abolished in favour of one zone.
The new fee card will be introduced on March 5 – providing no representations are made to the committee in the next 14 days.
A taxi driver on duty and first in line to pick up passengers at a Wolverhampton city centre rank was three times the drink-drive limit when police spoke to him about ramshackle repairs holding together his cab, a court heard.
Police officers approached Balwinder Singh’s Mercedes Vito while he waited at the front of the rank in Market Street due to concerns over the safety of a sliding door on his cab — being held shut with computer cable. They immediately realised the father-of-two had been drinking.
A breathalyser test found he was almost three times the legal alcohol limit, Mr Roger Bleazard, prosecuting, told Wolverhampton Magistrates Court.
Singh, of Broadstone Close, Goldthorn Park, later refused to supply a second sample and when asked if there was any medical reason he did not wish to provide one he replied: “Only my liver”, the court was told.
Bench chairman Mrs Anne Morgan told 41-year-old Singh adjourned the case so the probation service can prepare a report, but warned him he faces jail. He pleaded guilty to failing to provide a specimen and using a motor vehicle in a condition likely to cause danger yesterday.
Mr Kevin Good, for Singh, said his client was the “major breadwinner” for his family. His wife worked part-time to help support their children, aged five and 15, but the family’s financial circumstances would be “drastically affected” by his disqualification from driving, Mr Good told the court.
The court heard Singh had been parked at the front of a rank in Market Street when police noticed damage to the door of his cab at around 1.10am on February 5.
Mrs Morgan told Singh, who was convicted of drink driving in 2003 and speeding in February 2008 there were many “aggravating features” including his previous convictions.
Singh was granted unconditional bail to appear for sentence on March 10.
A driver who drove his hackney carriage whilst he was suspended from driving taxis has been ordered to pay £265, following a successful prosecution by Rossendale Council.
Mahboob Hussain (30) of North Road, Rawtenstall was observed driving a taxi in the Staghills area of Rossendale in July 2010, despite having his license to drive a taxi suspended earlier that year.
Following a trial at Reedley Magistrates Court, on 1st February 2011, he was convicted of the offence of driving a licensed hackney carriage whilst suspended from driving.
Chair of Licensing at Rossendale Council, Councillor Jimmy Eaton said:
“Public safety is our number one priority. Mr Hussain continued to drive a taxi after we had suspended his license. The court has found him guilty and fined him. This is a positive outcome. Rossendale Council takes a very dim view on unlicensed taxi drivers as the safety of people using taxis is paramount.”
CABBIES in Liskeard say they are furious after the council banned them from using a space in one of their designated ranks.
Drivers believe the facility on The Parade was intended for use by three cars, but in order to get into the third space, vehicles have to mount the pavement.
Cornwall Council has now banned cabbies from driving on the curb, stating the rank was never meant for three vehicles.
The move leaves the taxi fleet of more than 30 vehicles with just four spaces in the town centre, on The Parade and Bay Tree Hill.
Leon Hughes, proprietor of Quick Kabs which has four taxis, said the town desperately needs more rank space.
He said: “Cornwall Council have now told us we cannot use the third space. It is causing animosity between firms and friction in the town. To add insult to injury Cornwall Council has landed us with a new charge of £200 per vehicle plate licence without notifying us. They are putting up licence fees and they’ve taken a rank space away from us, it is so frustrating.
“There must be more than 30 taxis operating in the town and we have four official taxi spaces.”
Taxi drivers in Saltash are also angered by the rate rise. Bill Cotton, who runs Cottons Taxi Service, said: “The council adjusted the fees in December when they usually do it April to April. The increase has been a significant amount of money for us as we have ten drivers and a handful of cars. It is frustrating as we usually have a consultation, but we didn’t have that this time.”
Despite Mr Hughes’ best efforts, he has been unable to locate any information detailing the specifications of the rank on The Parade.
The council had planned to plough £10,000 into extending the rank in 2009, but plans were put off.
The issue is one of many problems taxi drivers in Liskeard are facing. According to the operators, motorists are continuing to clog up their ranks, which cannot currently be enforced due to signage and incorrect lines.
A forum is now due to be set up with members of the taxi trade and licensing representatives to try and iron out issues.
A spokesperson from Cornwall Council said: “When the rank was designated, it was designated for two vehicles only. It has never been designated as a three-vehicle rank.
“To access what is being referred to as the ‘third space’ the taxi has to cross over a pavement, or wait partly on the pavement until one of the two designated spaces are available, which is why drivers are being advised that they cannot operate in this way. In relation to the fees and charges, a public notice was given for the recent increase in charges. There were no objections and as a result the new fees were implemented.”
Five private hire drivers could lose their licences after they were caught illegally plying for trade.
During a three hour operation conducted by police and Watford Borough Council, drivers picking up passengers without first booking them through their operator were pulled over.
They were then questioned by officers and council workers, who checked their vehicle documents such as road tax, insurance and MOT.
All five vehicles were then impounded as officers were not satisfied they were being driven in accordance with their insurance. Only hackney carriages licensed by Watford Borough Council can pick up passengers without pre-booking.
The drivers, who work for companies in London, Hertsmere and Three Rivers, will now be considered for prosecution by the council. Seven other drivers are also currently being considered for legal action.
Councillor Jan Brown, chairman of the council’s licensing committee, said: “This is the latest in a series of operations under the banner of ‘Altogether..a good night out in Watford’.
“People going out at night should make sure they only use licensed taxis, or genuinely pre-booked private hire vehicles. Passengers who might have used any of the vehicles caught in last week’s operation might not have been insured in the event of an accident, and – particularly in the case of the driver from London – ripped off by drivers who in all likelihood do not know the local area as well as Watford drivers.”
For more information telephone Jeffrey Leib, Watford Borough Council Licensing Manager, on 01923 278503 or email
CARLISLE’S oldest taxi is still carrying passengers, despite an attempt by city council officers to take it off the road.
Self-employed driver David Carlile’s 1991 Metrocab will be 20 years old in June, making it five years older than the next-oldest taxi plying for trade in the city.
All taxis over 10 years of age have to undergo six-monthly inspections.
The black Metrocab failed an inspection last September. Checks found no mechanical problems but there were paint and bodywork defects, a corroded rear bumper, a torn rear seat and gaps where the doors closed.
Licensing officers decided it could never be brought up to standard but Mr Carlile, an engineer, disagreed. He spent hours on the bodywork, working in freezing temperatures at his home at Hopesyke, Longtown.
And the council’s regulatory panel upheld his appeal last week after councillors inspected the renovated vehicle, which was parked outside the Civic Centre in Rickergate.
Brian McCullough, secretary of Carlisle Taxi Association, represented Mr Carlile at the hearing on Wednesday.
He told councillors: “This is not a safety issue. It’s a cosmetic issue.
“We admit that the vehicle is 20 years old but most of you have looked at the car today and have seen it is in really good condition. A lot of work has gone into it.”
Mr Carlile still has to replace the rear seat and roof lining, then present the car for re-inspection next month.
David Morton, who chairs the panel, said: “This is the first time we’ve had a matter of this nature before us.
“The public are entitled to travel in vehicles to a tip-top standard.
“We are going to allow you a further month to get the vehicle into tip-top condition. If there’s a further breach officers have delegated powers to revoke the licence.”
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.