Northumberland taxi drivers set to see operating restrictions eased

TAXI operators in Northumberland are set to be given more freedom in how they can ply for trade after county councillors agreed to ease tough operating restrictions.

Six separate licensing zones for hackney cabs are set to be scrapped and replaced by a single zone covering the whole county – in a move aimed at bringing benefits to both passengers and the taxi industry. The six existing zones are based on the former district councils which were abolished to create the unitary county council in 2009.

The current arrangements mean hackney cabs licensed in, for example, Blyth Valley are prevented from plying for hire or picking up fares at ranks in neighbouring Wansbeck. Similarly, cabs licensed in Tynedale can’t pick up fares in Castle Morpeth or any of the other four zones.

Yesterday the council’s licensing and regulatory committee voted unanimously that a single hackney carriage licensing zone should be created in Northumberland. If approved by the full council, it will mean drivers can ply for hire and take their place on ranks anywhere across the county.

A 12-week consultation exercise on the proposal was carried out earlier this year. Of the 54 responses, 30 were in favour of having an open system and 24 against.

Yesterday’s meeting was told by Philip Soderquest, the council’s public safety and enforcement manager, there are advantages and disadvantages in having a single licensing zone. Benefits include increased availability of hackney cabs for passengers to hire, greater customer choice and the removal of public confusion when taxis licensed by the same council can’t pick up in other zones.

He said drawbacks included worries over a potential drift of taxis to what are seen as more lucrative areas, resulting in a shortage elsewhere and potential traffic and pollution problems. In addition, there were concerns about competition issues between existing operators.

Mr Soderquest said both the Department for Transport and the Office of Fair Trading advocated the abolition of separate licensing zones, in the interests of benefits to passengers. Committee chairman, Jeff Watson, said: “We are not here to prevent people from making a living and if this helps taxi operators to do that, all well and good.”

Private Hire driver charged with causing death of Plymouth pensioner by dangerous driving

A Private Hire driver is to appear at court charged with causing the death of an elderly man by dangerous driving.

Andrew Bates, of Warwick Orchard Close, Honicknowle, was formally charged with the offence yesterday and is set to face magistrates next month.

The private hire cab driver was at the wheel of a silver, eight-seater minibus at the time of the incident which took place near to a pedestrian crossing on Tavistock Road, Woolwell on December 13 last year.

The 43-year-old is charged with causing the death of 76-year-old Gordon Hollister – known to friends and family as Peter – who lived in Southway.

Mr Hollister was treated at the scene before being taken to Derriford Hospital where he died.

It is understood Mr Hollister was on his way home from a supermarket shopping trip when the incident occurred.

He was only days away from his 77th birthday and his 45th wedding anniversary.

His widow Hilda said her husband made the 40-minute round trip to Tesco at Woolwell several times a week.

At the time of the incident she told The Herald her husband “often complained about that crossing.”

Bates, who has not been remanded into custody, will appear before Plymouth magistrates on June 8.


Prom night limos should be licensed

PARENTS looking to book a limo or other transport for school proms are being advised to ensure the vehicles, drivers and operators are properly licensed.

Towards the end of the summer term many primary and secondary school pupils will be planning to celebrate with an annual ‘prom’ or leavers’ celebration.

But local authority licensing teams throughout Lincolnshire are warning parents to ensure proper licenses are in place before booking transport.

Under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, private hire vehicles, limousines and Hummers, their drivers and booking agents are all legally required to have a licence issued by the appropriate district council. This rule applies to any hire vehicle carrying eight or fewer passengers and comes with a driver. Limousines which carry more than eight passengers are required to be licensed by the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency.

Mark Taylor, head of regulatory services at North Kesteven District Council, said: “The main reason is to ensure public safety. Limousines are usually constructed in the United States and only licensed for three to five years, after which time they are shipped over to the UK and other parts of Europe.

“These types of vehicles need to be checked regularly by an authorised garage to make sure they meet mechanical and safety standards.

“Drivers and operators also have to undergo enhanced Criminal Records Bureau and other suitability checks before they are issued with licenses.”

Mr Taylor added: “When you’re booking transport check the booking operator has a licence number. You can confirm this number with your local council’s licensing team. The driver will also be able to show you their licence, licence plate and driver’s badge.

“The district council has successfully prosecuted a business providing unlicensed limousines and drivers. The limousine was found to be in such a dangerous condition that it was seized by Lincolnshire Police.

“The driver provided by the company was found to have a criminal record, which would have made him unsuitable to hold a Private Hire Licence.”

The council’s licensing team can be contacted on 01529 414155 or 01522 699699.


Councillor cleared in misconduct claim

A COMMITTEE monitoring councillors’ conduct will be taking no further action against a Guildford borough councillor after considering a formal complaint made against him.

Sheridan Westlake, who represents the Merrow ward, has strenuously denied allegations of misconduct made by the secretary of Guildford Hackney Association, Mark Rostron.

A dispute between the council and Guildford taxi drivers has been ongoing.

The subject of licensing taxis and how much the council charges has been covered in several council meetings, one of which prompted the complaint.

The standards review sub-committee’s decision has now been published on the council’s website and stated: “No further action [would] be taken in respect of the complaint by Mr Rostron alleging misconduct by Councillor Sheridan Westlake”.

Cllr Westlake said: “This is an unfounded complaint. It has been thrown out twice by the council.”

A council spokesman said: “The standards assessment sub-committee considered the allegations by Mr Rostron against Cllr Westlake and decided that the misconduct complained of would not, if proven, constitute a breach of the code of conduct.

“At Mr Rostron’s request, the complaint was reconsidered by the standards review sub-committee, which reached the same conclusion that no further action will be taken.”

The spokesman emphasised that it was not the function of either sub-committee to examine any evidence or to reach a conclusion on whether the conduct complained of actually occurred.

The hearing, on Tuesday, April 5, consisted of two independent members of the standards and audit committee, and Cllr Fiona White, member of the Liberal Democrat group.

The notice of the sub-committee’s decision said:

“In summary, the complaint alleged that Councillor Westlake had subsequently altered his own handwritten notes taken at a meeting of the Taxi Advisory Group in September 2010.

“The complainant alleged that by doing so, Councillor Westlake had sought to destroy the value of the saloon taxi car by enabling cheaper unsuitable vehicles to be licensed, therefore conferring a disadvantage on taxi drivers who had invested in more expensive but suitable wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

“After detailed discussion, the sub-committee were satisfied that, if it was proven that the handwritten notes had been altered by Councillor Westlake, it would not constitute a breach of the code of conduct.

“The sub-committee concluded by a unanimous vote that the conduct of Councillor Westlake (if proven) would not constitute a breach of paragraphs 5 and 6(a) of the members’ code of conduct as alleged.

“Accordingly, the sub-committee resolved that no action should be taken in respect of the allegation.”


Can taxi row unseat Mayor Mallon?

Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon has prided himself on being straight-talking – a man who won’t mince his words.

It has probably helped him be elected and re-elected as the town’s mayor.

But could his “straight-talking” be about to cost him his job?

The problem is a series of tapes made by a (now former) friend and taxi driver Mohammed Bashir.

They are of conversations between Mr Bashir and Mr Mallon about an ongoing row between the mayor and some of the town’s taxi trade.

You can hear and read detailed extracts on the Sunday Sun’s website.

I won’t go into great detail, but suffice to say there is a lot of strong language from Mr Mallon, and some disparaging remarks about the town’s taxi drivers and a council officer.

It has led to Ray Mallon being accused of sexism and racism – charges he firmly denies.

But some of his political opponents in the current mayoral election are scenting blood.

On Friday – ahead of the publication of the conversations – Ray Mallon publicly apologised unreservedly for a sexual slur he made about a female council officer.

He says he was using language that he thought Mr Bashir could relate to, but he says all the dealings he has had were above board and transparent.

But his Liberal Democrat rival Chris Foote-Wood says the wider contents of the conversations published on Sunday show Mr Mallon is unfit for office.

He questions the judgement of a mayor who admits spending up to 10 hours a week in conversations with Mr Bashir about the dispute with the taxi trade.

Questions have also been raised about whether the mayor correctly declared his relationship with Mr Bashir in meetings about the town’s taxis.

Mr Mallon says his comments reported in the Sunday Sun tape extracts about that have been taken out of context.

And he denies he is guilty of anything other than using industrial and inappropriate language during what he thought were private conversations.

But Chris Foote-Wood says he will be making a complaint against Mr Mallon for breaches of the local government code of conduct.

Uncompromising style

So how serious is the threat to his re-election chances?

It’s certainly not the kind of controversy that does him any favours. He admits that he did consider resigning.

And in a way, it’s surprising his straight-talking hasn’t got him into more trouble during his seven years as mayor.

But his uncompromising style was part of his appeal to Middlesbrough voters in the first place.

It’s what’s made him of one of the most well-known local authority leaders in the country.

Are they going to be put off now?

And then there are the alternatives.

But had it broken any earlier, there might have been more time for a strong anti-Mallon Independent candidate to emerge.

Instead we know the mayor will face three party politicians competing to be that alternative.

Chris Foote-Wood for the Lib Dems is confident he can defeat Mr Mallon, and has been the most strident in his criticism so far.

Main threat

The Conservative candidate Lloyd Cole-Nolan has also condemned the mayor.

He said: “I want the people of Middlesbrough to send him a message that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable, I don’t want him to quit or run away, I want the people of Middlesbrough to have a say.”

The main threat though should come from Labour – after all this is a town where the party dominated local government before Mr Mallon’s election in 2004.

Their candidate Mike Carr has also condemned Mr Mallon and said he should resign. He, like Chris Foote-Wood has made a complaint to the council about the mayor’s behaviour. He thinks he has an alternative and better vision for Middlesbrough.

But have any of these rivals really got enough traction and big enough profile to defeat the sitting mayor? Might they fracture the opposition vote?

There may still be more revelations from the secret tape recordings to emerge of course.

But I still suspect the assessment of this contest I made a couple of weeks ago still holds true.

This is Ray Mallon’s election to lose, rather than his rivals’ to win.

If the worst of the taped revelations have emerged, he will be hopeful he can ride this row out and fight on his record as mayor.

If not, then I am guessing it will be Mr Mallon who decides whether to battle on, or leave the stage.

The Politics Show will be staging a debate between the four mayoral candidates at 12pm on 1 May on BBC One.


Authority expected to backtrack over taxi age limits

Protests look to have ended council’s bid to force cars over five years old off the road

Authority expected to backtrack over taxi age limits

Council bosses are expected to perform a U-turn on controversial plans to impose strict age limits on taxis operating throughout Aberdeenshire.

It follows scores of complaints from furious local businesses, who claimed their livelihoods would be at risk if the proposal went ahead.

Aberdeenshire Council is considering forcing most taxis which are older than five years off the road.

The local authority said action was needed because too many taxi and private- hire vehicles were failing their road tests.

However, The Press and Journal understands that the proposal will soon be dropped after a tide of protest from local operators.

They argued that many companies, which were already under pressure from rising fuel costs, could not afford to replace their fleets.

Last night, Aberdeenshire Council’s head of legal services Karen Wiles stressed that the suggestion was only a proposal.

“There has never been a commitment from the council to force operators to replace vehicles over five years old,” she said.

“The suggestion was put forward to get the trade’s views, on the basis that a higher proportion of vehicles of that age are failing MOT tests at centres in Aberdeenshire.”

She said: “We realise, as it seems does the trade, that there are alternative ways to ensure the roadworthiness of vehicles which are not so financially onerous.”

Stewart Wight, owner of Safe Drive taxis at Laurencekirk, said: “We are open to any suggestions from the council about how to improve the way services operate, but these suggestions have to be well thought through and make sense. This one clearly wasn’t.”

The five-year ban would only affect taxis which were not wheelchair accessible.

The consultation, which will be raised with councillors in the coming weeks, includes a proposed revision in taxi fares, an increase in operators’ fees and a system requiring taxis to display their vehicle insurance details.

The law requires the council to undertake a fares review every 18 months, but in Aberdeenshire – at the request of the taxi trade – it is done every year.

All licensed taxis are inspected by the council every six months.


Taxi drivers slam Chippenham Station price rise

Taxi drivers have threatened to boycott Chippenham Rail Station after a row over a rise of nearly £200 in annual permit charges.
First Great Western, which runs the station, has brought its permit prices into line at all stations, bringing the charge at Chippenham up from £425 to £600.
Drivers were further angered after discovering taxis pay just £300 a year at Bristol Temple Meads – which has 15 platforms compared to Chippenham’s two, and sees millions more passengers through its doors each year.
Michael Simpkins, 51, of 24/7 Taxis, said: “It doesn’t make sense and it certainly is not fair. We only have four trains an hour at Chippenham to get custom, from while Bristol Temple Meads is at least three times as busy yet we are being charged nearly twice as much.
“At Temple Meads the drivers only wait two minutes and they get a fare – here we can wait two hours before anyone comes along. But we have to pay the permit or we can’t work.
“On top of the charge you have to pay an extra £100 for any other people who use the taxi. My son and wife help out. We’re a family business, so I have to fork out £800 for my permit. It doesn’t seem right.”
Independent driver Sukhjinder Singh said: “Sometimes I wait three hours for a job and now we are paying double what we used to pay a year or two ago.
“We could maybe understand a small increase because things are getting more expensive but that is ridiculous money.
“There are also a lot more taxis at the station now and there is less work to go around.”
The drivers said there are few maintenance costs involved for First Great Western. Mr Simpkins said: “They don’t even clean the rank up – we do that ourselves. We sweep it and empty the bins. There is no cost involved for them. There are about 25 cars with permits – that is £15,000 a year.”
Dan Panes, spokesman for First Great Western said: “We are in discussions at Temple Meads. The reason there is a disparity is that this is the first time there has been a charge there.”

Setting vehicle age limits could shut down taxi firms, say owners

Taxi services could be forced out of business and jobs lost in Aberdeenshire if the local authority forces through plans to impose strict age limits on all vehicles, it was claimed last night.

Council chiefs want to drive taxis which are older than five years off the road.

The ban would hit cars and minibuses which are not wheelchair accessible – those which are will be allowed a longer life-span.

The local authority claims that action needs to be taken because too many taxi and private hire vehicles are failing their road tests.

However, the move is expected to cause major problems for existing taxi operators, who are already under pressure from rising fuel costs. It is claimed the proposal will put jobs at risk and even cause some businesses to close.

In a letter to taxi firms, a council spokesman said: “The taxi and private hire fleet within Aberdeenshire is ageing. This has led to an increasing number of vehicles failing to pass the vehicle test.

“The number of re-tests are now clogging up the vehicle inspection system, meaning that all operators are having to wait longer to get their vehicles tested.”

The council also proposes a 10-year limit on wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Taxi operators have been invited to a meeting in Inverurie Town Hall on Friday to discuss the plan.

Elaine Buchan, who runs Elaine’s Central Taxis – the biggest cab company in the Buchan area – said: “This could be a real disaster. Companies have had to put up with rising VAT and massive fuel costs and now they have this to deal with.

“A lot of businesses just won’t be able to cope. They won’t have the money to replace their fleet. They’ll just decide to call it a day.”

She added: “I had a quick look around Peterhead this weekend and I would say that the majority of vehicles being used would not be accepted by the council.”

Stewart Wight, owner of Safe Drive taxis in Laurencekirk, added: “The council should be helping businesses by reducing their costs, not damaging them like this.

“There is no direct relation with the age of a vehicle and its fitness for purpose.

“The council say that many vehicles are failing their tests – well, that suggests to me that the system we’ve got is working.”

He added: “Mechanically, what is the difference between an eight-seat vehicle and an eight-seat vehicle with a wheelchair ramp? The answer is nothing. So the proposal has nothing to do with safety.

“If one of my Renault traffic buses is safe for up to 10 years with a ramp then one without a ramp is equally safe.”

Last night, Banff councillor Ian Gray said the proposal was “totally unnecessary”.

He said: “Given the reliability of vehicles these days, it is completely ludicrous to even consider forcing taxi operators to stop using vehicles which are over five years old.

“Taxis are subject to tests to ensure their safety and road-worthiness to carry fare-paying members of the public.

“As long as these tests are being carried out to a high standard and the public has confidence in the system, there should be no need to introduce arbitrary age limits.”

He added: “The environmental and economic consequences of doing so are simply horrendous.”

Ten years ago, a similar move was proposed by Moray Council but was dropped following opposition from local businesses.

Just before Christmas last year, London mayor Boris Johnson announced that he would be modifying his proposal for a 10-year age limit to take account of a difficult trading climate. A new 15-year limit was introduced instead.

Read more:


City’s taxis have used the wrong papers for 23 years

TaxiTaxis in Cambridge have been operating with incorrect paperwork for 23 years, the News can reveal. Incorrect Certificate of Compliances (CoC), or taxi MoTs, have been issued to drivers for more than two decades by Cambridge City Council, which is the licensing authority.

After realising their error, red-faced council chiefs even paid for a normal MoT for one taxi driver out of taxpayers’ money because he feared prosecution. Taxis are given the permit instead of an MoT, and it is needed for valid insurance and road tax.

The authority has been handing them out using section 43 of the Road Traffic Act 1972, but the Road Traffic Act 1988 scrapped the whole of the previous 1972 Act – making it invalid. This could mean that the taxis’ insurance is also invalid and drivers could face a fine of up to £1,000.

Karl Stamper, a licensed Cambridge taxi driver, has already had a normal MoT for his vehicle paid for by the council, fearing it may have been operating illegally. He said: “It is incredible. I don’t know what they have been doing in Cambridge but it could have meant serious consequences for taxi drivers and still could if something isn’t done quickly.”

Bryan Roland, general secretary of the National Private Hire Association, warned taxi drivers in the city they were operating illegally. He said: “I first identified this problem when a taxi driver was stopped by police and told his vehicle didn’t have an MoT and they gave him a fixed penalty notice.

“He went to court with his CoC and the clerk checked it, saying it wasn’t legitimate, and he was fined. “In effect, taxi drivers in Cambridge are driving illegally.”

A spokeswoman for the DfT said: “The 1988 Road Traffic Act repealed the 1972 Act but any question on legality would be for a court to decide in any individual case.”

Jas Lally, the council’s head of environmental services, admitted the mistake and vowed correct certificates will be issued to drivers. He said: “The wording is currently being examined and reviewed.

“There are no new tests to be undertaken, as vehicles have gone through a complete MoT test previously and all that is required is an amendment to the Certificate of Compliance.”

Cabbies to circle Southampton Civic Centre in show of support for council workers

A CONVOY of taxi drivers will circle Southampton’s civic offices today in a show of solidarity for hundreds of council workers protesting against mass pay cuts.

Up to 50 cabs and private hire cars will loop the Civic Centre sounding their horns in support of a union march and demonstration.

Council workers will be joined by lecturers from South-ampton University, Solent Uni-versity and City College, who are striking over pay and pensions.

Tory council leaders are preparing to dismiss and rehire the majority of its workers on worse contracts to help plug a £25m budget hole. Around 250 of the council’s 6,627-strong workforce are also being axed. Up to 1,000 marched in protest last month.

Perry McMillan, chairman of the Southampton cab section of Unite, said drivers were already suffering from administrative delays and enforcement cutbacks from the council’s licensing department.

He said drivers feared it could get worse and that council workers will use taxis less with lower wages.

Unions leaders have threatened to wage the “most serious industrial action” ever seen in the city over the proposed pay cuts of up to 5.5 per cent for 4,300 Southampton City Council staff.

Compensation Bin collections and street cleaning could grind to a halt in a wave of crippling strikes in May that could last for weeks.

And they have launched a legal battle for millions of pounds in compensation, claiming the council failed to consult properly about the dismissals. They estimate it could cost the council £10m.

Staff were given until last Friday to let the council know if they will accept the pay cuts and take up new contracts from July 1. Those that don’t will be sent formal notices on April 7 warning they will be out of a job in 90 days.

Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker said: “Ordinary council workers will be telling the Conservatives that they will not accept pay cuts while the Conservatives spend millions on pensioner council tax discounts, a council tax freeze and a (£15m) Titanic museum which the council is paying for but will hand over to a private company when it is built.”

Under the pay cuts the higher paid will be hit hardest, although those earning under £17,500 will get a £250 pay rise.

Council leader Royston Smith has rejected any claims that the council has broken the law. He said the cuts will prevent a further 400 job losses over the next two years.

Trade unionists and council workers will meet at 12.30pm at Hoglands Park to march to the Civic Centre for a rally outside the central library today.