The Derby Telegraph reports that more than 250 Derby taxi drivers have registered in a town in Lancashire where they do not have to take a “knowledge” test.
A total of 254 people with Derby addresses are officially licensed in Rossendale, 103 miles away. There are 1,500 taxi drivers licensed with Derby City Council.
Rossendale Borough Council said it has handed out the licenses to people with Derby addresses since the start of 2013.
Derby City Council said it is powerless to stop drivers with licences handed out by other authorities from working in Derby because of a loophole in the law.
To obtain a Derby licence, drivers must first pass a knowledge test, which looks at their expertise in getting around the city, before they are awarded their badge. But some other councils do not require drivers to take the test.
Mark Keenan, managing director of Derby-based taxi firm Western Cars, believes this is the reason people are travelling further afield to gain their qualifications. He said: “Out-of-town councils should stop issuing licences for people who aren’t going to work in the area, it needs looking at.
“It drops standards and gives the trade a bad name, everyone gets tarred under the same brush. I find it very unfortunate for the drivers in Derby who have gone through what they have to go through with the knowledge test and proving their ability.”
Currently, the law allows anyone with a Hackney Carriage (taxi) licence to operate as a private hire car anywhere in the country. Taxis can pick up passengers anywhere but private hire cars have to be pre-booked by law.
Mr Keenan said drivers from Derby have, in the past, applied for a licence from the city council, failed the knowledge test and then obtained their licence elsewhere. He said this had happened in areas such as Erewash, Derbyshire Dales, Gedling, in Nottinghamshire, East Staffordshire and South Yorkshire, as well as Rossendale.
When asked if the knowledge test in Derby was too difficult, Mr Keenan said: “No it’s not, 1,500 drivers in Derby have managed to pass so it can’t be that difficult. This has been going on for the best part of three years, now. We [Western Cars] made a decision that we would not have any vehicles or drivers on our books who had not taken the tests. We never have and that’s because some of these out-of-town vehicles don’t meet the standards that our vehicles do.
“I have people come to me for a job with other licences and I say, ‘Pass your Derby test and come back to me’.”
Not only is the city council powerless to prevent drivers from other areas working in Derby but it also has no jurisdiction to stop their vehicles for safety inspections. That, Mr Keenan says, is something that needs to be combated by a change in the law from central government.
Brian Yasin, part-time driver and consultant for Albatross Cars in Derby, agreed there was a problem that threatened to drop the standard of taxi services in Derby. He said: “Some of the other councils were throwing out badges like confetti. I know drivers with Rossendale badges who work in London.
“I have been driving a taxi for 17 years and I don’t use a sat-nav even now. When I started, I learnt my job but a lot of drivers now just use a GPS and don’t know the roads.” Mr Yasin holds workshops for drivers in an attempt to increase their knowledge of driving in the city.
Jamal Rashid, 25, also works as a private hire driver for Albatross. He said: “The cars are not insured to be used in Derby. Although the law allows them to do it, the insurance is given to them because the companies think they are driving in the area where they get their licences. It’s a big problem.”
Rossendale Borough Council said it introduced an “intended use policy” as part of its application process in an attempt to prevent out-of-town drivers gaining licences from the authority. A spokeswoman said: “Once a vehicle has been licensed as a hackney carriage it is a hackney carriage for the duration of that licence, wherever it is currently located, and can therefore be used for pre-booked purposes in any district in England and Wales.
“Additionally, it is not an offence for a licenced private hire operator to take bookings and then dispatch a hackney carriage licenced by a district which is different from that which licences the operator – a hackney carriage can lawfully be used for pre-booked work outside its district.”
Councillor Baggy Shanker, responsible for taxi licencing in Derby, said the council was aware drivers had been gaining qualifications in Rossendale. He said the council had been working with both Gedling and Rossendale councils in order reduce the number of out-of-town taxis operating in Derby. He said a “local knowledge test” had been introduced in Gedling and officers from Rossendale had visited the city to conduct spot checks.
Labour councillor Mr Shanker said: “Rossendale has agreed to carry out joint enforcement exercises and one such joint exercise has been conducted, during which five out of six vehicles licensed in their area had their licenses suspended. It is hoped that more such exercises will be undertaken in the future.”
The Department for Transport sets taxi licensing laws for England and Wales. A spokesman said: “There are currently no plans to introduce standardised licensing criteria. Excluding Hackney Carriages from obtaining a fare for a return journey to the area in which they are licensed would diminish the availability of Hackney Carriages or restrict the areas in which they would be willing to carry passengers.
“We are currently considering all recommendations in the Law Commission’s report which included national standards and will formally respond in due course.”
EXAMPLES OF TAXI LICENCE TEST QUESTIONS FOR APPLICANTS IN DERBY
Derby City Council knowledge test:
•1. Where are the following located?
For example The Council House – answer would be Corporation Street.
•2. Describe the route you would take with a fare between the following locations including road names and direction turns, roundabouts, exits.
McDonalds (Ashbourne Road) to Seymours Bar
•3.Describe how you would proceed to these locations from the city centre and the roads you would use.
Rossendale Borough Council does not offer such a test. Applicants must only pass a basic skills test which, the authority says, involves “maths and English (BKSB Level 1 Functional Skills assessments) tests, together with customer service, licensing policy and child sexual exploitation awareness training”.
Read more at http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/