Be fair on fares, plead Breckland taxi drivers

David Hixson, director of Breckland Taxis in Dereham.
David Hixson, director of Breckland Taxis in Dereham.

Taxi-drivers in Breckland have demanded to be allowed to raise their fares so they can keep pace with huge rises in fuel and licensing costs.

Maximum taxi fares in the district are set by Breckland Council and have remained unchanged for the past five years, even though the same authority has twice increased the fees it charges to firms.

The most recent review took 
place this month, when a committee agreed to a series of fee rises to cover a £6,000 deficit in the council’s 
own costs for administering the service.

During the same five-year period, petrol prices have soared by 40pc to their present record levels.

But, with no control over what they can charge, taxi-drivers have been forced to absorb the spiralling costs that have cut deep into their take-home pay.

David Hixson, chairman of Breckland Hackney Carriage Association, said that, unless the council sanctioned a corresponding increase in fares to balance fee rises, it was taking money from drivers’ pockets.

Mr Hixson said: “It is just intolerable. The first rise was absorbed by drivers three years ago, and it looks like we’re going to have to do it again.

“It is taking money directly out of our pockets. You can only do so much work in an hour, so you have got to work more hours, which puts pressure on an individual’s lifestyle and their family.”

Mr Hixson, a director of Dereham-based Breckland Taxis, said he believed a fare rise of at least 7pc was needed to help keep taxis on the road.

He said he had helped one fellow driver with his paperwork and was stunned to discover that, once all his costs had been accounted for, he was left with only £120 a week.

Breckland’s general purposes committee agreed to the new fees structure after hearing that the revenue did not cover admin costs, with a £100 hackney carriage licence costing on average £116.58 to process, monitor and enforce.

However, officials say the request for a fare review is likely to be discussed by councillors later in the year.

Breckland’s head of licensing, Stephanie Butcher, said: “Following a recent taxi licensing charges review, a fare review has been requested and is being progressed by the Breckland Council licensing service.

“Following background work, a report will go to council members in the next couple of months. The report will then go out to public consultation and, subject to objection, will be considered by [the] council.”

Maximum fares in the district are now £3 for the first mile and £1.80 a mile thereafter, with premium rates charge-able after 11.30pm and on Sundays.

source: http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/be_fair_on_fares_plead_breckland_taxi_drivers_1_781771

New taxi driver rules delayed over wording

CHANGES to licensing rules making it tougher to become a taxi driver have been delayed.

Members of the Licensing Committee at Basildon Council took the step of deferring a move which would have meant people who had been convicted of serious offences would be barred from ever becoming a cab driver.

Proposals had been drafted with crimes seperated into three categories, depending on the severity of the offence. But councillors were not happy about some offences being seperated from similar crimes which were racially aggrivated, as it was felt they were as bad as each other.

Convictions for common assault, criminal damage and public order offences were put in category C, meaning anyone applying to become a taxi driver would have to wait three years before they could be considered.

Racially-aggravated versions of the same offences were put in category B, meaning drivers convicted would have to wait seven years.

David Abrahall, chairman of the committee, was unhappy the offences had been split into two categories.

Mr Abrahall: “I know we are trying to tie in with taxi and Hackney Carriage advice from London, but I do not agree with this wording and the difference between common assualt and criminal damage, and racially-aggravated versions of the crimes.

“You cannot say because something is racially aggrivated that it is more important or worse than something that is not, because it is still a bad crime.”

It was agreed by the committee the proposals needed to be reworded so the offences of common assault, criminal damge and public order offences, whether racially aggrivated or not, are in the same category.

The committee deferred the decision until March 23.

source: http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/

Private Hire drivers ‘stung’ in police operation against illegal trade

CRACKING DOWN: Councillor Joy Garner.
CRACKING DOWN: Councillor Joy Garner.

THREE private hire drivers have been fined after plying for trade on the streets in Stoke-on-Trent.

They were arrested as part of a joint operation between Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire Police in Hanley on the evening of July 30 last year.

Prosecutor Trevor Vernon, representing the city council, yesterday told North Staffordshire Magistrates’ Court in Newcastle that private hire drivers can only pick up a pre-booked fare, whereas hackney carriage drivers can be flagged down in the street.

Mr Vernon said undercover officers got into Patrick Dickman’s private hire vehicle in Trinity Street, Hanley, in the early hours of July 31.

“They asked if he was booked. He replied ‘No’ and they asked him to take them on a journey,” said Mr Vernon.

Dickman, aged 45, of Badgers Croft, Red Street, Chesterton, pleaded guilty to driving a carriage or plying for hire when not licensed as a public hackney carriage.

The father-of-three, a licensed private hire driver with Newcastle Borough Council, was fined £130 and ordered to pay £180 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Alison Downs, mitigating, said Dickman, of previous good character, had been under a lot of stress.

She said: “Quite a lot of taxi drivers were stung in the operation that evening.”

Atta Mohammed, aged 34, of Dibden Court, Honeywall, Stoke, a licensed private hire driver with the city council, took two undercover officers to Etruria’s Moat House Hotel.

He pleaded guilty to plying for hire without a hackney carriage licence and was fined £145 with £180 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Miss Downs said: “When approached he said he was free, they got in and the rest is history. Money was tight, he saw a fare, he took the business.

“Some evenings drivers can be sat around waiting for a fare for three hours.”

And Mohammed Pervez, aged 36, of Suffolk Road, Lightwood, also pleaded guilty to plying hire without a hackney carriage licence on July 30.

Officers asked him if he was booked. He said he wasn’t so they asked him to take them to the Borough Arms, Newcastle.

The married father-of-five was fined £150 with £180 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.

Councillor Joy Garner, who chairs the city council’s licensing and registration panel, said the authority is determined to stamp out plying for hire among the city’s 1,400 private hire drivers.

She said: “This is taking trade away from our 153 hackney carriage drivers, who invest a lot of money in their purpose-built cars and ensuring they are fully compliant with licence conditions.

“We are targeting the plying for hire blackspots in Transport Lane, Longton; Tower Square, Tunstall; Trinity Street, Hanley; and Pickford Place, Meir.

“Private hire drivers who repeatedly loiter there are summoned to appear before my panel, where they can have their licences suspended.”

source:

 

http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/news/

Taxi licences bid in Telford fee row

More than 500 private hire drivers across Telford & Wrekin are planning to take advantage of a legal loophole to avoid a rise in licence fees.

The drivers are planning to give back their licences to Telford & Wrekin Council and instead apply for hackney carriage licences from Shropshire Council as the fees are lower.

David Edwards, head of county public protection at Shropshire Council, said a hackney carriage licensed by Shropshire Council was able to undertake booked appointments anywhere in the country.

Councillor Miles Hosken, cabinet member for community protection and cohesion at Telford & Wrekin, said there was case law that enabled private hire operators to apply for licences wherever they chose.

Telford & Wrekin Council’s decision would see the operator’s annual licence fee rise from £462 to £2,495.

Mohammed Zaman, chairman of Telford Private Hire Drivers’ Association, said: “The majority, if not all, of the private hire trade licensed by Telford & Wrekin Council have decided to become licensed in the hackney carriage trade with Shropshire Council.

“Unlike Telford & Wrekin Council, Shropshire Council has clearly shown us that they are committed to providing the trade with an excellent customer service.”

It was revealed during a meeting of the council’s licensing committee in December that council tax payers were paying more than £40,000 annually to subsidise the cost of operating private hire vehicles in the borough. The council had said its aim was to reduce that burden.

Currently a private hire driver’s licence for 12 months costs £125, but this would rise to £170.

A 12-month licence with Shropshire Council costs £80, but that amount is currently under review.

Nigel Horler, chairman of Telford Private Hire Operators’ Association, said: “It’s a great shame that it’s come to this, but as a trade, we all work very hard to provide the very best service to our customers.”

Councillor Hosken added: “It is a matter for them which authority they apply to and a matter for the authority that receives the application as to whether it is granted.”

Read more: http://www.shropshirestar.com/news/2011/01/14/taxi-licences-bid-in-telford-fee-row/#ixzz1BkqpEw86

City ‘faces taxi gridlock’

DURHAM City will be reduced to gridlock if plans to allow unlimited numbers of taxis to operate across the county are pushed through, a cabbies’ leader has claimed.

Adrian Fets, chairman of Durham Independent Taxi Association, was speaking after Durham County Council’s cabinet backed a series of changes to the taxi trade.

Councillors approved creating a deregulated, single hackney carriage zone, allowing unlimited numbers of vehicles to operate anywhere in County Durham and imposing an all-white colour scheme on taxis.

Mr Fets said: “This is going to put taxi firms out of business. It’s going to be gridlock in Durham City, there’s going to be more pollution and there are going to be constant traffic jams as taxis drive round and round trying to get a parking space.

“It’s an absolute disgrace.”

If the changes are approved by a full council meeting next month, taxi drivers will pursue a legal challenge through a judicial review, Mr Fets said.

Council officials say the changes would create a more consistent, open, fairer and cleaner taxi service.

http://www.durhamtimes.co.uk/news/8806551.City__faces_taxi_gridlock_/

Southport cab firms in trade battle

WAR has broken out on the streets of Southport as taxi companies battle for trade.

A Hackney cabs representative has accused private hire firms of using dirty tactics to steal passengers from them.

And it was claimed Hackney cabs have suffered £1.4m in loss of earnings as a result of foul play.

The issue is set to come to a head at a Licensing and Regulatory Committee meeting in Bootle on Tuesday, January 25.

Representatives from both sides will meet face to face in front of councillors.

Tony Crabtree, secretary of the North Sefton Hackney Cabs Association – which relies on passing trade and official taxi ranks – is infuriated by the situation.

He said: “They are licensed for private hire.

“That means they have to take pre-booked calls through an operator.

“But some operators are quite happy when they are waiting 10/15 turns for them to go and sit where the public can see them.

“The drivers will pick on people before they walk down to the rank, or they wait outside places they know they can get trade if there is a big queue.”

Mr Crabtree wants to see a more effective policing of the private hire taxis in Southport.

He said: “They do test purchases and a lot have been caught, but the problem now is they know when the inspectors are going to be out.

“This has gone on for years and taken millions of pounds from us.”

Mr Crabtree has calculated that this practice has cost Hackney cabs £1.4m in loss of earnings over the last 20 years.

He believes one issue at the heart of this is the public don’t know the difference between Hackney and private hire cabs.

He said: “The main reason we are being ripped off is private hire picking people up in the main street – people will get in anything.

“They also ringfence the taxi ranks, so take trade before it gets to us.”

Locations identified as hotspots for private hire cars acting illegally include the corner of Lord Street and Market Street, the forecourt of the Scarisbrick Hotel and Coronation Street.

Mr Crabtree has been frustrated with previous trade meetings and believes this one will be different as councillors will be present.

He said: “I’ve brought it up and brought up and brought it up but get all the usual excuses.

“This will be different because it will be in front of councillors.”

“The unscrupulous ones need catching and dumping out of the trade.

“We want a level playing field.”

The manager of one Southport-based private hire firm said: “Sefton Council have measures in place to deal with this.

“Trading tandards officers have been doing test purchases over the last 18 months.

“As far as I am concerned they are dealing with it.

“I think what they’ve been doing has eradicated the problem.”

source: http://www.southportvisiter.co.uk/southport-news/

Taxi drivers threatening strikes over council’s licensing policy, again

Taxi protest of October 2010
Taxi protest of October 2010

Taxi strikes in Rossendale are back on the table over the introduction of a new policy covering their licences.

The Taxi Licensing Policy, setting out the council’s views on private hire operators within the borough, will be decided at a Policy Overview and Scrutiny committee on Monday evening.

The document covers measures that relate to the licensing of drivers, vehicles and taxi operators to which the council and firms must adhere .

Last October, the council backed down in the face of threatened weekend strikes and town centre blockades over the planned introduction of a penalty points scheme covering 34 misdemeanours.

The penalty points scheme was scrapped after over 150 cabbies took to the streets to protest.

Cabbies leaders now say they are again “very concerned” over a number of measures within the policy and have threatened to strike unless they are amended or removed completely.

The Rossendale Taxi Association sent a letter to the council listing a number of concerns about the policy including: having to retake their Driving Standard Agency (DSA) test if they get six penalty points, a dress code, charging for tests on vehicles and vehicle age limits.

Glenn Bulcock, chairman of the association, said: “We are very concerned about the new licensing policy and it will affect taxi drivers ability to make a living.

“About 50 per cent of the stuff included in the policy has never been discussed so we will be going on Monday to challenge it and we will just have to see what the outcome is.

“We will be strongly represented at the meeting and there will be about 100 drivers there.

“We can’t have conditions like that imposed on our living. The council have had ample opportunity to listen to us and the policy has been looked at for the past nine months.

“They have a golden opportunity to try and get the policy right this time as it will be the conduct and licensing scheme in Rossendale for the next five or six years.

“To even look at the possibility of controlling our licences is completely ridiculous. Hopefully we will get the policy either delayed or thrown out.”

Mr Bulcock confirmed that unless changes are made to the policy drivers could go on strike “within weeks”.

He said: “Strikes will happen. If it goes through in its current form and our suggestions are not followed or we feel the laws are too harsh for the trade then we could strike within weeks.

“If common sense prevails and they listen to our concerns then we won’t take action but we are strongly prepared to strike should the policy go through as it is.”

Stuart Sugarman, the council’s director of business, said: “Making threats to go on strike at this stage is not helpful. Councillors will give full consideration to all of the issues when they meet on Monday evening at the Licensing Committee.

“The taxi drivers will be fully represented at the meeting and given extended speaking rights to state their case.”

The licensing committee will consider the new policy at its next meeting on Monday, January 24.

source: http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/s/

Be Careful what you wish for

By the time you read this magazine your future could be sealed. You could be heading towards oblivion and your future could be in the hands of others.

You see, due to pressure the Transport Select committee are to look into the taxi and private hire trades. Whilst they will primarily be looking into cross border hiring issues with Private Hire vehicles, they will also be open to suggestions and input from any concerned persons into the taxi and private hire trades.

Not scared yet? You should be.

What will happen if, and I have every reason to expect they will, the large private hire companies across the country actually get themselves involved and tell the select committee they cant get on with their business properly due to (and in their opinion) silly licensing rules?

What will happen if the licensing officer groups and local government write into the committee and say the system is a mess and in need of a total shake up?

The fact the taxi trade itself seem to have brought it to the attention of the Committee suggests they (some in the taxi trade) already think its worthy of consideration by the government.

So, you’ve got three groups, maybe more, all banging on the government door saying the current licensing system isn’t good, isn’t workable and it needs overhauled, what do you thinks going to happen, more importantly, do you actually care?

Well you should. If the select committee advise the government that the system is in meltdown, the government may be forced into a cab act. But I fear this act won’t be a thing that any of you will like.

Would a new act retain limitation of numbers? Would a new act decide cross border hiring is a bad thing, particularly if the licensed vehicle is pre-booked? Would a new act see the need to even have a two tier system?

Lots of questions, not too many answers.

Those of you that want new legislation point towards the 1847 act as being out of date. Yes, the act was around before the Crimean War, but the question we should ask is why? Why has this act lasted 164 years when so many others have come and gone?

Those people who want a new act should look through the 1847 act and think what they would replace it with.

For example, section 62 of the act makes it an offence to leave a cab attended at a place of public resort. This was originally intended to avoid horses wandering off and becoming a nuisance, yet it is still used in cases where drivers leave cabs unattended on ranks. Are we saying we want cabs unattended on ranks whilst drivers go shopping?

Section 53 makes it an offence to refuse to take a passenger to a destination within the prescribed area (without reasonable excuse). Are people suggesting drivers should be able to cherrypick fares?

Section 54 makes it an offence for a driver to demand more than the agreed fare. Do people want the taxi trade to have the ability to demand more money?

I could carry on, but I’d only be pointing out further examples of workable legislation. Any new legislation wouldn’t surely go beyond the driver being fit and proper with the vehicle being fit for purpose. Justifiably, the fitness and propriety of both driver and vehicle is always open to interpretation.

One expert, James TH Button, stated in his (infamous) book that in his opinion taxi law was outdated and there was no substitute for modern legislation. Really Jim? There’s one chapter in the Equality Act 2010 dedicated to taxis, and this has created more confusion and more ambiguity than any previous act known to taxis (save for section 16 of the 1985 transport act).

Indeed, if you can all recall section 52 of the Road Safety Act and the use of immediate suspensions. Everybody thought this was going to be used for serious offences, unfortunately they didn’t actually factor in some councils being slightly retarded.

Am I really to trust the draftsman or local authorities given the above examples with new legislation? I seriously don’t think so.

The fact of the matter is that if a person in Liverpool wants to pre-book a private hire vehicle from Sefton they can, whatever new act is worked out, phone for a vehicle from another area. If the people of the Wirral go into Liverpool for a night out, and don’t want a Liverpool Hackney Carriage, possibly due to an unfortunate experience involving going through a tunnel, they will continue to call a private hire vehicle. That is called customer choice, and there’s nothing a government can do about someone’s choice.

Furthermore, if any part of the act is going to be looked at, it’s more than likely to factor in changes that would benefit private hire. For a hackney carriage people to suggest a PH car should return to its area when its completed a fare, knowing full well there’s a pre-booked job in the next street in half an hours time, isn’t only folly, its bordering on sheer stupidity.

Indeed, current legislation forbids private hire operators passing bookings on to other private hire operators across district borders. This is permitted in the London Private Hire act, but not the 1976 act. If this changes we could well see large national private hire companies.

To my knowledge only the National Taxi Association are currently opposed to wholesale change in legislation and they appear to be akin to King Canute, their opposition, given their size, will be as ineffectual as England’s recent world cup bid, unless of course people begin to take this threat as serious and join the body.

I summed all this up recently when I said;

“Local Authorities have every tool available already at their disposal, from the 1847 act onwards, they have guidance from government and numerous conditions they could apply to both hackney proprietors and private hire licensing, yet for some reason some people out there are trying to convince government things need changed. Changed to what exactly? Is any new act going to stray from drivers being fit and proper and vehicles being in decent order? I’m convinced people out there are mad.”

It appears to me that a good number of people in the hackney carriage trade look down their noses at private hire, the reality is that private hire are much better funded than the hackney trade. For example, how many thousands of pounds were invested in lobbying to get private hire removed from the equality act?

 

Do people seriously expect the private hire trade to sit down doing nothing as the hackney carriage trade try to dictate?

 

Believe that and you need a bib.

 

© Wayne Casey

BRAINTREE: Scared taxi drivers want CCTV in vehicles after attacks rise

FRIGHTENED taxi drivers want CCTV cameras to be fitted in their cars to combat the rising numbers of attacks on them.

More than 40 drivers from Braintree and nearby towns are backing a drivers’ association request for public money to fund in-car CCTV to discourage violent and drunken behaviour from passengers.

Shegun Akindayini, who was viciously attacked and robbed of £100 of takings recently, said: “This is definitely something which could help us.

“At the very least there should be a CCTV camera covering the ranks.

“But a system in the car would mean we are protected at both ends of the journey, which would be ideal.”

Mr Akindayini’s ordeal began shortly after he picked up two young men and a woman from the Braintree town centre rank.

The group asked to be driven to the grounds of Braintree Town Football Club but a short way into the journey, began to argue among themselves over who would settle the fare.

Mr Akindayini asked them to clarify that they would be able to pay him at the end of the journey, and they reassured him that they could.

However, a short time later one of the men pulled the seatbelt he was wearing tightly around his neck, forcing him to stop the vehicle.

They then dragged him out and beat him before robbing him of the £100 he had taken that day in fares and fled on foot.

Despite reporting the robbery to the police, who issued an appeal for witnesses, no one has yet been brought to justice for the attack.

Mr Akindayini has only recently returned to working at nights.

He said: “I had to return to working nights – it is the only way I have of making a living.”

However, he still feels paranoid and becomes uneasy whenever a passenger sits down behind him.

Another driver, Barry Archer, said he was attacked by two men after driving them to Black Notley.

He said: “I called the police and reported it but they were never caught.

“CCTV would give them the evidence to find those who carry out the attacks.”

Robin Song, secretary to the town’s taxi association, which is calling for the security measures, said: “There has been a huge response to this suggestion, not just in Braintree but also in Witham and Halstead.

“I know there have been numerous instances of drivers being attacked, and strongly believe that something could be done to act as a deterrent.”

At a meeting of the town centre strategy group last week, councillors and businesspeople brought the matter to the attention of Essex Police’s chief constable, Jim Barker-McCardle.

Mr Barker-McCardle said: “I always want to help and support the taxi drivers as much as I can.

“It is worrying that they are more concerned about their safety than they used to be.”

source: http://www.thisistotalessex.co.uk/news/

Durham taxi drivers threaten to strike

CABBIES in Durham are threatening to go on strike as plans to make all taxis one colour took a step closer to becoming a reality.

Durham County Council’s cabinet yesterday backed a policy to make the area’s hackney carriages white, and it could now be in force by April 1.

The proposals also include a single deregulated taxi zone – making trade throughout the county a ‘free for all’, say drivers.

Adrian Fets, chairman of the Durham Independent Taxi Association, said the changes would force companies out of business.

“This is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “They haven’t done any research. They have no idea of the implications of what they are doing.”

The authority claims eight out of 12 North East councils have a taxi colour policy and it will make trade more consistent, fairer and safer for residents and visitors.

Bit if the plans are agreed by all councillors the association has pledged to push for a judicial review. It said members are planning strikes and protests “at the busiest times possible.”

“The whole trade is up in arms,” said Mr Fets.

Coun Bob Young, cabinet member for strategic environment and leisure, told the meeting the proposals have been put forward after extensive consultation with taxi drivers and residents.

Read More http://www.journallive.co.uk/north-east-news/