Drivers’ strike threat in Slough

TAXI drivers in Slough have threatened to strike over “scandalous” increases to the price they pay to park outside the town’s railway station.

The chairman of the Slough Taxi Federation says the annual cost of hiring five spaces for the firm’s 100 taxis has ballooned from £8,000 to £86,000.

Paramjit Badial said the new charge imposed by First Great Western (FGW) could not be justified by the amount of trade generated by the rank, as business had been declining for the past five to six years.

He said: “If we have to strike, we will strike. The people who use our taxis to get home or get to work, these are the people who are going to suffer.

“We provide a service to people in Slough, and this is the treatment we’re getting from a company that’s worth millions.

“All they’re providing us with is five taxi spaces. They’re trying to break us up, but we’re looking to protect the welfare of Slough taxi drivers.”

He said the firm’s self-employed drivers would struggle to pay their share of the new fee, which has gone up from £70 to £667.67 excluding VAT.

He added: “Insurance has gone up 50-60%, fuel prices have gone up, and on top of that we’re getting squeezed with this. It’s scandalous to increase the rent by this much.”

Mr Badial said the federation was willing to negotiate with FGW, and had paid for its permits at the lower rate until March 25.

Dan Payne, spokesman for FGW, said charges for taxi permits were being standardised, as they were previously negotiated on an “ad hoc, station by station” basis.

He said: “Our issue is that they (Slough taxis) might not have been paying enough in the first place.

“There is a market rate for that kind of permit. Let’s not forget the huge amount of business those spaces would bring.”

Mr Payne said permits for FGW-controlled taxi ranks would all be charged at the higher rate on renewal of the permits.

FGW awarded a three-year contract to Cabfind in June to provide its taxi management services.

A spokeswoman for Cabfind refused to comment.


New code of conduct for Cardiff cabbies

TAXI drivers will be told to smarten up and not turn away passengers under a new code of conduct drawn up by Cardiff council.

The more than 2,000 drivers working in the capital will be expected to sign up to the proposed Cardiff Taxi Driver Code. It follows complaints from passengers about overcharging, rudeness, dirty or unsafe cabs and refusals to be hired.

Cardiff’s transport boss said cabbies were ambassadors for the city and it was important they gave visitors a good first impression.

However, the scheme was last night labelled unnecessary by taxi trade representatives who instead called for more enforcement by licensing officers.

The list of pledges on the driver code includes:

being clean and tidily dressed, with their badge visible at all times;

greet passengers in a friendly way and offer help with luggage;

don’t turn passengers away without good reason; and

drivers will use the meter on all journeys within Cardiff.

An alternative code for passengers will also go before the council’s public protection committee next week. It tells passengers to treat drivers with respect and to behave in a civil manner.

Licensed drivers would be expected to sign up to the code, which will be promoted by the council, when they renew their licence.

But the Cardiff Hackney Carriage Association, which represents hail-and-ride cabs, claims it will not improve standards.

Association chairman Mathab Khan said a small minority of about 60 drivers are responsible for the majority of complaints and are tarnishing the trade.

The biggest issue, he said, is drivers who cherry pick big-money fares by refusing passengers looking to make short journeys within Cardiff.

“Introducing a new policy or code of conduct to control drivers will not work, what we need is enforcement,” Mr Khan said.

“The licensing department is not doing enough and, as a result, more drivers are doing silly things than ever before and they are getting away with it.”

Lack of English skills, rather than being untidy, is another issue, Mr Khan added.

Taxi driver Safir Hussain, 58, from Roath, said: “We have very professional drivers in Cardiff who take pride in their work and I think the council should concentrate on helping us get jobs rather than these rules. I have lost £350 this week as it is very quiet. As for the guidelines, I think we have already got very good driving standards in Cardiff.”

Dragon Taxis managing director Gareth Owen said his firm had its own code of conduct and drivers who do not adhere to it are warned or sacked.

But he too doubted that the council’s new initiative would raise standards.

“Probably 95% of all drivers are providing a very professional service, but the 5% who are in it for themselves do not care about passengers and will avoid the code,” Mr Owen said.

Councillor Delme Bowen, Cardiff’s executive member for transport, welcomed moves to improve the look and response of drivers.

“We have hundreds of thousands of visitors and very often the first person they will meet is a bus or taxi driver. Drivers can act as ambassadors and it’s important to give a good welcome to Cardiff,” he said.

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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.