Your chance to shape future taxi policy

Taxi firms in Knutsford will be put under the spotlight during a borough consultation this month.

Cheshire East Council will be carrying out a consultation into how hackney carriages operate in the area.

Hackney carriages differ from private hire vehicles as they can ‘ply for hire’ and pick passengers up from a taxi rank.

Private hire cars can only undertake pre-booked journeys.

The three former district authorities – Congleton Borough Council, Macclesfield Borough Council and Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council – all had different approaches to issues like fares and the number of hackney carriages permitted to operate in an area.

These different policies still exist and the consultation is seeking to find out if people are happy with the current arrangements or would prefer a more standard approach. Currently, hackney carriages in Cheshire East are licensed within three zones with Congleton (zone one); Crewe and Nantwich (zone two); and Macclesfield (zone three).

Issues in the consultation include limitation of numbers – there is currently a limit of 42 hackney carriages that are able to operate in Congleton, with no such restriction of numbers elsewhere in Cheshire East; fares – each of the three zones has its own tariff; and existing terms and conditions – each zone also has its own sets of terms and conditions, covering areas such as signage, safety equipment and accessibility.

Clr Rachel Bailey, cabinet member with responsibility for safer and stronger communities, said: “Hackney carriages offer an important service.

“I would encourage as many people as possible to take part in this consultation.

The consultation runs until Friday, February 18, and responses may be sent by post to: FAO Mrs K Khan, Legal Services, Cheshire East Borough Council, Westfields, Middlewich Road, Sandbach, CW11 1HZ or by e-mail to:


Telford Private Hire Drivers’ Association chairman suspended

The chairman of the Telford Private Hire Drivers’ Association has been suspended, it was revealed today. Mohammed Zaman and a second private hire driver was suspended by Tel-ford & Wrekin Council licensing chiefs.

It comes after Mr Zaman said he was called by colleagues to the council’s MoT depot in Donnington on January 20 during a spot-check operation.

He alleged that the council licensing officers were only stopping Asian drivers during weekly spot checks.

He said voices were raised between himself and a licensing officer.

Mr Zaman said he had done nothing wrong and was now calling for an investigation into allegations of racial discrimination against private hire firms, which was previously the subject of an inquiry in Telford.

He added: “We are asking for the Race Equality people to reopen the inquiry from 2006. I am fighting this all the way. I ran the association with a clean heart. I’m going to clear my name.”

The drivers have been suspended for allegedly bre-aching licence conditions.

Russell Griffin, council spokesman, said: “The suspensions will remain in place until they are considered by the council’s licensing committee on March 8.

“The drivers concerned have the right to appeal against the decision to the magistrates court within 21 days.”

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Oxford city’s taxis to install CCTV in cabs

THE city’s 600 taxi drivers could be forced to install CCTV in their cars to protect themselves and their passengers.

Many drivers have backed the idea of all cabbies being forced to have the £400 cameras and microphones fitted in their vehicles from as early as next year.

Last night, some drivers said it would make them and their passengers feel safer, although there were concerns it could be an invasion of passengers’ privacy.

Taxi driver Richard Barlow, 53, of Kidlington, said: “I am all for it. It will hopefully encourage more female passengers. We don’t get many females.

“Drivers are sometimes accused of conversations and things that do not take place, so it will protect us.

“It will also reduce the chance of us being attacked. I don’t drive nights but, with CCTV, I would.

“I have been attacked three times. A cord was wrapped around my neck. I have had people threaten me and grab me when they did not want to pay.”

001 Taxis director Tony Green and driver Richard Barlow

Tony Green, director of 001 Taxis in St Aldates, Oxford, installed software in his cabs three years ago so he knows the exact location of every vehicle, with a panic button for drivers.

He said: “It is a good thing for safety. It is going to make drivers and the passengers safer.”

The City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association said it received a report of serious assaults on drivers in the city, resulting in hospital treatment, every three to four months.

Secretary Alan Woodward said there were serious arguments between drivers and passengers almost every weekend.

In April last year, a driver was robbed at knifepoint of £80 and his mobile phone in William Kimber Crescent.

But one taxi driver, who asked not to be named, said: “It is wrong, it is disrespectful to our passengers. Some might not get in if they are being recorded.

“It will cost us a lot of money.”

Mr Woodward believed the move would not impact on fares, despite the £400 cost.

Any new vehicles needing a licence from April 2012 must have the cameras fitted, but vehicles already licensed have got until April 2015. The scheme is set to be rubberstamped by the city council next month.

Julian Alison, the council’s licensing team leader, said: “We want to ensure that we promote the safety of the public and any initiatives that can assist in this objective are actively pursued by the Licensing Team and the Trade Associations.

“We want to ensure that any projects do not place a heavy financial burden on the licensed trade.”

There are 112 Hackney Carriages and 528 private hire vehicles currently registered in the city. The council charges £115 for a taxi driving licence for both Hackney carriages and private hire vehicles and £351 for a Hackney carriage vehicle licence.

Police spokesman Chris Kearney said: “The installation of CCTV cameras into the city’s licensed taxis will make a night out in the city centre an even safer proposition and provide valuable evidence for officers investigating allegations.”

It is not yet clear how the system in Oxford would work, but similar schemes are used in Huddersfield, Burnley and Hastings.

Mark Horsfall, who has installed CCTV in one of his cabs at Mount Taxis in Huddersfield, said: “The people who have installed it for a while say it’s definitely worth it. It has helped them in several situations.”

Meanwhile, in Staffordshire, the police and council have used technology so they can download CCTV images from the cabs directly to a police station.


Driver hired for school run had sex assault record

A taxi driver operating a school run service was hired despite a string of convictions for sexual assaults, an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman reveals today.

  His history only came to light after he had sexually assaulted a vulnerable boy who he was driving to school.

 The driver, employed by a private taxi company hired by the London Borough of Camden, was given a clean record after checks had been made with the Criminal Records Bureau. It gave him an enhanced certificate giving him the green light to work with children.

 What it had failed to uncover was that he had a list of criminal convictions overseas and had even been the subject of an arrest warrant.

 A report by the Ombudsman criticises Camden Council for the way it handled the outsourcing of its school transport service – and found it guilty of maladministration. It recommended the authority pay £1,000 in compensation to the boy’s mother for the distress that had been caused, plus £220 for her costs in pursuing the case.

 Dr Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman said: “The complainant will always be left with some doubt that the council could have done more to protect her child.”

 She added that the mother “has brought some important issues into the public domain”.

 The report outlines how – in November 2008 – the boy had told his mother he had been sexually assaulted and the driver had give him sweets in return.

 He had been driven to school in the company of an escort – a dinner lady employed by the council.

 The driver was sentenced to an indeterminate prison sentence as a result with a recommendation he serve no less than two-and-a-half years. No criminal action was taken against the escort – although she cannot now be found.

 The report uncovered that the driver had been the subject of a CRB check in May 2006 – and was given a temporary license.

 In August, the CRB apologised for delays in dealing with the check but failed to disclose this was because information was “in conflict”. An enhanced CRB certificate was issued in December.

 Regulations insist all applicants for driving jobs have to state whether they have lived in any country other than the UK in the past two or three years and supply a “certificate of good conduct” from that country if they have. However, the report acknowledges that the residency question “relied upon the honesty of the applicant”.

 Camden Council, it says has now amended its procedures to ensure that all agencies working for it insist on having references covering their past five years of employment.

 The Crown Prosecution Service is now investigating the way the CRB handled the criminal record check.

 “This investigation has highlighted a number of learning points which have implications for councils and their contractors,” said Dr Martin


Call for study on number of taxis

CAMPAIGNERS have hailed a minor victory in their battle to reduce the number of cabs in Sevenoaks.

The Sevenoaks Town Taxi Drivers’ Association has spent nine months lobbying Sevenoaks District Council about the apparent surplus of vehicles licensed as Hackney carriages in the town.

Hackney carriages are public hire vehicles, which can be picked up by passengers without prior booking.

Up until 2008, the number of licence plates that could be issued each year was limited to 192.

In that year the limit was lifted and at the moment, 208 Hackney plates are in use by taxi drivers.

The association argues that there are too many drivers competing for customers and said that a feasibility study should have been carried out before the decision was made in 2008.

Steps towards a resolution were made at a licensing committee meeting at the Sevenoaks District Council office on Wednesday, January 26.

Councillors recommended a consultation of taxi drivers in the Sevenoaks and Swanley district to see whether such a study should take place.

If a 75 per cent majority is reached, it is likely to go ahead later this year.

Assistant secretary to the association Mike Simmonds said: “The livelihood of these men is at risk and they can’t afford to maintain their taxis properly. You see them driving round with bald tyres and all sorts.

“It’s a question of passenger safety.”

Anthony Garnett, who manages the district council’s licensing partnership, told the committee no study was carried out before because there is no need when no limit is imposed.

He added that a study would cost in the region of £10,000 to £15,000 – which the taxi drivers themselves would have to finance.

Mr Simmonds also claimed too many cabs are allowed to pick up passengers from Sevenoaks station.

Meteor Parking is in charge of handing out permits to drivers to allow them to wait at the station and in August last year announced the number of permits was capped at 110, with a view to decreasing this to 90.

Mr Simmonds added: “There are drivers up in town feeling the pinch even more. I know, I’ve just spent time up there.

“An average taking for ten hours’ work is only £50.”

Sevenoaks District Council spokesman Daniel Whitmarsh said: “The council has listened carefully to the taxi drivers’ concerns and will continue to work closely with them to see if there are too many or too few Hackney Carriage vehicle licences issued within the Sevenoaks District.”

Meteor was unavailable for comment.


Judge halts cabbie’s prosecution over death of disabled student

Died: Kristian in his wheelchair and, below, his father, Kevin Holgate

POLICE are to launch a “full review” of their investigation into the death of a disabled teenager after the prosecution of a taxi driver accused of dangerous driving was halted by a judge.

Rastrick student Kristian Holgate, 17, who had muscular dystrophy, died almost a month after he was thrown from his wheelchair while travelling to Huddersfield New College in an adapted taxi being driven by Rahim Dad.

The 45-year-old taxi driver told police he had secured the wheelchair in the vehicle but forgot to fasten the seatbelt.

Days after the incident in February 2009, West Yorkshire Police wrote to Mr Dad, of Fir Road, Paddock, telling him he would not face prosecution unless significant new evidence came to light.

At the beginning of March that year Mr Holgate, who had suffered a cut to the head and a fractured left leg in the incident, died. The pathologist who carried out the post-mortem examination on the teenager’s body concluded his death was due to natural causes, but further medical evidence obtained last year suggested there may have been a link between the teenager’s leg injury suffered in the taxi and his death.

Mr Dad was initially charged with an offence of dangerous driving about five months after Mr Holgate’s death but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had been proposing to replace that allegation with a charge of causing death by careless driving at a trial this month.

Last week, however, Judge Peter Benson heard legal arguments about the whether the continued prosecution of Mr Dad was “an abuse of process” and he concluded the case should be stayed.

The ruling to halt the proceedings could not be reported until now, however, while the CPS decided whether or not to lodge an appeal against the decision.

During the legal arguments, the court heard that the letter from the police to Mr Dad had been sent without any consultation with the prosecution service.

Prosecutor Stephen Wood said that Mr Holgate’s parents had been sorely let down by the officers who had issued the letter to Mr Dad without seeking their advice.

Judge Benson said he found it quite incredible that such a critical decision could have been taken without any consultation and called for lessons to be learned from the “tragic case.” His ruling concluded that no new evidence had come to light between the issuing of the letter by the police and the decision to charge the taxi driver.

He also noted that even when Mr Dad was eventually charged, in August 2009, there was no assertion at that stage that his driving had caused the 17-year-old’s death.

He said: “I have with some reluctance, and knowing as I do that it will be a great disappointment to Kristian’s relatives, decided that it is not just and fair to allow this prosecution to continue.”

Reacting to the decision, West Yorkshire Police Chief Superintendent Alan Ford said: “This investigation was particularly complex from the very start after the injuries initially sustained by Kristian were, according to the medical services, not thought to be life-threatening.

“We are disappointed with the comments made in court.”

He added that an initial police review had found the CPS were “appropriately” involved in the case but a full review would now take place.

Mr Holgate’s father Kevin, who was at court to hear the ruling last Wednesday, tried to speak during the case, but Judge Benson said: “I’m afraid you can’t.

“I understand your feelings but we have to conduct these proceedings in a formal way and I have come to a conclusion on the law.”

I have with some reluctance decided it is not just and fair to allow this prosecution to continue.


Councillors hint at support for Dundee taxi cap

Long-standing calls to cap the number of taxis in Dundee have been cautiously backed by two members of the city’s licensing board.

SNP councillors Craig Melville and Stewart Hunter say they support, in principle, limiting the number of taxis in the city.

Tony Waters, secretary of Dundee Taxi Association (DTA), and Unite union taxi branch secretary Chris Elder — who for some time have called for a cap to be imposed — welcomed the comments.

But Dundee licensing board committee chairman Rod Wallace said the elected officials had “jumped the gun” as formal discussions were yet to be held.

A report commissioned by the committee, examining a cap option, is being prepared. It is expected to go before members early next month. In the meantime Mr Melville says he has urged Rod Wallace to call a meeting of the taxi liaison group, comprising elected members and officers of the city council, the police and representatives of the trade, to canvass opinion.

“I think the first commitment the committee should have is to protect licence holders in the city,” said the councillor for Maryfield. “I have written to Rod Wallace requesting a meeting with the taxi liaison group which I believe last sat in May 2010.

“We should have more regular meetings in the future to help address such issues.”

Meanwhile Stewart Hunter, councillor for Strathmartine, says more discussions are needed before a decision on taxi numbers is made.

“It would be interesting to hear how limiting the number of taxis would work,” he said. “I know with other authorities some have a cap and some don’t. But I would like to hear from taxi drivers and operators to listen to what they have to say.”

Tony Waters described the councillors’ stance on the issue as “great news”, adding, “We know the board can introduce a cap on taxis legally. Other cities have already done so. The perfect example is Perth and Kinross. This really is a welcome development.”

In Dundee there are currently 576 hackneys and a further 200 private-hire vehicles. But with around 1600 taxi badge holders, drivers are becoming increasingly concerned that supply is outstripping demand.

Chris Elder of Unite says his organisation is aiming to avoid this scenario.

“It’s great to see the SNP backing the trade,” said Mr Elder. “I have sent emails into Rod Wallace highlighting the need of a cap.”

In the aftermath of next month’s committee meeting councillors may choose to advance the idea of a cap with a demand survey, which could take as long as six months to complete. This survey would help decide the top-line figure for taxis permitted in the city.

But Mr Elder said that if plans did advance to this stage he would expect there to be a wave of new taxi applications before the door closed.

“We are concerned that during that time we will record a steep rise in the numbers of people going for a licence before numbers are limited. Legislation is available to do this and we would like to see it brought into force,” he said.

Mr Wallace, Conservative councillor for Broughty Ferry, said his fellow councillors had “jumped a bit ahead of themselves” with their comments.

“It is no secret that there is a lot of lobbying going on behind the scenes, and that is not surprising,” he said.

Mr Wallace added that if a cap were progressed then the committee would be unable to dismiss applicants out of hand without a valid reason.

“Mr Elder’s suggestion not to allow new applications before the cap came into force would not hold any water,” he said. “Any application we refuse within that period without good reason could be appealed to the sheriff court, and I believe those appeals would be upheld.

“The likely outcome would be that the city council would end up paying the costs.”


Striking cabbies bring rush-hour Coventry ring road to standstill

STRIKING cabbies blockaded Coventry city centre yesterday causing a rush-hour headache for other motorists.

A “go-slow” line of black cabs clogged city centre streets and the ring road from 4pm to 6pm.

About 40 taxis were led by a police escort from Coventry railway station, past the Council House and onto the ring road.

From there, they crawled along at a snail’s pace, causing delays for people heading home from work.

Some of the worst-hit areas were near Swanswell Pool and the ring road exit for Holyhead Road.

As the strike entered day two yesterday, taxi drivers’ leaders claimed the stoppage had been a success with 98 per cent of drivers refusing to work.

Earlier there was frustration at taxi ranks blockaded by stationary cabs, where only disabled people had a chance of getting a taxi.

As the deadlock continued with council chiefs refusing to bow to the drivers’ demands, many furious cabbies sought public backing, claiming their livelihoods were being ruined.

They said they had reached breaking point after years of demands for the council to limit the number of taxi licences and provide more ranks.

That view was partly backed, with Labour’s council leaders, who came to power last May, blaming the previous Conservative administration.

Labour councillor Lindsley Harvard, cabinet member for city services, said his planned three-month independent review into cabbies’ concerns would be the first examination since 1997 – if cabbies pay the £40,000 fee. His own party was in control until 2004.

About 100 cabbies protesting outside the Council House on Monday voted unanimously to renew last month’s strike, after council leaders ruled out an immediate temporary cap on licences.

Cabbies claim there could be up to 300 more taxis on the roads while the review takes place.

All 950 black cab and private licence drivers have been ordered not to pick up passengers, including for school runs contracted with the council, for as long as it takes until the council gives in.

Imran Zaman, of Coventry Taxi Association, said other councils, including Leicester, had issued emergency caps without reviews, a claim disputed by Coventry council leaders.

Coun Harvard said lawyers had advised that a temporary cap would leave the council open to potentially costly legal challenges from taxi-maker LTI or new taxi drivers who had ordered or bought vehicles.

Cabbies contested that claim, saying they had support from LTI.

Taxi drivers, all self-employed, say the council is breaching government guidelines that cabs should be limited to two per 1,000 people, and there are only 130 rank spaces.


Cabbies tighten belts as taxes take a toll

Taxi driver Dave Dickens-Smith with a passenger
Taxi driver Dave Dickens-Smith with a passenger

HELPED to her front door by taxi driver Dave Dickens-Smith, senior citizen Charmian Rowland, of The Fairway, Bexhill, said: “I have to use taxis at least once a week to get to and from town, and most of the drivers are just wonderful.


“They share a chat, often help me carry my shopping to the door and it would be a sad day if they ever gave up or weren’t around for some reason.”

Her words rang more true than they might, for Dave is well aware that many of his group’s members are nearing the end of their tether as they try to make a living.

“The increases being imposed on us as the council seeks to balance its books are quite extraordinary,” said Dave, who became a hackney carriage driver some 15 years ago and has been chairman of the RDTA for the past seven.

“If we could raise fares by the same percentages, we’d soon have no customers. But since the council also controls the amounts we are allowed to charge, we have no option but to try to absorb increases in our overheads as best we can.”

And it’s a tough trade to be in, as I discovered during a morning spent with Dave in his Skoda Octavia taxi, plying for hire from the eight-car rank in Devonshire Road.

No taxi is allowed to be more than 10 years old, and vehicles must undergo a compliance test – a more rigorous MoT test that even takes into account the state of trim – twice a year.

Drivers face a medical every five years and are checked against criminal record bureau files every three, the costs of which they must meet themselves.

When first venturing out, their car needs a roof-mounted “top box” to identify it as a taxi, and must have a calibrated meter installed to monitor distances travelled and fares charged.

On top of this, they must obtain a taxi or private hire licence plus relevant vehicle plates from the district council, which from April 1 will cost a combined £305 a year, against neighbouring Wealden’s £255 and Hastings £286.

All such costs come out of a taxi driver or operator’s own pocket, yet it soon becomes clear that margins are tight.

The basic tariff for hire is £2.40 for the first 176 yards, 20p for each additional 198 yards or part thereof for the first mile, and then 20p for every 234.6 yards or part thereof after one mile. A 10p charge applies for every 20 seconds or part thereof waiting time.

In almost three hours on the rank, Dave’s cab was hired just twice and earned him a princely £11.40.

He said: “Without regular school runs and the occasional distance booking by mobile phone or being hailed on the street, I’d find it a real struggle, and so would many of my colleagues.”

With 128 plated cabs plus private hire cars spread throughout Rother, and just 18 rank spaces in Bexhill – down from 24 in the past six years – competition is keen and can lead to friction between rival firms and independents as they chase what custom is available.

Such disunity is anathema to Dave, who also laments some drivers’ poor standards and presentation. He feels this undermines the professionalism he is keen to promote.

A decision by drivers’ representatives to resign last April from a taxi liaison committee set up by the council reflected a feeling that their input was not considered worthwhile, yet having a “50-50” forum fairly engaging both council and cabbies is still high on Dave’s wish list.

“I would like to see a better understanding among both councillors and officers of what we do and how their decisions affect us, so that we’re not just being dictated to or treated as a money-tree, and I’d like to see the trade more united and not have the apathy that exists among some drivers over standards,” he said.


Taxi firms’ anger as ‘bullying’ council asks for price cuts

TRAFFORD Council have told taxi operators currently carrying out contracts for them that prices will need to be slashed by at least 10 per cent.

A letter has been sent out to all taxi firms affected explaining they should take the cut or face losing the contract when a new tendering process allowing firms from outside Trafford for the the first time to submit bids. It follows a ‘best value procurement review’ last year.

Firms who fail to reduce their contract prices by a ‘minimum of 10 per cent’, cannot be ‘guaranteed future business’, the letter warns.

While taxi drivers are accusing the council of bullying tactics, the council defended its stance saying it was about ensuring best value was achieved.

Corporate director for environment, transport and operations, Peter Molyneux, said: “The Council needs to ensure it is getting the best value for money out of this service, and through a competitive tendering process we can make sure this is happening.

“A letter has been issued to all of our current suppliers to inform them of this.

“In a time when all public bodies are having to make savings, we have suggested to our suppliers that they review their prices before submitting a tender so they remain competitive.

“We want to encourage local businesses to be part of this framework which could result in even further business for them.”

But a taxi driver who SUM spoke to, who asked only to be identified as John, said: “At a time when costs are rising, including fuel, the council wants us pay us less. A 10 per cent cut for me on the contract I do means a £35 a week cut.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said the driver of 15 years. “It down to the government giving the council less money, and getting the council to do their dirty work. But having said that, how would they like it if their staff were given a 10 per cent cut. They’ve got the union on their side though and we’ve got no one.”

Another taxi operator who contacted Messenger under agreement of anonymity said: “I’ve had to accept the cuts. If I didn’t I would have had to let drivers go. It’s bully-boy tactics.”