Private hire passengers are being ferried around Birmingham by “criminals on wheels” involved in drug and prostitution rackets, it has been claimed.
A new city council working party has now been formed to investigate allegations that black cab drivers are being driven out of business by unlicensed and uninsured rivals mired in a string of underworld activities.
A cabbies’ trade representative made the claims in an email sent to the authority’s licensing committee chairman Coun Bruce Lines, which was seen by the Birmingham Mail.
The rep, who would not be named, also alleged hotel and bar security workers were being offered cash bungs to illegally steer passengers towards hire cars.
His email said: “After many years as a trade rep, it saddens me the way the travelling public are being treated by what I can best describe as “criminals on wheels” who are prepared to drive without licences or insurance and that Birmingham is the capital of illegal activities.
“Money laundering, intimidation by doormen, mobile thugs in vans and Range Rovers intimidating and threatening hackney carriage drivers from their lawful place of work; drugs and prostitution are all available through private hire that this council is responsible for. No proper in-depth inquiries have ever taken place into the criminals who hide within the private hire operations.”
Coun Lines said the working party would address the concerns of Birmingham’s 1,400 black cab drivers.
“Touting for private hire vehicles is illegal and our enforcement officers are out and about at various locations,” he said. “This is a countrywide problem, not just Birmingham – it is escalating. We have done a huge amount of consultation on this and have now set up a working group in the hope that there will be recommendations before the full committee in the next few months.”
But Coun Lines said illegal touts were “very shrewd”. “They know who the enforcement officers are – it is very hard to catch them,” he said.
Mohammed Farid, the owner of Kings Heath-based Ambassador Cars, said “rogue elements” within the private hire field were not representative of the industry as a whole.
“We do a lot of work in the city centre but it’s all contract-based and we have never seen any examples of these kind of allegations,” he said.
“The majority of private hire companies operate entirely within the law.”
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