One strike and your out for Birmingham minicabs

MINICAB drivers caught plying for hire on Birmingham’s streets face losing  their license for a first offence following a meeting of city licensing  chiefs.

The zero-tolerance policy has been adopted in a bid to improve the safety of  passengers and protect trade for Birmingham’s army of legitimate black cab  drivers.

And it follows the failure of a trial six-months suspension of licence to cut  the numbers of minicabs illegally picking up passengers on the road.

Minicabs, officially known as private hire cars, must be pre-booked with a  cab firm’s office, and cannot pick up people from the roadside.

Cabs doing this are not covered by insurance, while passengers are routinely  warned not to get in cars they have not booked for safety reasons. Black Cabs,  or Hackney Carriages, are the only vehicles allowed to pick up fares in this  way.

In the year before the trial 37 drivers were caught plying for hire, but  despite the threat of six months suspension the total rose to 87 cases.

Licensing officials believe these cases are the just the ‘tip of the  iceberg’, with many hundreds going undetected. So the licensing committee has  now voted to revoke the license for a first offence.

Coun Bruce Lines (Con, Bartley Green), who chaired an investigation into the  issue, said: “The new policy seems to be draconian, but it has been developed in  full consultation with Birmingham taxi drivers.

“Plying for hire is still a major problem and the current policy just isn’t  working to deal with it. A stronger deterrent is needed.”

According to a survey on the council’s website, 76 per cent of respondents,  both public and taxi drivers, were in favour of the zero-tolerance approach.

But Coun Majid Mahmood (Lab, Hodge Hill) was opposed to the upgrade. He said: “It seems unduly harsh for a first offence. Everyone is capable of making a  mistake and deserves a second chance. I think a six month suspension was  adequate and what is needed is more enforcement.

“We could be putting more and more drivers on the dole at a time when  unemployment is already high,” he added.

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Birmingham Mail Dec 22  2011

Little done to close down illegal taxi firms operating in Wisbech

Adverts in Wisbech offering taxi services which are unlicenced.

Exclusive from Cambs Times

FIVE years after Fenland District Council promised a clampdown on illegal taxis operating out of Wisbech, little has been done to close them down.

In fact evidence shows there are a growing number of ‘firms’ cultivating the Eastern European population of Wisbech and offering cut price deals for airport trips.

Dozens of adverts are littered across the town displaying adverts for the illegal firms and no effort is being made to close them down.

Councillor Dave Patrick, chairman of Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers Association, said: “They have operated for years but when we complained the council says it is not prepared to jeopardise their officers’ safety and take enforcement action.

Adverts in Wisbech offering taxi services which are unlicenced.

“The council is well aware of these adverts but has done nothing. You see them hovering around outside Asda as well as taking people to airports.

“It seems the council is more interested in alleged overcharging of people by 19p rather than people being carried in uninsured vehicles where no driver has undergone a Criminal Record Bureau check.

“If they had an accident they would not be able to claim.”

A council spokesman said: “To combat any problem of unlicensed taxi drivers we rely on evidence being produced. So we are grateful that these notices have been brought to our attention.

“We will now seek to contact those responsible for posting the notices so that we can investigate fully. We will explain to them that any taxi driver has to be properly licensed and help them with any paperwork.

“We will also make it clear to them what the penalties are if they are caught operating without a licence. If necessary, we will take the appropriate enforcement action.

“We encourage anyone who is aware of individuals operating an unlicensed taxi service to supply us with any evidence they may have.”


Rochdale Cowboy

An uninsured taxi driver from Norden has been fined £400, given six points on his driving licence and ordered to pay £500 costs.

Parvez Akhtar, aged 44, of Shelfield Lane, Norden, Rochdale, was found guilty of illegally plying for hire and having no insurance. He was prosecuted by Manchester City Council earlier this month.

It is illegal for private hire drivers to pick up passengers who flag them down in the street, and doing so automatically means they have no insurance.

City Council officers became suspicious after noticing Akhtar’s private hire car did not have the proper markings, designed to allow members of the public to recognise it as a licensed vehicle, during an operation in March.

The officers stopped the car and noticed there were passengers in the back, but although Akhtar told the officers they had pre-booked, the passengers themselves said this was not true.

The officers investigated and found no evidence that a journey had been pre-booked, but although Akhtar claimed this was because the taxi company he worked for had made a mistake, representatives of this company appeared in court and disproved this claim.

Councillor Nigel Murphy, Manchester City Council’s executive member for the environment, said: “Hundreds of thousands of people will enjoy nights out in the city centre over the next few weeks. I’d like to wish them all a happy Christmas but remind them to think about getting home safely – either by pre-booking a private hire cab or by using one of our taxi ranks that are staffed by marshals.

“I’d also like to warn any irresponsible drivers who operate without any concern for the safety of their passengers that both our officers and the police will be out and about during the Christmas period looking for them.”


Glasgow Cops crack down on city’s taxi pirates

Police launch first ever stop and search on private hire cars registered outside Glasgow

PIRATE taxis are being targeted in Glasgow as part of a pre-Christmas crackdown.

Police and council officials today revealed they have launched their first ever stop and searches on private hire cars registered outside the city.

The move comes after an Evening Times investigation revealed drivers, most from out of town, where illegally picking up fares from unofficial ranks in the city centre, often charging passengers double the normal fares.

Until now Glasgow City Council’s taxi enforcement team has been unable to search taxis or private hire cabs registered outside the city – but can do so with the help of the police.

The team has doubled patrols this month, inspecting 129 cars last week alone as they aim to drive the pirates off city streets.

On just one patrol this weekend they checked 30 cars, issuing 18 of them with immediate suspension notices.

Cars facing a ban include:

  • six from East Renfrewshire without working brake lights;
  • three from Glasgow whose tires were bald;
  • three from East Dunbartonshire whose seatbelts were defective and had bald tires.

Police and council inspectors said 10 of the cars they stopped were from Glasgow, six of whom face bans, and the rest were from outside the city.

Of the 20 out-of-town drivers stopped, three were not able to produce a valid driving licence.

Frank Docherty, the councillor who chairs Glasgow’s licensing committee, which regulates the taxi trade, said: “It’s important that we protect our honest, licensed traders.

“They shouldn’t have to worry about people crossing borders to steal work from under their noses.

“The council has its own enforcement unit and, this year, it is working more closely than ever before with police colleagues – carrying out around twice as many patrols as the party season gets into full swing.

“We know where these guys like to tout for business and we are quite prepared to follow them around town all night, making a nuisance of ourselves.

We have no idea if the driver behind the wheel is a fit and proper person

“If we see a private car picking up on the street we’ll knock on the window and find out what they are all about. We’ll also take the opportunity to inspect the vehicle and the driver’s credentials.

“Already this year, we have seen evidence of some rogue operators eventually giving up and going home when faced with that kind of disruption. That’s a success.”

The joint police team will report anyone breaking the rules to their licensing authority – and cars with defects could be taken off the road on-the-spot.

A council spokesman said the enforcement team believe some drivers were put off from pirating by their increased patrols.

The Evening Times last month identified “shadow” ranks across the city centre.

These are often close to the four official “Nite Zone” ranks, at Albion Street, Byres Road, Gordon Street and Sauchiehall Street.

During the first quarter of 2011, 182,231 people were picked up at the four marshalled ranks – an increase of 5366 on the same period in 2010.

Private hire cabs are allowed to pick up passengers in Glasgow only if they have been phoned. They can’t tout for business on the street. When they do, they and their passengers are uninsured.

Mr Docherty added: “There is a very real safety issue here. We have no idea if a car licensed outside Glasgow is safe and we have no idea if the driver behind the wheel is a fit and proper person.

“Even worse, when people get into cars on unofficial ranks, they can start using cars that are not licensed anywhere.

“It does happen, it is very dangerous and we don’t want it becoming a problem in Glasgow.”

Stephen Flynn, vice chairman of Glasgow Taxis Ltd, said: “We warmly welcome any moves by Strathclyde Police and council to ensure the city centre is as safe a place as possible for those living, working, socialising and visiting there.

“The best advice we can offer those travelling home from the city centre late at night is to use one of Glasgow’s four taxi Nite Zones, which are well-lit, staffed with marshals and monitored by CCTV.”

Formal complaints about taxis and private hire cars can be made via the Glasgow City Council website,


London’s continuing war on touts

Illegal cab drivers, also known as touts or unbooked minicabs, have been served warning of the Mayor and Transport for London’s continuing war on touts this week with the crushing of a car seized from an illegal cab driver.

The crushing of the vehicle coincides with an increase in police and enforcement activity against touting and other illegal cab activity, which starts again this week across all boroughs of the Capital as Londoners begin to celebrate the festive season.

Operation STAN involves officers from Transport for London (TfL), the Metropolitan Police Service Safer Transport Command and the City of London Police (CoLP). Cab related offences fell by 21 per cent last year, however the aim is to make travelling in London after dark even safer for Londoners and visitors to the city. And since 2007 police resources focused on this issue have more than doubled, a new team focused on sexual offences has been set up, and last year over 1,250 arrests were made for cab offences.

More than 180 arrests have already been made for touting and other cab-related offences over three weekends this autumn. The first phase of Operation Safer Travel at Night involved officers checking over 5,000 vehicles and speaking with thousands of Londoners and students to provide safer travel information and encourage Londoners to use licensed taxis or licensed minicabs, reminding them that only taxis (black cabs) can be stopped and picked up off the street without a pre-booking.

A thorough programme of activity has been lined up including a thought provoking campaign warning of the dangers of getting into unbooked minicabs, as well as targeted TfL and police enforcement activity to identify, disrupt and deter illegal cab activity.

Any minicab that isn’t booked through a licensed minicab operator is dangerous and puts the travelling public at risk of attack, including sexual assault and robbery. Minicabs lined up outside pubs and clubs are breaking the law if they accept your fare without a booking being made first. The advice is that you should not approach minicab drivers, and any minicab driver that approaches you on the street anywhere is acting illegally. Do not get in.

Deputy Mayor for Policing, Kit Malthouse, said: “With the festive party season underway and the nights growing colder and darker we are doing everything we can to crack down on illegal minicab touts and to warn passengers never to pick up an unbooked minicab in the street.”

The step up in enforcement and engagement activity demonstrates how seriously the Mayor, TfL and the police take this issue. They are using a broad range of tactics to detect and deal with touts including making greater use of financial investigation and confiscation of assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act and ancillary orders. The car crushed this week was the first to be forfeited to the Safer Transport Command after the driver was convicted in court for purporting to be a licensed minicab driver. This should serve as a stark warning to drivers who break the law and put the travelling public at risk. It is only a matter of time before they are caught and brought to justice.

Steve Burton, TfL’s Director of Community Safety, Enforcement and Policing, said: “Unbooked minicabs continue to pose a serious risk to the travelling public which is why operations like Operation STAN are so important in raising awareness of the dangers and cracking down on touting and other cab-related offences. We urge the travelling public not to use them. All minicab journeys must be booked through a licensed minicab operator. Only taxis (black cabs) can pick passengers up on the street or at a rank without a booking being made first.”

Chief Superintendent Sultan Taylor, Safer Transport Command, said: “The Safer Transport Command are committed to reducing the number of cab-related sexual offences. Our dedicated Cabs Enforcement Unit will continue to be out on the streets of the Capital all year round, tackling touting involving both licensed and unlicensed drivers. Touts should be warned that we are pursuing them through the courts to confiscate their assets obtained through their illegal activity.”

It is illegal for any minicab driver (even drivers licensed by TfL) to accept a fare without a booking made either over the phone, by email or at an office. Booking a minicab will ensure that there is a record of the journey and it will be carried out by a licensed driver in a licensed, insured car.

TfL and the police aim to ensure that drivers that break the law and put the travelling public at risk are brought to justice. Recent successes include a bogus cab driver recently being found guilty of touting and driving with no insurance following an arrest made by a plain clothes cab enforcement officer.

Forty year old Rasheed Kenku, from Islington, was arrested for touting after being caught by undercover Cab Enforcement police officers in March this year. He was fined £2000 at Stratford Magistrates Court, disqualified from driving for 8 months, had six points added to his licence and ordered to pay £350 in court costs.


Minicab driver fined for touting in Richmond

A 56-year-old taxi driver who illegally touted for passengers in Richmond has been fined £365.

Najeer Akhatar, of Maidenhead in Berkshire, was sentenced at Richmond Magistrates’ Court on Friday, November 25, after trying to pick up passengers off the street – a practice only permitted for  black cab drivers, not standard pre-book only drivers.

Akhatar was taken to court for touting and having no insurance, following an operation by Richmond’s Safer Transport Command officers.

The opportunist driver was only licensed to carry pre-booked passengers but was spotted by plain clothed officers as he attempted to offer a couple his services in Whittaker Avenue, Richmond, on  Saturday, October 8.

Richmond’s Safer Transport Command’s Sergeant Steve Davis, who led the operation to catch illegal taxi pickups in the borough, said it was important people were aware of the dangers of picking up  taxis on the street.

He said: “If a minicab picks a passenger up on the street, they’re immediately rendered uninsured. The implication for passengers is that if there is an accident, they’re not covered. So anyone  Akhatar picked up by touting would have had no comeback if there had been any problems.

“In some cases illegal touts are linked to more serious crimes including rape and sexual assault, robbery and drugs.

“The temptation to flag down a minicab late at night when you are inebriated, tired or just want a cheap ride home can seem overwhelming at the time but it’s simply not worth the risk.”

Akhatar was caught as part of a Met-wide operation called Safer Travel at Night (Stan), which ran from Thursday, September 22, and Saturday, October 8, and was also given six points on his driving  licence as well as his £365 fine.


Newcastle private hire driver is stripped of licence over abuse

A private-hire driver has been stripped of his licence after an aggressive verbal  attack on a passenger.

Devon Smith and a friend were getting a cab home from Newcastle city centre  to Jesmond in the early hours after agreeing a £10 fee with the driver before  the journey started.

But the duo were faced with verbal abuse as he drove them to their student  flat. When the girls refused to pay more cash, the cabbie drove off with Miss  Smith still in the car, locking the doors and parking at the top of the  street.

It later emerged the driver, who only had a private hire licence, had been  working illegally, having finished a shift three hours earlier.

Miss Smith, of Eslington Terrace, in Jesmond, said the frightening experience  had left her shaken. She said: “It was really frightening, we just weren’t  expecting it. I saw a taxi parked up in the street and I approached the driver  and asked if he would take me and my friend to Jesmond, a journey which usually  costs between £3 to £3.50.

“When approaching my street my friend told him he needed to turn left to  which he aggressively replied, ‘shut the **** up’. We asked for his taxi number  as we said we were going to report him to which he replied ‘69’ and laughed.

“When he pulled up outside my house, my friend got out and I paid him the £10  we had agreed. He demanded more money and said he also wanted a £5 tip. I  refused and said that £10 was more than enough to which he drove off, with me  still in the vehicle.

“The door my friend had got out of slammed shut and he locked me in the taxi.  I refused to give him any more and he eventually let me out of the car. I was  completely shaken but managed to get his registration number.”

A spokesman for Blueline said: “This incident was reported to us by the  police. The vehicle was taken off the driver by the police and we collected it.  We immediately reported the driver to the council and removed him from the  business after this disgusting behaviour.

“The driver had finished his shift for Blueline three hours before the girl  flagged him down on the street. It was not booked through the office. I would  always urge passengers to book taxis through our office.”

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “A 28-year-old man has been cautioned  for causing distress to a 21-year-old woman during a taxi journey in Newcastle  on Sunday, November 20 by being verbally abusive towards her.”


Private Hire driver with no licence or insurance fined

A motorist who drove a minicab without the necessary licence or insurance has been ordered to pay more than £1,700.

Ioannis Yiannopoulos, of Mackenzie Road, Petersfield, appeared at Cambridge Magistrates’ Court after South Cambridgeshire District Council launched a prosecution.

The 26-year-old admitted not having private hire insurance, for which he was fined £240, and not having a private hire driver’s licence, for which he was fined £1,000.

Yiannopoulos was also ordered to pay £535 costs and was given six penalty points on his driver’s licence.

The court heard Yiannopoulos knew he had to apply to the council for a special licence, but had not thought it was a serious offence.

Cllr Sue Ellington, the authority’s environmental services chief, said: “We would urge residents to only use licensed private hire firms or taxis for their safety.

“Licensed drivers will have a photo identification badge on display.

“In total we license over 500 private hire vehicles, but always check they, and their drivers, comply with regulations laid down by the law to ensure the safety of the people who use them.”


Private hire driver ‘had weapons’ the night of Birmingham riots

A PRIVATE hire driver was caught with his face covered and found to have weapons in his car on one of the nights of the Birmingham riots.

On a separate occasion, another private hire cabbie was alleged to have sexually assaulted a female passenger.

Both men have had their private hire licences suspended until the court proceedings have finished.

Details of the two allegations were given to the city council’s licensing committee which is responsible for issuing private hire and Hackney Carriage licences.

Chris Neville, head of licensing, told councillors police stopped a private hire driver on August 8 – the second night of rioting – in Lawley Middleway, Bordesley. His face was “fully covered” and police found in his car a metal bar and a kitchen knife with a 12-inch blade.

He was charged with possessing an offensive weapon and a sharply pointed article.

Mr Neville said on August 8 in a separate incident, his officers were told by police that a female passenger alleged that a cabbie had sexually assualted her.

Court proceedings are ongoing against both men and until these are resolved, their private hire licences had been suspended, he said. A third driver also had his licence suspended after he collapsed and suffered a fit while attending an appointment at the licensing office on September 27.

He will have to undergo a medical before it is given back to him.

Mr Neville said officials acted quickly in the case of all three men as “the interests of public safety are paramount”.

Councillors were also told that during August, 11 private hire drivers went before magistrates accused of illegally plying for hire.

Only black cabs, Hackney Carriages, are allowed to pick up fares in the street. All private hire passengers have to be pre-booked.

Illegally plying for hire invalidates their insurance, so the 11 drivers were also prosecuted for this. Mr Neville said the 11 were all fined between £130 and £465 plus costs, and had points on their licences.


Taxi driver fined for plying trade without a licence

A BRISTOL Hackney carriage driver caught picking up passengers without a valid licence or insurance has been fined nearly £1,000.

Saleem Mohammed Aslam, of Horley Road, St Werburgh’s, was warned by Bristol City Council licensing staff that his Hackney Carriage licence plate was out of date.

The next evening he was captured on CCTV picking up passengers.

Plying for hire without a valid Hackney carriage licence also invalidated his insurance.

Aslam claimed he was merely picking up friends but in delivering their decision, magistrates stated the CCTV evidence revealed he was plying for hire. Aslam was not able to provide any proof that he knew the two women whom he had picked up in his vehicle.

Magistrates found him guilty of plying for hire and driving without a valid licence or insurance.

Aslam was fined £400 for each offence, disqualified from driving for 28 days, ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £15 and make a costs contribution of £900. He was ordered to pay the debt at a £40 per week.

Councillor Guy Poultney, Bristol City Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “This was first-class work by the licensing department. Unlicensed drivers who ply for hire are not insured and pose a serious risk to public safety, and they pick the pockets of every real Hackney carriage driver. Visitors and the public at large need to be confident they are in a safe, licensed taxi.”