New signs installed across Birmingham city centre to warn illegal taxi drivers

Cabbies and private hire drivers who operate illegally in Birmingham are being warned they will be caught and face prosecution.

New signs have been installed across the city centre reminding drivers against breaking the law and touting for on-street business – a specific offence known in the trade as ’plying.’

Almost 50 rogue drivers were found illegally picking up people in the city during the last 18 months as part of a crackdown.

Warning that CCTV is in operation, the 100 reflective signs have been put near prominent entertainment spots including:

Broad Street
Hurst Street
Ladywell Walk

Offenders face penalty points, hefty court fines and being struck off the council’s books.

West Midlands Police works in partnership with Birmingham City Council’s licensing team to tackle illegal plying for hire.

People who accept unbooked lifts from private hire drivers are not insured in the event of being injured in an accident; only Hackney Carriage vehicles can take fares without being booked in advance.

However, it is also an offence for Hackney Carriage vehicles to tout for customers outside of the council area it is licensed – again making passenger insurance void.

These signs leave no excuses for rogue drivers, if they illegally ply for hire they will be caught.

The majority operate legitimately but there are those who seek to take advantage and make extra cash. Some drivers will use weak excuses such as giving a friend a lift home yet are unable to provide their name or address.

We have seen drivers given six to nine points on their licence along with some drivers being disqualified from driving. One driver was left with a court bill of £1,800.

We would always urge passengers to book their journey or make sure they use a properly licenced cab.

– Enforcement officer PC Dave Humpherson, from West Midlands Police


Heathrow crackdown on Uber drivers

Uber drivers have been barred from parking in villages near Heathrow as part of measures to tackle congestion and clear the way for a third runway.

Sophisticated “geo-fencing” technology has been employed to prevent drivers picking up fares while parked a few miles outside the airport perimeter.

A new minicab rank with space for up to 800 vehicles will also be created just north of the airport.

The crackdown came as a range of proposals were outlined to soften opposition to Heathrow expansion, including a ban on flights between 11pm and 5.30am and a commitment not to build a fourth runway.

There are also plans for a new penalty charge – possibly up to £10 – for all polluting vehicles being driven to the airport to improve air quality.

Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, quoted by the Times, said Uber and other minicab companies had “expanded phenomenally” and had “started to cause a real issue in our local communities”.

“We have had Uber drivers parking in people’s driveways, leaving their rubbish in their gardens and causing a huge amount of local distress because they are trying to get as close as possible to the airport to pick up a ride,” he said.

Uber lets customers hail a car by smartphone which then links them to drivers nearby. The San Francisco-based firm has expanded hugely in the UK and now operates in more than 20 towns and cities, with around 25,000 registered drivers in London alone.

Holland-Kaye said that Uber had agreed to install geo-fencing – which blocks mobile phone signals – specifically preventing anyone parked in villages near the airport accessing a customer request made from within Heathrow itself.

“We don’t control the private hire vehicles, but I feel we have a responsibility to local communities to do right by them,” he said.

Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, said: “Uber is a really popular choice for passengers who want to travel safely and affordably to and from Heathrow. Back in January we stopped booking requests going to any Uber partner-drivers parked in residential streets around Heathrow.”

Heathrow’s new proposals come two months before the government is expected to rule on airport expansion in the southeast of England.


Falmouth man receives suspended prison sentence for his part in running bogus taxi service

Three men, including one from Falmouth, were sentenced at Truro Crown Court for their involvement in a fraudulent taxi firm that had a turnover of around £1.2 million and evaded paying almost £300,000 of VAT during a four year period.

Martin Perks, 68, of Well Way, Porth, near Newquay, was sentenced to three years in prison, with Christopher Perks, 41, of Horizon Fields in Sennen and Peter Hull, aged 60 and living at Golden Bank Park, in Falmouth, were both sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years.

All three had admitted charges of running the bogus Chy-Meor Flight Connections taxi firm, specialising in long distance journeys to and from major UK Transit hubs, which ran out of Porth, Newquay and Grampound Road Industrial Estate between January 1, 2009 and May 30, 2013 and of claiming to be a fully licensed and insured private hire operation.

In reality Cornwall Council’s Trading Standards officers found that the firm used unlicensed drivers, used unlicensed vehicles, falsified driver documentation and made false declarations to local vehicle hire businesses.

The Trading Standards investigation took over 18 months and also discovered that the firm had made false declarations to HM Revenue and Customs to avoid paying VAT.

In May 2014 Martin Perks absconded to France. He was arrested by French police near Toulouse in July 2015 and extradited to the UK after a European Arrest Warrant was served for Cornwall Council Trading Standards and HM Revenue and Customs’ offences.

Elizabeth Kirk, Cornwall Council senior Trading Standards officer said: “For us, this case centred around public safety. Our licensing laws exist to protect passengers from unfit drivers and unsafe vehicles. The activities of this business also caused insurances, where they existed, to be invalidated. We are really pleased with the outcome of this case, which was a real team effort and a great example of joined up working across the council.”

Cornwall Council cabinet member for communities Geoff Brown added: “I commend the outstanding work of officers from Cornwall Trading Standards who brought this lengthy case to a conclusion. Cornwall Council remains determined to ensure public safety and operating an unlicensed and unregistered business could have serious implications for both the well-being and security of customers.”


Bogus minicab driver receives suspended jail sentence

Babu Elahi, 53 and the phoney silver Passat

Babu Elahi, 53, was spotted in a VW Passat liveried with door stickers and bumper plates suggesting it was a licensed private hire vehicle.

Yet when police moved in to speak to the driver on October 17 last year he raced off – carrying two rear seat passengers.

Elahi, from Bevington Road in Aston , drove through no entry signs and broke the speed limit in a bid to escape a patrol car but was arrested when he pulled up outside Ladywood Police Station.

He initially claimed his ID badge was at home, but checks showed his Passat was not registered as a private hire car and the council license plate actually belonged to his brother.

In interview, unemployed Elahi claimed he had only ever driven a friend into Broad Street once, but Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras proved his Passat regularly cruised Broad Street on weekends.

He admitted dangerous driving, fraud by false representation, and driving without the relevant insurance when he appeared at Birmingham Crown Court.

He was given a four-year jail term, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work in the community, and banned from driving for 12 months.

PC Dave Humpherson leads a West Midlands Police campaign − codenamed Operation Amethyst − that sees a team of specially trained officers going undercover to pose as customers on the lookout for drivers breaking the rules.

Last year, up to 100 drivers were prosecuted and banned from the roads or given six penalty points, with fines approaching £2,000.

PC Humpherson said: “Most taxi drivers operate legally and are earning an honest living − but there are people falsely purporting to be taxi drivers in the hope of making some extra cash. And if anything untoward should happen it can be challenging to trace offenders as there’s no audit trail and no booking details or phone numbers to follow up.

“Passengers accepting lifts from private hire drivers plying for business aren’t insured in the event of being injured in an accident; only Hackney Carriage vehicles can take on-street fares and passengers can leave themselves vulnerable at the hands of bogus cabbies.

“As soon as people set foot in un-booked vehicles and take the journey, the insurance is nullified − and there are also some awful examples of people being overcharged. One of the worst I’ve seen was a man charged £25 for a two mile journey.”


Private-hire driver lands himself in court for trying to tout for trade on city’s streets

A Gedling private hire driver ended up in court on Wednesday after city taxi drivers protested that their trade was snatched by unlicensed outsiders.

Private-hire driver Asim Ali was seen parked near a bistro on Barker Gate shortly after midnight on June 27, magistrates in the city heard.

Two plain clothes officers approached and saw an advert for a car hire firm on the side of his vehicle. One asked if he could be taken to Toton. Ali quoted him a fare of £22.

“The officer got into the vehicle and after a short while, told the driver to pull over.

“He had a licence from Gedling Borough Council but was plying for hire in Nottingham city and had no relevant licence for the city,” said Richard Bines, prosecuting for the city council.

Ali had no licence to “ply for hire” in the city and could only take people on pre-arranged trips. Officers were also concerned about his insurance cover, added Mr Bines.

The 36-year-old, of Hazelwood Road, Nottingham, was ordered to pay an £80 fine. He pleaded guilty to plying for hire when not licensed as a hackney carriage. As well as the fine, he must pay a £20 government surcharge.

Ali told the court he had “a badge for Gedling” which had now expired. He said: “This is the first time this has happened.

“At this time of the year, we don’t have anything. Insurance is very high this year and I can’t afford it.

“At the moment, I don’t have a job. I am going to go back to security which I have done for the last ten years.” He had never been in trouble before and was allowed to pay at £30 monthly.

Presiding magistrate Eric Baker, who sat with two colleagues, said they had taken account of his decision to plead guilty. The council had sought costs of £274 but £100 were granted.

A week before Ali was caught, 400 taxi drivers staged a protest and accused the city council of doing little to stop private hire operators from picking up passengers in the streets of Nottingham.

It brought rush hour chaos to the city for 30 minutes as cabbies drove around the main routes and caused gridlock.

Buses, trams and ambulances were delayed while many commuters were late for work.

The cabbies staged the protest for a second day and said they had made their point and had lost business through the illegal competition.

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Private hire driver fined £2,000 for illegal pick-up

A private hire driver who illegally picked up a customer in the town centre has been ordered to pay more than £2,000 after appearing in court.

Mohammed Arif, of Northumberland Avenue, denied plying for trade in Friar Street on December 8, 2011, but was found guilty after a trial at Newbury Magistrates Court on Tuesday, October 30.

The court heard Arif, 61, had been caught during an undercover operation by Reading Borough Council with Thames Valley Police officers acting as customers.

Magistrates fined Arif £110 and ordered him to pay costs of £2,016.60.

Councillor Paul Gittings, Reading’s lead member for environment, said he was pleased with the outcome. “Most people who flag down a private hire vehicle in the street do not understand it is illegal and they are uninsured for the journey,” he said.


Passengers warned after private hire driver convicted

A Huntingdon private hire driver who unlawfully plied for business in Peterborough has been fined £250 and £200 costs after pleading guilty at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday (September 25).

Since the case Peterborough City Council has notified Huntingdonshire District Council of the issues the city is experiencing with Huntingdon licensed drivers. Following the conviction, HDC will have to make a decision on whether the driver can keep his Huntingdonshire private hire licence.

Qaisar Javaid, 29, of Peveril Road, Peterborough, pleaded guilty to both the plying for hire charge and for driving without insurance. He was fined £250, ordered to pay prosecution costs of £200 and a victim surcharge of £15. He was also given eight points on his licence for the driving without insurance offence.

When a private hire driver picks up a fare without a booking, he or she invalidates the insurance policy, so the journey is not insured.

Unlike London-style Hackney cabs, private hire cars must be pre-booked through the company’s operator and not ply for business on the streets. However, a joint operation between Peterborough City Council’s licensing team and Cambridgeshire Constabulary caught Mr Javaid doing exactly that in June.

Plain clothed officers approached Javaid’s vehicle in Northminster, Peterborough, at 1.38pm on Sunday June 3 when he agreed to take them to Gunthorpe, directly catching him in the act.

Councillor Peter Hiller, Peterborough cabinet member for housing, neighbourhoods and planning, said: “Public safety is paramount and [passengers] need to understand the dangers of getting into a private hire car in circumstances such as this.

“By getting into a private hire vehicle without a booking, its insurance may be invalidated, which in the event of an accident could leave a passenger without protection. In addition, there is no record of who picked them up and from where as no booking was made. If the passenger or driver were attacked, police would struggle to identify the driver, vehicle or passenger involved.”

HDC said it took a very serious view of private hire drivers plying for hire – picking up fares that were not pre-booked – particularly because of the fact that the passengers were not covered by insurance.

It works closely with the city council and police to crack down on such breaches of licensing rules.


Pirate Hire Driver and Operator Fined for Plying for Hire

A private hire driver and his operator have been fined £715 each after illegally picking up plain clothed police officers in Peterborough city centre.

Taxi driver Azur Hussain (31), of Taverners Road, committed the crime at 1.22am on February 26.

He was caught by plain clothed police officers working in a joint operation between Peterborough Cty Council’s Licensing Team and Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

The operation targeted a takeaway establishment in Fitzwilliam Street which is owned by Asghar Ali, who is also the operator of City Cars, a private hire company based in Peterborough.

It was suspected that staff at the takeaway along with its sister company City Cars, were illegally pushing for private hire services and dispatching private hire vehicles to illegally ‘rank’ outside the takeaway without genuine bookings.

At Peterborough Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, June 19, Hussain pleaded guilty to unlawfully plying for hire and to having no insurance.

He was fined £500, ordered to pay £200 costs and a £15 victim surcharge. He was also issued with eight points on his licence for the offence of being uninsured.

Adrian Day, Licensing Manager for Peterborough City Council, said: “The law makes a clear distinction between a Hackney Carriage – a London cab – that can be hailed in the street and private hire cars that must be pre-booked.

“These joint operations attempt to prevent drivers acting unlawfully and assist in educating the trade and public of the dangers of unlawfully plying for hire.

“If a private hire driver picks up without a booking, the insurance is generally invalidated, and from a safety point of view there is no record of the driver undertaking the journey.

“If a passenger or driver is attacked the police and taxi enforcement team would have difficulties identifying the driver, vehicle, journey or customer involved.”

The court heard that Hussain attracted the officer’s attention by waving them over and despite telling him twice that they had not booked the journey, he agreed to take them to Herlington, Orton Malborne.

On reaching the destination the officers identified themselves and were met at the location by members of the city council’s Licensing Team.

During the investigation, officers also discovered that the operator of City Cars, Asghar Ali, was failing to keep records in accordance with his licence conditions.

Ali pleaded guilty to the record keeping offence. He was fined £500 and ordered to pay £200 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

A decision will now be made by the city council’s Licensing Team concerning their licences.

Mr Day added: “Licensing officers closely monitor the taxi trade to protect the interest and safety of passengers and will not hesitate to prosecute anyone touting for private hire services or any private hire driver who is found to be unlawfully plying for hire or ‘flagging’ as it is known in the trade.

“Many private hire drivers and operators carry out their trade lawfully and condemn the few that bring the trade into disrepute.

“People who wish to use a private hire vehicle must pre-book the vehicle with the private hire company, not the driver or anyone else, to ensure they are legally covered.”


Private hire driver left out of pocket after ‘blagging’

A private hire driver who was caught unlawfully picking up a fare off the street has been left £850 out of pocket.

Patrick Kahwa, a driver for Raffles in Milton Keynes, was caught plying for hire on 11th June last year as part of a test purchase operation by taxi licensing enforcement officers from Milton Keynes Council.

The practice – known as ‘blagging’ – is illegal and leaves potential customers at all sorts of risks – not least because it means that in the event of an accident, the vehicle is not correctly insured.

Mr Kahwa, 34, of Ramsons Avenue, Conniburrow, appeared before Milton Keynes Magistrates on Friday, and pleaded guilty to two charges – plying for hire without a licence contrary to Town and Police Clauses Act 1847 and having no insurance in contravention of Road Traffic Act 1998.

He was fined £250 for the offence of plying for hire and given six points on his licence for the insurance offence. He was also ordered to pay £600 prosecution costs to the council.

A taxi licensing spokesperson said: “Private hire drivers can only pick up pre-booked fares – they are not allowed to tout for business on the street in the same way that a Hackney Carriage driver can.

“Where cab drivers are picking up fares from the street, this immediately negates their insurance, which would be disastrous in the event of an accident.”


Out of Town cabby hit with £600 fine for taking illegal journey

A TAXI driver has appeared in court and been slapped with a £600 bill for picking up a passenger when his cab was registered in a different county.

Christopher Jones took a fare from Swansea’s High Street to Mumbles — but his vehicle was registered in Powys and he was therefore only allowed to take booked journeys, not to ply for trade on the streets.

Jones, of Bay View Crescent, Brynmill, pleaded guilty to an offence under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 — and was fined £100 and must pay almost £500 prosecution costs.

Swansea Council is now urging passengers to make sure any cabs they take are properly licensed — and therefore have the right insurance.

Swansea Magistrates’ Court heard that 41-year-old Jones picked up a passenger near the Talk of the Town club on High Street — but unbeknown to him, the passenger was a council licensing officer working undercover.

Sarah Thyer-Hughes, prosecuting, said the offence happened in the early hours of September 3 last year, when a team of Swansea Council licensing staff were on patrol in the city centre.

She told the court that cabs licensed outside the city and county were only allowed to accept journeys that had been booked in advance.

Jones, who represented himself at the hearing, said he was parked in High Street on the night in question and wrongly accepted the journey.

He said: “I was waiting for a job to come through on the system when I was approached.

“I have been vigilant since I made that indiscretion.

“I have been approached numerous times since then but have always turned the jobs down.”

Jones was fined £100 for plying for hire when he was not properly licensed to do so, and must pay £492 costs and £15 victim surcharge.

Following the court case, Swansea Council is urging passengers to make sure that taxis hailed in the street have licenses registered in Swansea.

Martin Saville, head of public protection at the local authority, said: “Vehicles licensed in other areas can legitimately pick up fares in Swansea but they are not licensed to ply for hire, they can only pick up fares that are pre-booked.

“If a driver of a vehicle licensed in another area picks up a fare in Swansea that is not pre-booked the driver and vehicle are not licensed for this purpose and there may be issues about whether the vehicle is properly insured.

“The Powys case relates to a driver plying for hire in Swansea and picking up a fare that was not pre-booked.”

He said that some “out of town” vehicles may look very similar to Swansea licensed vehicles but they will have different plates and stickers.

He urged prospective passengers to check the vehicle is properly licensed before getting into it.

Mr Saville added: “People using taxis are reminded that all Swansea taxis are black in colour and can be hailed in the street, pre-booked or be taken from a taxi rank.

“All Swansea private hire vehicles are white in colour and must be pre-booked through one of our licensed operators.”