Breckland District Council responds to taxi access warning

Research released by Muscular Dystrophy UK named Breckland District Council among a list of 15 local authorities in East Anglia which it claims have no current plans to respond to a law change.

But, council chiefs say “members felt that further national guidance was needed in order to reach an informed decision” on how to apply legislation. A change in the law, which came into force in April, means taxi drivers can now be fined up to £1,000 if they refuse to transport wheelchair users or attempt to charge them extra.

The law also states their taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) licence could be suspended or revoked by their licencing authority if they fail to comply with the new law. However, Muscular Dystrophy UK says that only applies to drivers on council lists of wheelchair accessible taxis.

And the charity has revealed that a Freedom of Information request showed 15 councils across East Anglia, including Breckland, had no current plans to produce such a list.

A spokesperson for Breckland Council said: “We are aware of this change in legislation relating to taxis and a report was considered by members in March, in advance of this coming into force in April. “At the meeting, members felt that further national guidance was needed in order to reach an informed decision, and that it would be more appropriate to wait until a clearer picture has emerged of how the legislation has been implemented nationally. “There are a small number of licensed wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the district and we have not received any complaints about the availability of these vehicles or of these companies refusing to carry a wheelchair. “Our committee is due to consider this decision on 22 November.”

However, disability campaigner Doug Paulley, who carried out the research, said: “It is disappointing that the government’s intent in bringing in this legislation is being undermined by the failure of many councils to undertake the required office work, meaning that taxi drivers can continue to discriminate against wheelchair users with impunity. “While conducting this research, it became clear that many councils simply didn’t think to create them until prompted.”

Taxi drivers could be exploiting lax local rules to avoid tougher checks, LGA warns

Taxi drivers could be exploiting a postcode lottery to avoid stringent criminal records checks, the Local Government Association has warned. Inconsistencies in the level of checks carried out by different local authorities means that drivers with criminal records or poor driving standards could target places perceived to have rules which were less tough, a spokesman said. “Some might have limitations about certain types of previous convictions on drivers so there might be discrepancies on that in some areas, or they might not need to pass a local knowledge test, for example,” he added.

The areas with lighter requirements are well-known among the taxi community, he added, raising concerns that exploitative taxi drivers could play the system to target areas which do not carry out detailed checks. “Drivers may apply for a license in one council and be rejected, so then they go somewhere else and they say yes, because they meet the criteria there,” he added.

Councils are unable to take action against drivers operating in their area who have been licensed by a different council, the LGA added, causing “huge frustration” for local drivers who “may have had to comply with more rigorous licensing standards”.

Last year the council in Rotherham, where drivers were part of an organised ring which picked up and abused more than 1,000 young girls over 16 years, changed its taxi licensing policy to “rebuild trust and confidence in Rotherham’s taxi industry”. The new rules require drivers to have safeguarding training, banned them from having children in the front seat of a vehicle, and required the installation of cameras in most taxis.

The LGA is calling for a Government-enforced law which would create a “level playing field” for drivers.

Cllr Clive Woodbridge, deputy chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “In recent years, we’ve seen a number of child sexual exploitation cases that have involved taxi and PHV holders abusing the trust that has been placed in them, so there are strong safeguarding reasons for strengthening current legislation.” Existing legislation dates back to 1847, when horse-drawn hackney carriages required regulation, and is not suitable for modern taxi firms which use mobile technology, the LGA added.

The launch of Uber in many UK towns and cities has caused controversy among the existing private hire and taxi firms. The mobile app charges cheaper prices than local firms in some cities and enables passengers to electronically book cabs, raising complaints among taxi drivers in some areas that it essentially allows the “hailing” of a minicab.

Mr Woodbridge added that app-based firms are “causing concern about whether drivers are able to compete on a level playing field and has led to numerous and costly legal challenges which local licensing authorities are being forced to spend public money on.

Taxi driver who grabbed woman between legs faces jail

A TAXI driver from Leamington who grabbed a woman between her legs when she got out of his cab following a row about the fare has been warned to expect an immediate prison sentence. Balvinder Singh had denied sexually assaulting the woman after driving her home, claiming ‘it just did not happen’ a jury was told. But the jury at Warwick Crown Court took just two hours to find the 56 year-old of Tachbrook Road, guilty by a unanimous verdict.

Adjourning for a pre-sentence report, Judge Barry Berlin warned that a taxi driver convicted of breach of trust by a sexual offence against a passenger ‘ought to go immediately to custody.’ Prosecutor Tariq Shakoor said that in the early hours of Sunday January 17 last year a woman in her 50s made a complaint to the police that she had been sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. “The defendant’s case is that he was the taxi driver during this incident, but that no sexual assault took place.”

Mr Shakoor said the woman had been out for the night, socialising with friends in Coventry city centre, and had visited a number of pubs, ‘having a normal Saturday night out.’ At about 2.30 in the morning a friend she was with, but who lived in a different part of the city to her, left to go home. “She stays on, and eventually she too decides it’s time to go home. She leaves a public house and flags down a black cab close-by. There is no dispute the defendant is the driver.”

The woman shared the cab with a male friend who was dropped off first before continuing to her home. But when they arrived there was a dispute over the fare, which was higher than she thought it should be, which Singh said was because of waiting time while they dropped off her friend. The woman became abusive, and called the police to complain about being overcharged – but although the operator told her it was a civil matter, the line remained open and recorded the exchange, which ended with her paying Singh £10.

She complained she could not get out, so Singh got out to open the door, and when she got out he then grabbed hold of her. “He put his hand between her legs, over her clothing, in the area of her private parts. She couldn’t believe what he’d done,” said Mr Shakoor. “If you are sure that is what he did, that is a sexual assault. His case is that it just did not happen,” he explained.

He said during the incident the woman heard someone shout out, which caused Singh to let go, and he got back into the taxi and drove off – and she went inside and, ‘quite distraught,’ called the police again. The jury heard a woman who lived in the same street happened to be awake and could hear the argument over the fare, so got out of bed and looked out of the window. “She describes seeing the driver grabbing the female around the area of her waist and holding her in what she described as a bear hug, pulling her towards him. “It appeared as if he was trying to kiss her. She alerts her partner who gets out of bed and shouts out of the window.”

Following the incident, Singh was traced and arrested, but denied the offence, added Mr Shakoor. In court, Singh said he had kept his foot on the brake during the argument over the fare to keep the door locked so the woman could not make off without paying.

But he said it was then she who hugged him, apologising for the argument over the fare, so he had hugged her back. “She said she liked me. I said ‘no, I’m married, and I moved her with two hands, pushing outwards to her shoulders, and then got back into the taxi and drove away.” He denied touching her between the legs, and accused her of making it all up to get him into trouble.

After the jury returned its verdict, at the request of his barrister Jonathan Veasey-Pugh, Judge Berlin agreed to adjourn for a pre-sentence report to be prepared on Singh. But he commented: “He must realise this is a serious matter for which an immediate custodial sentence is highly likely, particularly in view of what is a breach of trust.” Singh was granted bail, but Judge Berlin warned him: “That must not in your mind mean that there is not going to be an immediate custodial sentence. “I take the view that a taxi driver who is convicted of breach of trust by a sexual offence committed against a passenger ought to go immediately to custody.”

Private Hire driver loses licence for ‘intimidating’ women

A private hire driver has been stripped of his licence for intimidating women.

In one incident he confronted an elderly passenger at her home at night after her daughter had complained about his attitude towards her mother.

The complaint centred on his refusal to help the elderly woman when dropping her off after a journey. He was also accused of requesting a tip from her.

In a separate incident, he used his vehicle to block access to another woman in her own car.

She was trapped for ten minutes and subsequently complained to the firm he worked for, saying she had felt “intimidated” by his behaviour.

All three incidents happened in April this year.

The driver, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had previously been issued with a final written warning by East Riding Council over his conduct towards passengers.

That had been triggered by two complaints in the space of five months about his behaviour.

The first, in December last year, involved claims of “abusive conduct” towards a young female passenger who he followed down a cul-de-sac after dropping her off.

In March, a male passenger alleged the driver had asked him to sell him some drugs although this was subsequently denied.

He was issued with a final written warning on April 7 – the same day as he was alleged to have asked for a tip after refusing to help the elderly passenger who he later confronted at her home.

The decision by the council’s licensing committee to revoke his licence with immediate effect has been revealed in newly published minutes.

The minutes say: “At a meeting with officers on April 28, the appellant failed to see the importance of these complaints and how his actions were not appropriate and how they may have impacted on vulnerable customers and caused them alarm.

“The appellant is not promoting the aims of the licensing policy and his conduct is not that which is expected of a licensed driver, particularly relating to his unacceptable conduct towards a vulnerable adult by visiting her uninvited at her home address.”

The committee was told the man, who had been a licensed driver for over 11 years, was not currently working as a taxi driver having had his licence suspended on April 27.

The minutes reveal some councillors favoured a three-month suspension of his licence but they were out-voted by a majority who supported an immediate revocation.

Taxi driver accused of ‘sitting outside swimming pool in pants’ loses licence appeal

A Labour councillor was accused of ‘sitting outside a swimming pool in his pants’ as he lost an appeal after being refused of a taxi licence.

Oadby and Wigston Borough Council denied an application made by Gurpal Atwal in late 2016 and this decision was backed by magistrates in Loughborough yesterday.

This was after a committee in January 2017 decided he was “not fit and proper” to undertake the position of a cab driver.

The body rejected the private hire and Hackney carriage licence application despite Mr Atwal passing a DBS check and other relevant driving checks.

Outlining the council’s position, its legal representative Dave Gill said: “In essence there were a number of allegations.

“From 2015 there were a consistent number of complaints. No charges, but alleged offences and contact with police.

“The council’s single sole duty is to protect the public.”

Following his statement the officer from the council who led the committee’s enquiries took to the stand.

Licensing Enforcement Officer for Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, Tracey Aldwinckle, 49, explained the statements she had gathered – from which varying accusations emerged.

While being questioned by Mr Atwal’s defence, she said: “I was told your client is using unlicensed drivers on school runs and then he sat in his pants outside a swimming pool because he believes that’s acceptable.”

As well as this a raft of further alleged misdemeanours were stated to the court – most of which had stemmed from 2015 up until now.

There were also claims of racism and an allegation Mr Atwal “swore at” a man.

However he said that when this was followed up officers chose to take no further action.

Mr Atwal’s defence solicitor Anthony Schiller said there was “no indication” from any member of the travelling public of aggressive or racist behaviour.

He also described how his client has worked for over 20 years as a taxi driver in Leicester.

He stated that the majority of witnesses spoken to by Ms Aldwinckle had connections to Mr Atwal’s former business partner.

Mr Atwal owned a fifty-per-cent stake in Handsome Cars in Leicester and is taking his former business partner to high court in regards to a sum of around £300,000.

Mr Atwal still has a taxi licence in Leicester

Addressing magistrates Mr Schiller said: “We know there are links to people you have not seen today.

“It’s often said a business dispute can be worse than a divorce.

“You have to use the mythical scales of justice to make the decision.”

Mr Atwal also denied the accusations in court – stating they were “all fabricated”.

When questioned in front of magistrates Mr Atwal said: “I am not a racist person. I treat everybody fairly.
“They [the statements] were all fabricated to discredit my character.”

In regards to the business dispute Mr Gill commented that it was believed Mr Atwal had involved “heavies” when things did not go his way.

Mr Atwal did not comment following the hearing.

As well as not being granted a licence Mr Atwal was also charged £1,250 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing Bill Boulter, 70, who chaired the Oadby and Wigston Borough Council licensing panel which made the original decision said he was “very pleased”.

Mr Atwal currently holds a licence allowing him to drive cabs in Leicester until 2018.

 

source: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/local-news/taxi-driver-accused-sitting-outside-218270

Cabbies ‘would be forced off the road’ as Hull council says they may ban diesel taxis from 2018

Councillor Martin Mancey has said the council may ban giving new taxi licences to diesel drivers

Taxi drivers would be ‘forced off the road’ if the city council stopped issuing licences to those with diesel vehicles, it is claimed.

Councillor Martin Mancey, portfolio holder for strategic transport, has suggested the Guildhall may consider following London, where mayor Sadiq Khan has said no new taxi licence should granted to drivers with diesel vehicles from January 2018.

But Peter Nilsson, chairman of the Hull Hackney Carriage Association, has warned that would undoubtedly result in fewer taxis because of the extra costs drivers would incur.

He said: “Would our fares go up? Probably not. But I do believe people would not taxi driving, and so there would be fewer taxis on the road. Each taxi represents a business.

Cllr Mancey was speaking ahead of the publication of the Government’s air action plan, which is expected later this month.

He said: “In London, the mayor is saying that no new taxi licence will be issued for diesel vehicles from January. As a council, we have to look at all measures and I would not rule that out.

“If we were to go down a similar path, and it’s a big if, it would certainly not be in January 2018. We would want to hear the views of both Hackney carriage and private hire drivers. We would have have a discussion with them. There would be extensive consultation.”

Cllr Mancey accepted the measure would be met with concern among Hull’s cabbies, many of whom claim they are struggling to scratch a living even without any incoming extra costs.

However, he said this needed to be seen in the context of an estimated 29,000 deaths each year caused by emmisions.

Cllr Mancey said: “From the point of view of taxi drivers, I imagine there will be some concerns because petrol vehicles do less miles to the gallon, potentially increasing overall costs. That may put pressure on fares. But we have to look at the bigger picture – public health.”

He added the council is working hard to encourage people to use public transport.

Despite this, Mr Nilsson has predicted a number of problems should Hull follow a similar path to London, and said the association’s lawyers would invariably be involved.

He said: “Trying to get a petrol taxi is very difficult, because they’re a lot dearer to run than diesel taxis.

“Electric cars? I personally have not seen any that are fit for purpose. You can only go 100 miles on a charge. What do you do if a fare wants to go to Manchester Airport? It just can’t work.

“Hybrid vehicles are very expensive, compared to say a diesel taxi.”

According to Mr Nilsson’s reckoning, there are 170 black cabs in Hull. He believes there are in the region of 1,300 private hire vehicles.

He feels the driving factor behind Hull’s congestion, linked to poor air quality, is “poor road layout” as opposed to traffic volume.

“The roads are not coping with the number of vehicles,” he said. “No-one one knows the roads like taxi drivers. We know how the city works.

“Look at Spring Bank West, Cottingham Road and Bricknell Avenue. There used to be two lanes in each direction. Now there’s one. That’s the reason why our roads are becoming clogged. We’re losing roads.”

source: http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/

Taxi drivers ‘are being fined £200 for picking up passengers at Cheltenham Railway Station’

They say they keep being caught out by the automatic numberplate recognition system

Taxi drivers Pete Ballinger and Neil Harvey outside Cheltenham Railway Station.

Taxi drivers allegedly face hundreds of pounds in fines because they keep being charged for dropping off and picking up people at Cheltenham Railway Station.

Three drivers from Andy Cars in Cheltenham are facing fines which could top £600 between them.

They say they keep being caught out by the automatic numberplate recognition system which is in place at the station which charges motorists who stay there longer than 20 minutes.

Each of them have received fines of £100, which would rise to £200 if they were not promptly paid.

But the cabbies say they are only staying in the car park for a few minutes while they pick up and collect customers – and their on-board computers can prove it.

He said: “If that’s the case that means we can’t pick up and drop off at the station, and that can’t be right. If you want to pick up a disabled person you want to stop as near to the station as you can.

“It’s our livelihoods, it’s our jobs. We go there every single day. I can go there five times a day myself.

“It’s very frustrating. Now they’re reluctant to do drop offs just in case they get fined.”

ANPR systems use cameras to capture images of the vehicle and the licence plate on their arrival and when they leave the car park to calculate whether a motorist is liable for a fine.

A spokesman for APCOA said: “The ANPR system provides 20 minutes of free parking for dropping off and picking up passengers. We cannot comment on individual cases without further details.”

APCOA have been contacted for further comment.

source: http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/

Glasgow private-hire driver sacked after ‘locking terrified female passenger in car and demanding extra cash’

The private-hire was dismissed from City Cars after footage of the frightening ordeal was posted on Facebook

A GLASGOW private-hire driver has been sacked following reports he locked a female passenger in his car and demanded extra cash.

The private-hire driver was dismissed from City Cars after footage of the terrifying ordeal was posted on Facebook.

In the clip, the young female, who does not wish to be named, booked a private-hire car in advance from Clydebank to Neilston on Saturday night, agreeing a charge of £20.

She can heard getting more impatient with the driver who she is trying to give directions to and is heard saying to him: “Yeah, you’re back that way.”

Trying to justify the increased fare, the driver replies to her: “My friend, 17 miles I drive.”

At this point the operator, who is also heard becoming increasingly impatient states: “It is not 17 miles, that’s what I’m saying to you, it is 14 miles.

“So if you take her a long way you can’t charge the lady for that.”

Throughout the video, all that can be seen are the passenger’s legs and the back seat of private-hire car in the darkness.

The driver can be heard stopping the car and demanding she pay him upfront as she pleads with him to “go”.

The pair can be heard shouting at each other to the point where the operator tells the driver to stop arguing and take the passenger home.

Even then, the driver threatens to call the police.

Thankfully, the driver eventually took the passenger home and charged £20.

The young female posted the mobile phone video of the frightening exchange as a warning to other passengers.

City Cars today confirmed the incident had happened and said the driver had been dismissed.

A spokesperson said: “City Cars Management were shocked at hearing of the driver’s actions on Saturday night.

“We dealt with the incident immediately upon hearing the complaint and the driver no longer works for the company.

“We have reported him to Glasgow City Council and have advised the customer to do so also.

“At the time of the incident the driver was reminded by our Operator of City Cars’ zero tolerance policy of never allowing over charging but took it upon himself to attempt to violate this.

“City Cars do not in any way condone the actions of the driver in this isolated incident.

“We have spoken to the customer and extended our apologies and assurances that this will never happen again.”

TfL English Test Introduction delayed until 2018

The chauffeur reports that the Court of Appeal is to begin discussing the controversial Transport for London English Tests for Private Hire drivers.

A campaign by the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) and the GMB Union has been successful in its early stages as TfL announces it has delayed the introduction of the tests until April 2018.

A spokesperson from the LPHCA commented; “Like many other interested groups, including representatives of disabled drivers, we wholly reject the current test levels set by Transport for London as arbitrary and excessive. The test itself, we maintain, is simply not fit for purpose.

“It imposes unnecessary costs and time consuming burdens. This is potentially, in our opinion, discriminatory, unreasonable and disproportionate. Comparatively, we note, other Transport for London regulated modes of transport are not subject to undertaking such obligations.”

President of the GMB Professional Drivers’ arm, Simon Rush commented; “There’s an uneasy feeling of uncertainty of where we stand as private hire drivers, and at the moment we need more support than ever to make sure we keep our jobs. This plan needs to be abandoned and started again with a new proposal to include grandfather rights for current drivers and an oral test for new drivers.

He added; “The Mayor needs to come back with a more straightforward and less expensive test and plan that will be acceptable to our members.

“It’s time for the London Mayor to get involved and deal with this increasing mess.”

A protest outside City Hall in December 2016 saw members of the trade displaying placards, banners and flags outlining the issues and then entering the building to fill up the Assembly Chamber to protest against the tests.

The English Test would require those applying for a Private Hire license to undergo an English language test to prove their abilities and submit the qualification to TfL. Drivers would be allowed to provide a copy of previously obtained exam certificate demonstrating English language proficiency.

If they can’t locate one, a driver would need to contact their exam board to obtain a copy or, if their exam board no longer exists, they would need to commence a likely minimum eight-week process to try and get hold of a copy from the AQA.

source: http://www.thechauffeur.com/

Committee rules CCTV in Adur taxis is not compulsory

An Adur taxi driver has praised the council’s ‘common sense approach’ for advising that CCTV in taxis should be discretionary, not compulsory.

The issue was considered by Adur District Council’s Licensing committee on Monday, June 19.

We thank the committee for taking a common sense approach and considering representations from the trade

Sean Ridley, an Adur hackney carriage proprietor of 39 years and Unite the Union representative for the area, said the decision was appropriate for Adur – ‘a low crime area’ with an ‘absence of incidences’ to justify the mandatory use of CCTV.

While CCTV can record evidence of incidents and deter crime, there are risks of intrusion into privacy, the council’s Privacy Impact Assessment found.

Mr Ridley said after the meeting: “We applaud the decision.

“We thank the committee for taking a common sense approach and considering representations from the trade.”

He said the council had noted guidance from the Department of Transport, which states that ‘unduly stringent’ licensing requirements tend to restrict the supply of taxis, which can ‘work against the public interest’ and have ‘safety implications’.

He said he did not believe many private hire or hackney carriage vehicles in Adur would decide to install CCTV, which costs around £474.

Councillor James Butcher, licensing committee chairman, said: “Taxis are an integral part of the district’s night-time economy.

“As the licensing authority, we have a duty to do what we can to improve public safety.

“But we also know that some drivers have concerns over data protection and the cost of installing these cameras.

“After listening to operators across the district, the committee decided to give drivers the option of installing CCTV cameras.

“The committee will also work with drivers and those that use taxis to regularly review the issue.”

source: http://www.shorehamherald.co.uk/