Solihull’s Uber taxi row

SOLIHULL is considering joining with other neighbouring authorities who are united in opposition to Wolverhampton’s licensing of Uber taxis uncutting the borough’s licenced cabbies.

The Observer understands West Midlands councils including Solihull are considering a joint approach to government against licensing deregulation which has led to ride-hailing US firms such as Uber driving down prices in Solihull and the region.

Councillors say it has led to a ‘race the the bottom’, with passenger safety compromised by an alleged lack of driver training, and pay and holiday and sickness rights being driven down.

Elsewhere in the region, notably in Coventry, councils are joining with taxi drivers and trades unions to campaign against Wolverhampton’s liberal handing out of licenses to the new ‘out-of-town’ companies, which can operate across council borders.

Yet many passengers have welcomed the lower fares and phone tracking service of App-based Uber.

It includes ‘ride sharing’ and hailing a nearby taxi promptly using a mobile phone.

The company has been banned from London streets over safety fears, while critics have called the clampdown and infringement on the free market, and town hall and union protectionism.

Councils in turn say deregulation has broken the historic link between a local area and taxi licensing based on meeting needs and demand, with democratic accountability through local authorities.

They claim Wolverhampton doesn’t have the same standard of English language requirements, disabilities training, child sexual exploitation training, any local knowledge test, or six- monthly vehicle checks

But more than 800,000 people have signed a petition on the change. org website to save Uber as the firm fights the London ban.

The capital’s transport officials and mayor Sadiq Khan stripped it of its licence. Uber is appealing and it is hoped a compromise can be reached without major job losses among drivers.

Uber claims safety is of the highest importance and drivers go through enhanced background checks.

It claims its technology has gone further to improve safety, with trips tracked and recorded by GPS satellite navigation systems.

London Assembly Tories claim analysis shows Uber is 40 per cent cheaper than black cabs, and a ban will cost Londoners an extra £90million a year in fares.

Max McLoughlin, Solihull Green councillor, said: “This is a serious problem. We give a great deal of power to taxi drivers. We let them drive in places that other cars can’t. We allow them alone, in a locked space, with vulnerable people. It’s only right that a local authority says who can and can’t drive a taxi there.”

“This isn’t the case anymore and we’re seeing a race to the bottom on standards and safety. Councils like Solihull, who prioritise safety, end up losing out financially.

“This isn’t a problem with one local council or taxi company. This is a problem with one piece of legislation passed in 2015.

“If Solihull council aren’t satisfied that someone should have a taxi license, why should we have to pay for them when they appear on our streets?

“It means that council tax payers in Solihull are subsidising another local authority on a get rich quick scheme.”

“The responsibility lies with government and our MPs. They’ve made local authorities so cash poor that some will tread on others to balance the books. Not only that, they’ve also given them the tools to do so in the Deregulation Act 2015.”


Institute of Licensing writes to Government To Highlight The Failures In The Taxi Licensing System

The Institute of Licensing (IoL) has written to the Government to raise concerns about failings in the taxi and private hire licensing system that is putting public safety at risk.

IoL President, James Button, said in the letter:

“We are aware that there is currently much discussion ongoing in relation to the licensing of taxi and private hire drivers, operators and vehicle owners, including the recently established working party by Minister of State John Hayes MP. We are conscious that any discussions must seriously consider the adequacies of current arrangements concerning criminality checks, data sharing and ability of licensing authorities and police practitioners to identify concerns relating to licensed individuals and those seeking to be licensed with a view to maintaining public safety and taking appropriate action as necessary.”

The letter addressed to the Home Office, DfT, National Police Chiefs Council and the chairman of the newly established Taxi and Private Hire Working Group, outlined the result of its member’s survey about the level of checks undertaken, data sharing with the police and other similar issues:

• Less than 25% of respondents consider the current data sharing arrangements are satisfactory

• More than 50% of respondents agreed that changes to the Notifiable Occupations Scheme affected information sharing between police and licensing authorities

• 72% of respondents said that do not receive immediate notifications from the police when a taxi licensee (driver, operator or proprietor) is under investigation, arrested or charged

• 42% of respondents said that the Data Protection Act used as a reason for not sharing information

• A substantial 80% of respondents agreed it would useful would it be to have a single point of contact within the police for taxi licensing issues

Mr Button continued: “The IoL has raised concerns previously with the Home Office in relation to data sharing between police and licensing authorities in relation to taxis. In March 2015, we put on record with the Home Office our concern over the then imminent changes to the Notifiable Occupations Scheme and the proposed removal of Home Office Circular 006/2006 which provided guidance to police forces about the disclosure of convictions and other information in relation to people in professions or occupations which carry additional trust or responsibility (notifiable occupations). In summary, the concern at that point was that the changes would increase uncertainty and inconsistency in data sharing.”

The IoL is currently leading on a project to develop a national model convictions policy for licensing authorities to consider adopting locally. It has been working with the Local Government Association and the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers on the project and the aim is to consult on the draft document imminently. This project has been undertaken with the sole purpose of providing a potential national minimum standard endorsed by the relevant organisations with a view to raising consistency across England and Wales.


Taxis: Disability Department for Transport written question

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, whether proposed statutory guidance on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing will include a requirement for all drivers to undertake disability equality training.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

The draft Accessibility Action Plan is currently being consulted upon, the Department will review and consult on best practice guidance for taxi and PHV licensing authorities, which will include strengthened recommendations on supporting accessible services.

The statutory guidance issued under section 177 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 will not include a requirement for all taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers to undertake disability equality training as this is beyond the scope of the legislation which is to “protect children, and vulnerable individuals who are 18 or over, from harm.”

Should there be CCTV cameras inside our taxis?

The public are being asked for their views on the proposals which could improve driver and passenger safety

CCTV could become mandatory in all taxis in South Cambridgeshire to deter “would-be trouble makers”.

Under council proposals professionally installed equipment would be a new condition for taxi driver licences.

South Cambridgeshire District Council says all vehicles must be fitted with an approved system no later than March 31, 2020.

The council is currently inviting views on its new licensing plans which include stricter criminal background checks and a new knowledge test for drivers.

Drivers will also face more frequent medical tests, the introduction of safeguarding training, while Hackney Carriages must be made fully wheelchair accessible.

Under the new rules drivers, proprietors and operators would need to notify the council of CCTV camera installations.

These would have to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and comply with data protection laws and CCTV codes of practice.

The consultation documents states: “The installation of CCTV in licensed vehicles can be both a deterrent to would-be trouble makers and a source of evidence in the case of disputes between drivers and passengers, other incidents and accidents.

“If fitted correctly, it can assist the police and insurance companies with their investigations.”

Council officers insist the technology should not be used to “record conversations of the travelling public” and that the footage may only be accessed by the police or the council.

A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire police said the force could not comment on a consultation while it was ongoing.

“We wouldn’t want to add weight to either side of the argument,” she said.

In Cambridge, members of the city council’s licensing committee recently unanimously resolved to require CCTV in its licensed taxis, as long as it was locked and only accessed by the licensing authority and police.

An implementation date will be set out in a report to be brought to the committee in March 2018.

But in an October, a meeting of the committee members of the Cambs Taxi Driver Association warned that some drivers on minimum wage could not afford the cost to install CCTV.

The proposals come after Cambridge taxi drivers were attacked in a night of violence in September.

The incident took place in the city’s Market Square where a number of taxi drivers were assaulted, and damage was caused to their vehicles.

Responding to the suggested licensing changes, Paul Bradley, vice chairman of the Cambridge Hackney & Private Hire Association, said: “This is very welcome news to us in the city as the majority of private hire working in Cambridge are South Cambs licensed and as such will bring them up to the high standards set by the city.

“This is now going make travelling in Cambridge by taxi and private hire even safer for the passenger and driver.”

Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, has been a leading campaigner on improving safety for taxi services.

He said: “I would strongly encourage areas to raise standards. I think CCTV does improve safety and confidence. I’m pleased to see that the standards being set between the two authorities is coming closer.

“Taxis legislation is very complicated. Its evolved over the years and hasn’t kept pace with changing technology.

“Standards are being pushed up, which is what we want to see.”

Mr Zeichner recognised the need for “robust” data protection laws and emphasised passenger safety should be a priority.

The Cambridge MP has introduced a private members’ bill to Parliament that he hopes will streamline taxi licensing across the country without undermining councils’ ability to set local rules.

Mr Zeichner criticised the situation where a driver who would not qualify for a licence in Cambridge but could still operate in the city with a license secured in another area.

He said: “We’ve been seeing drivers coming from other parts of the country where the standards are low.”

Cllr Alex Riley, chairman of South Cambridgeshire District Council’s licensing committee, said: “We’ve thrown down the gauntlet to the taxi industry and passengers on this policy and really want to hear what they have to say.

“The draft we are consulting on has set a very high bar, including the use of technology to make sure both drivers and taxi users feel safe and reassured.

“Once the consultation closes we will assess what everyone has said and then the committee will meet again to finalise the policy we set.”


Commons Questions

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of local authorities in regulating taxi and private hire vehicles.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Local authorities must ensure appropriate standards to support safe and quality services for passengers. However, as part of exercising this duty, any licencing decisions should support open, competitive and functioning markets.

Brighton Extends Uber Licence

Brighton Council press release. 

Following a meeting on 31 October, Brighton & Hove City Council has extended Uber’s licence to operate a taxi service in the city for a further six months.

The decision on the length of the extension was taken to allow the council to monitor the outcome of the Transport for London Uber decision, to allow the council to consider whether any of the information arising from the case had direct implications for the operation in the city. It also allows the council more time to negotiate with Uber about a number of proposed conditions for operating in the city.

In making the decision, officers studied reports and written submissions from interested parties. While there was no evidence to suggest that public safety had been compromised, there are a number of concerns, and Uber are working with the council to address these and reassure residents and visitors about their safety.

Under national law, licensed drivers can operate anywhere in the country, so drivers licensed elsewhere are allowed to operate in the city. Many authorities have fewer conditions attached to their licensing than is the case here.

When licensing operators, Brighton & Hove City Council work with them to maintain and enhance standards of safety, which includes trying to ensure that drivers not licenced locally can be as accountable as possible. We’re working with Uber to ensure safety standards are maintained and address the challenges brought about by technological changes.

All Brighton & Hove private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers in the city operate under the same licences and the same guidelines contained in the Blue Book, whichever company they drive for. Likewise, all drivers undergo the same background checks.

Following the council’s standard procedure for renewing taxi operators’ license renewals, the decision was taken by officers under delegated authority. A decision on the process to look at the license at the end of this six month period will be taken in the new year.

Lawyers claim Gloucester taxi driver made half a million pounds from his drug dealing

A judge has ordered he pay back £353,800 – or spend an extra 30months in jail

A Gloucester taxi driver serving a long jail term for dealing in cocaine must hand over more than a quarter of a million pounds of his ill gotten gains – or spend an extra two and a half years in prison, a judge ruled today.

At Gloucester crown court Judge Michael Cullum ruled 39-year-old Trishul Rambaran’s criminal benefit from drug dealing was £353,800.

The judge declared Rambaran, of Tuffley Lane, Gloucester, has total assets of £260,762-22 which can be confiscated from him under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

He ordered that the money is paid within six months or Rambaran will have to serve a further 30 months imprisonment in default.

Rambaran, who received a total sentence of 6yrs 4 months last December after he admitted four offences of drug supply and two of money laundering, argued against the confiscation order and maintained it should not be so high.

He told the court he was a ‘respectable man’ and ‘not a bad man.’

And he asked for more time to get legal advice and prepare his argument against the order.

But the judge said he had already had more than enough time and had failed throughout the procedure to comply with court directions.

“There has been a continued lack of obedience to any court order and there has been nothing supplied by the defendant,” said the judge.

Throughout the confiscation hearing yesterday and today the judge had to tell Rambaran repeatedly not to keep interrupting the proceedings.

At one point yesterday, when Rambaran appeared via video link from prison, the judge silenced his microphone so he could not be heard.

Today Rambaran was in court in person and at one point the judge warned him he would send him down to the cells if he did not stop intervening.

The prosecution suggested Rambaran’s criminal benefit was £499,000 but the judge reduced that figure to £353,800.

Prosecutor Edward Hetherington said the assets comprised Rambaran’s house, a share of his late mother’s estate, a VW vehicle and small amounts of money in four bank accounts.

At last year’s sentencing hearing the court was told that Rambaran, who ran a website selling ‘legal highs’ was also selling cocaine which he mixed in with other drugs.

He pleaded guilty to four offences of possessing drugs with intent to supply on 17th March last year and two of money laundering between April 2010 and April 2016.

One of the money laundering charges concerned him using criminally obtained cash to buy his house in Tuffley Lane. The other stated that he had acquired more than £200,000 knowing it was criminal property.

Prosecutor Ed Hetherington said police uncovered Rambaran’s activities when officers on patrol on 17th March saw him driving a VW in Tuffley Avenue and followed him to the Tesco store in Bristol road.

There, he was seen to walk over to a Vauxhall Astra and then back to his car. He was stopped and searched and told the officers he sold legal highs.

Some white powder found in his car was later analysed and found to contain Class B and C illegal drugs.

A search was then carried out at his home and 717 grams of cocaine at 5percent purity and another 57g at just 1 percent was found.


Minicab driver jailed after groping 4 female passengers

A minicab driver who groped four female passengers in three incidents over a four year period has been jailed for 24 months.

Hussain Rahman, who is religious with a ‘deep faith’, abused his position as a cabbie to prey on drunk women as he drove them home in his cab at night.

And on the final occasion the 51-year-old picked on a woman who was not drunk, making obscene, suggestive, comments to her as he stroked her leg.

Rahman, of Lansbury Drive, Upper Stratton, pleaded not guilty to four counts of sexual assault but was convicted by a jury following a trial at Swindon Crown Court.

He first targeted one of his fares after picking up three friends who had been out on the town in November 2012.

The 18-year-old victim, who he had seen being sick, got in the front while her two drunken pals were arguing in the back, leaving them unaware of what he was up to.

Rahman put his hand on her chest, squeezing her breast over her clothing, leaving the teenager traumatised for years.

Just over two years later, in January 2015, he was driving two women home after they had also been drinking heavily, one so much so that she could recall nothing.

The defendant put his hand inside her trousers and touched her friend’s breast under her clothing as the victims were trapped in the cab.

His final victim, who has worked in the past as a carer, was picked up in the early hours of Saturday August 6 last year from a friend’s house.

Soon after pulling away he said ‘You need a man with a big penis’ as he rubbed her thigh close to her groin area.

The woman, who had only had a couple of beers, said she was repeatedly pushing him away and would have told him to stop the car and let her out were it not the early hours of the morning.

Colin Meeke, prosecuting, said all four of the women had suffered as a result of the ordeals they had been put through.

Referring to their victim personal statements he said one told how she could not use public transport, let alone minicabs, as a result of her ordeal.

Another said she had been a victim of a sex attack in the past and feared he was going to be taken away and raped.

A third spoke of how she was horrified to have been accused by him of being racist and damaging his car, when in reality she was the victim.

James Tucker, defending, said that his client had been regarded as a low risk of reoffending and would never be able to work as a minicab driver again.

Although the case passed the custody threshold he urged any jail term to be suspended saying he has diabetes and had done a good job raising his family.

Jailing him for two years Judge Robert Pawson said “You are now 51 years old. You are a religious man with a strong faith.

“Over the course of four years or so when you were working as a mini cab driver you used your position and the vulnerability of drunk women out late at night to sexually assault them.

“You as a minicab driver driving members of the public around at night are in a relationship, an ad hoc relationship it may be, of trust to your fares whether there is one of them, two of them or three of them: but particularly when one.

“I have considered you case very, very, carefully but it seems to me given all the circumstances it would be quite wrong of me to suspend the sentence.”

As a result of the two year jail term he will have to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.

Source: Swindon Advertiser

Drugs, cherry picking and driving without insurance – hundreds snared in taxi driver crackdown

Hundreds of taxi and private hire drivers have been snared for offences including drugs, driving without insurance and “cherry picking” passengers.

A major clampdown by Liverpool City Council has seen scores of cautions and defect notices handed to private hire and hackney drivers in a bid to improve standards

Two drivers have been taken off the road altogether for drug offences.

The action follows an ECHO investigation earlier this year which exposed a huge range of offences being committed by drivers in the city centre.

We went out with hackney drivers and private hire drivers and found issues relating to both sides of the trade.

Working with Merseyside Police, council officers have identified hundreds of drivers from Liverpool, Sefton, Knowsley and Wirral who were committing a wide range of offences while working in the city.

The most serious cases have seen two drivers – one private hire and one hackney – having their licences revoked for drug related offences.

At Liverpool Magistrates Court this week, 14 drivers were fined a total of £4,655 – for offences including tyre defects, trying to pick up passengers who had not booked and driving without insurance.

In addition, 118 vehicle defect notices and 57 cautions have been issued for offences such as cherry picking – where cab drivers opt not to pick people up despite having an empty vehicle and their light on – as well as having an illegal tyres and not having their plates firmly fixed on – while a further seven vehicles were ordered off the road immediately.

And 160 fixed penalty notices have been issued to the drivers of private cars who parked illegally on taxi stands, taking up space meant for hackneys.

Councillor Christine Banks, chair of the council’s licensing committee, said: “We want to make sure that our taxi industry is fair, and we are determined to crack down on those drivers who are flouting the rules.

“Our aim is to make the playing field for all drivers as level as it can be.

“Unfortunately, there are a very small minority who breach regulations, and we are committed to taking action and in doing so, send a clear message out that it is not acceptable.


Sandwell private hire drivers could strike

Hundreds of private hire workers attended a crunch meeting last night called over grievances about Sandwell Council’s taxi policies.

Private hire representatives feel workers are charged too much for licences and are made to undergo more stringent tests than in other areas

They have also complained that it costs more in the borough to get a licence than other places, such as Wolverhampton, while there is only one specialist garage for cars to be checked, which they say means they are often waiting weeks for their cars to be confirmed as road ready.

Mohammad Namiz, who represents private hire drivers in Sandwell, said he believed policy differences between boroughs mean drivers will go elsewhere to get their licence but will still end up driving in Sandwell.

He also said tests have been made harder and that people who are not fluent in English may be stopped from becoming a driver. A three-year licence application in Sandwell costs £352 and when medical costs are added, some drivers feel the amount is too high.

Mr Namiz said: “If you want to become a taxi driver in Sandwell you could be waiting up to a year. In other boroughs you can get a licence within weeks. Before there were 15 questions but they have put it up to 50 and you have to get 45 right. They are not reducing prices, they are not giving us more garages – they are putting the prices up.”

Angry drivers met in Smethwick last night to discuss their next step and have insisted the situation must change. Mr Namiz, from Oldbury, believes council bosses have not listened to their arguments and suggested drivers could strike if changes are not made.

He said: “What’s stopping us going to Wolverhampton and paying less to get a plate? There is no communication with the drivers. They are all fed up. I am not recommending anything at the moment but they are not going to be treated like this.”

Councillor Elaine Costigan, cabinet member for health and protection at Sandwell Council, said: “The council is working to streamline our processes and improve efficiency by allowing applicants to apply online. This will speed up the process and hopefully reduce costs. Its hoped that this service will go live early in 2018.

“We are able to process a vehicle application and issue a licence within two hours if the vehicle passes the test and all other requirements are met. No other authority locally can provide this service. We have one garage at the council’s transport depot that does all the vehicle testing for the authority, but drivers are able to get their vehicle repaired elsewhere.”