Child Exploitation and App-Based Taxis Force New Look at Taxi Licensing Law
In Rotherham, for decades, licensed taxi drivers ferried children between addresses where they were sexually assaulted by organised gangs, revealing that criminals were being licensed to drive taxis despite a “fit and proper persons” regime being in place.
Last week, Brighton City Council renewed Uber’s licence to operate in the city, but only for six months whilst the dust settled on the London decision to revoke Uber’s license and a clearer picture emerges from this test case.
The taxi licensing landscape is changing dramatically as stakeholders grapple with fundamental issues such as passenger safety, driver rights and game-changing leaps in technology.
A new edition of Button on Taxis, could, therefore, not be more timely.
Stretching to a bumper 1,648 pages, Button on Taxis, Fourth Edition, provides the much needed analysis of licensing law that will enable authorities and operators to navigate the new landscape and forge a way forward, ensuring the welfare of customers and drivers are kept at the heart of this essential service.
With clear explanations of the law and procedure relating to the licensing of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles in England and Wales, including London, the new edition highlights the overlaps and conflicts that exist, so providing invaluable analysis and commentary.
This edition updates the text to take account of changes to legislation, case law and Guidance, including important Senior Court decisions relating to adoption of legislation, local authority decision-making processes, licence fees, Hackney carriage ranks, suitability of drivers and action against licensed drivers and vehicles.
Legislative changes include extensions to the duration of certain licences, the ability for private hire operators to subcontract across local authority boundaries and the need for Immigration checks for drivers and operators.
This invaluable reference book also includes coverage of many other important areas, including: the licensing decision process, appeal mechanisms; licence fees; and the impact of criminal convictions.
Procedural flowcharts and exhaustive coverage of case law, by means of summaries and discussion, help to further illustrate the subject.
About the author
James Button is a solicitor and principal of James Button and Co, a niche licensing, environmental health and public health practice. Formerly a local authority solicitor, he has over 25 years’ experience in taxi licensing. Currently president of the Institute of Licensing, he is a well-known and popular lecturer, specialising in licensing and environmental health issues, and has written and contributed to many other works.
About the book
Author: James T H Button
Extent: 1,648 pp
Council chiefs have refused to renew the taxi-hailing company Uber’s licence to operate in York. Members of York Council’s Gambling, Licensing and Regulatory Committee tonight debated for more than two hours over Uber Britannia Limited’s application. The company’s current 12-month licence is due to expire on Christmas Eve.
Councillors concluded that the taxi-hailing firm was not a fit and proper person – a required condition to refuse an application of its kind. A spokesperson for York Council said: “The application by Uber Britannia Ltd to renew its private hire operator’s licence in York has been considered by City of York Council’s Gambling, Licensing and Regulatory Committee tonight.
“Applying the legislation, the committee has decided to refuse the application having concerns about a data breach currently under investigation and the number of complaints received.”
Speaking after the meeting Neil McGonigle, general manager for Uber in York, said the company would now review the details of the decision. He said: “This is a disappointing vote for the riders and drivers who use our app in the city. “More choice and competition is a good thing for both consumers and licensed drivers in the area. “Passengers tell us they love being able to track their car on a live map, pay without cash and get a receipt with their fare and the route taken.
“Licensed drivers partner with us because with Uber they can choose if, when and where they drive. We will review the details of the decision once we receive the formal notice from the council.”
It comes after Transport for London refused to renew Uber’s licence on the grounds of “public safety and security implications” in September. The firm’s appeal against that decision in London will be heard by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in Spring next year. Uber Britannia Limited can lodge an appeal with the Magistrates’ Court over the latest decision by York Council.
Coun Sonja Crisp tabled a motion to refuse the application on the basis of the data breach that affected the 57 million customers and drivers in 2016. The second reason for refusal related to complaints made against the firm in York. The decision is the latest blow to hit the taxi-hailing company, after Uber had its licence suspended in Sheffield this week. The move came after the firm failed to respond to requests for information about its management.
Since December 2016, 296 complaints were made relating to hackney carriage and private hire vehicles or drivers in York up to November 22. York Council said 155 of these complaints related to Uber vehicles or drivers. But only four related to an Uber vehicle or driver licensed by the council – and 129 were made against those licensed by other local authorities, leading to councillors raising questions about the number of Uber drivers coming from outside York to work in the city.
Coun Dave Taylor, a member of the committee, said during the meeting: “This city needs to have control of its taxi services and it needs to have a level playing field and I don’t know if that means then national legislation aught to be tidied up. “But I don’t think that we can license a company which directs drivers to go around the houses, pumping up fair for customers, that tries to claim it has no liability for any claims, demands or losses, which claims to have a local office but never seems to staff it and the number of complaints against them is so high. “I think those are the grounds on which we can refuse this licence.”
Neil McGonigle, Uber Head of Cities, North of England, spoke in support of Uber at the meeting. He revealed that some 28,000 have used the company’s app in York in the last three months. Mr McGonigle said: “From our experience the passenger like the ability to press a button to request a car, take a trip without having to use cash at all and from a safety point of view, being able to track every element of that journey real-time.
“Whether that’s themselves, family members, friends or whatever through the app.” He said people from 73 different countries are now using the app in York, as Uber has recently taken on more international visitors in York.
The meeting was told licenses for Uber to operate had been refused in Reading, North Tyneside and Cardiff. Saf Din, chairman of York Hackney Carriage Association said he does not object to competition, but that Uber was not a “fair player” in the public transport game. Ahead of the decision, Mr Din told the meeting: “I urge you to be the most active members by refusing the application and offer no licence until you are fully satisfied.” He also handed over a petition regarding safeguarding of passengers, objecting to Uber’s licensing renewal.
Speaking during the debate tonight, Coun Suzie Mercer said: “I was still undecided having read the papers and I’m still undecided. “Everyone is just trying to do a job, you’ve got good apples and bad apples in all trades. “Uber is used all over the world by millions of people. In York it’s mainly the young people who use it and I think maybe as well it’s probably a young thing. “Out of town drivers wouldn’t come if there wasn’t any work and we must remember that if the public want it, then who are we to deny it?”
A group of more than two dozen cross-party MPs have called on the government to introduce new rules controlling the licensing of drivers for Uber and other minicab services with new national standards.
Labour’s Wes Streeting and Jess Philips, and Green Party leader Caroline Lucas are among the 25 MPs to sign a letter to transport secretary Chris Grayling urging a new definition for cross-border hiring, along with taxi companies Gett and MyTaxi, the LTDA taxi union and the company making London’s newest electric black cabs.
Currently drivers can gain a licence in one area and work in another, something they claim is putting passengers at risk. Data from Transport for London (TfL) identified 177 drivers licensed in London registered to postcodes in Sheffield earlier this year, while drivers in Southend who had their licence revoked were found to be using ones gained from TfL.
Now the MPs, part of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on taxis, wants national standards for drivers to be introduced which would bring and end to the practice.
“The current system where a driver can lose a licence in one part of the country and simply get one by tapping up another council is playing fast and loose with passenger safety,” said Streeting. “The safety of passengers should be the cornerstone of licensing. That’s why we’re calling for a statutory definition on cross border hiring which will effectively stamp out this dangerous practice, alongside national minimum standards so when a passenger gets into a vehicle- wherever they are – they know they are safe.”
The call comes as Uber fights for permission to operate in London. TfL said it would not renew its licence due to safety concerns. Uber’s appeal against the decision is due to be heard next year while it continues talks with the regulator.
Uber has previously said that it would welcome a national register as a first step in “a more joined up approach” and has introduced new processes for keeping tabs on local licencing decisions. “An increase in app-based taxi and PHV services coupled with out of date legislation has contributed to a rise in cross-border hiring,” said MyTaxi general manager Andy Batty. “MyTaxi, is calling on government to legislate for a legal definition of cross-border hiring, which will give both passengers and regulators certainty of the standards of drivers in their area.”
The government has indicated that it’s considering new rules. “I think the system is being gamed,” said transport minister John Hayes over the summer, adding that it “can’t be right” that local rules can be undermined by more permissive neighbouring regimes. “I want greater consistency in the way licenses are issued,” he said.
Manchester Airport are closing a loophole so that they can control all taxi pick ups – and it could cost passengers more.
Currently, hackney drivers picking up directly from the three terminals must pay for a £27.96 permit.
Along with drivers for the airport’s official Arrow Cars service, they wait for their fares in a ‘feeder car park’ managed by airport marshalls who direct them to where cabs are needed, where they pay £1.60 every time they leave.
But until now pick-ups directly outside the airport’s railway station have been a ‘free for all’ for private hire cars and hackney drivers with or without permits.
But that’s set to change. From next week, a new lane will be installed outside the station – to be used only by hackney and Arrow drivers with permits – and the £1.60 pick-up charge is likely to be passed on to passengers.
All other drivers will be forced to use public car parks around the site.
It’s caused consternation among cabbies and passengers – with passengers likely to pick up the £1.60 bill.
Drivers, meanwhile, say they can be forced to queue for up to two hours to use the official ‘feeder lanes’ that lead to the terminals.
This, they argue, is worth it for a likely £50 fare for a passengers off a flight – but not for the shorter fares more common from the station.
One hackney driver who asked not to be named said: “Most railway passengers just want to head to a nearby hotel with an average fare of £8. That isn’t worth the two-hour wait we usually have when we’re queuing in the feeder lane.”
Airport bosses say the charged for permits and pick ups will be ploughed back into the feeder park, which includes a prayer room and toilets.
A Manchester Airport spokesman added the new system and controlled lane would make the station ‘consistent with the current operation of the three terminals’.
He added: “This lane is for Hackney Carriages with airport permits, and Arrow Cars – our onsite private hire provider.
“Hackney Carriages currently without an airport permit can apply for one, for a small one-off fee. This provides access to the dedicated Hackney Carriages facilities, and contributes to the costs of operating these. The current drop off arrangements at the station remain unaffected for all other users.
“As well as ensuring a consistent passenger experience, this will also improve congestion on the road network and make the site a safer, more secure place.”
Court told Endris Mohammed bought three litres of petrol before starting fire in family home
A uber driver killed his two children by smothering them with a petrol soaked rag and then started a blaze while his wife slept upstairs at their home in Birmingham, a court heard
Endris Mohammed who had also tried to cause an explosion by tampering with the gas, fled from the scene.
He then drove to a road in Staffordshire where he was later found near his car suffering from burns.
Mohammed, 47, has denied murdering eight year old Saros and his six year old daughter Leanor as well as attempting to murder his wife Penil Teklehaimanot.
Jonas Hankin QC, prosecuting at Birmingham Crown Court, said: “At 3.37am on October 28 last year the emergency services received the first of many 999 calls.
“They were connected with a house fire at Holland Road, Hamstead the home of the defendant where he lived with his wife and two children.
“They found Saros and Leanor lifeless on the ground outside the house. Both children were in cardiac arrest and both had chemical burns on their faces.”
Mr Hankin said attempts were made to revive them but they were pronounced dead after being taken to hospital.
The trial heard that investigators later examined the scene and discovered: “Escape routes had been impeded, the electricity supply had been disabled and attempts had been made to release gas in the property by damaging a gas pipe that supplied the kitchen cooker.”
Mr Hankin added: “The true reason why the defendant killed his children and attempted to kill his wife may never be known. His explanation for killing his children was that they would be better off dead than living without him and it was his intention to commit suicide.”
Mohammed came to the UK in 2006 from Ethiopia and married his wife in the same year. She was employed as a care worker while he got a job with Uber.
On the day before the deaths Mohammed had worked as normal before going to a petrol station and buying a container which he filled with three litres of fuel.
His wife went to bed at around midnight while he was downstairs with their children.
Mr Hankin said Mohammed drove away from the property at around 3.30am and shortly after that his wife was woken by the smoke alarm, came down stairs and put out the fire.
She then went outside but realised her children were still in the house, the court was told
Mr Hankin said she found them in the lounge and thought they were asleep but when they were taken outside it was apparent they were “unconscious and lifeless.”
He said Mohammed had driven up the M6 and parked in a road in Newcastle Under Lyme where he was later discovered near to his vehicle with burns to his head, face and hands.
The court was told that Mohammed, who later said he had desperate and had no money, did not deny killing his children but his defence was based on him suffering from an abnormality of the mind at the time of the offences.
The Ely Standard reports that Ely taxi drivers could be made to wear smart clothes and have more health checks as part of council plans to improve the service
Smart trousers, shirt, shoes and optional tie for men or cravat for women is being suggested alongside a raft of other ideas, including a single colour taxi scheme so that all cabs in the city are silver.
An eight week consultation into the suggestions received just 10 responses from six drivers, two members of the public, a disability group and a council member.
The suggestions are yet to be approved in a meeting of the East Cambs District licensing committee on Wednesday November 8.
If given the go ahead the new rules will come into force on New Year’s Day.
Among the areas looked at were:
• Safeguarding training.
• Dress code.
• A three yearly medical.
• How often cars should be tested.
• A penalty points scheme.
• DBS checks.
A spokesman for East Cambs licensing team said all taxi drivers must complete safe guarding training by the end of next year, new drivers within six months of holding a licence.
A spokesman said: “All existing licence holders will be given opportunities to attend the training free of charge.
“Officers are working with neighbouring councils in an attempt to provide one standard course which will enable drivers to use the training certificate obtained at any participating council to support an application.
One taxi driver said of the one colour scheme said it : “Is a terrible idea.
“The taxi sign is recognised the world over. Tourists will not come to Ely and think, there’s a yellow, green, red car – that must be a taxi.
“At night the one colour scheme will become pointless! Unless the licensing department want us to change the colour to day glo yellow.
“What should be amended is the size of the taxi sign – at the moment there are some really small signs and in the day they are not obvious from a distance.”
The report says that if drivers need more medicals it will mean an eight additional health checks between the age of 21 and 45 and additional three between 45 and 65.
A spokesman said: “Studies have shown that drivers of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles spend large amounts of time in a sedentary position and they have shown that taxi drivers as a group suffer from high levels of chronic disease linked to sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and stress.”
The Evening Standard reports that five Uber drivers fleeced the ride-hailing app out of £10,000 by taking bookings for rides paid for with stolen credit cards, a court heard.
Onome Omonoseh, 19, coordinated the “sophisticated” scam by setting up fake customer accounts to book lengthy journeys, racking up large bills which were charged to stolen credit cards.
Drivers Michael Julien, 50, Dan-Alexandru Pasat, 29, Kamlesh Sagoo, 62, Ibrahim Tekagac, 35, and Mihai Toader, 32, collected the hefty fees, and paid Omonoseh in cash for his part in the scam.
Southwark crown court heard Uber lost up to £10,000 to the fraud between February and December last year.
Omonoseh, the “coordinator”, is only thought to have made £1,760 despite playing a leading role.
“Mr Omonoseh was the main instigator of the frauds against Uber – creating bogus Uber customer accounts on the app and making bogus trips for which drivers were paid,” said prosecutor Stephen Requena.
“The details were taken from a website which sells credit card for fraudulent and criminal purposes.
“GPS location showed the mobile phone handset did not always travel with the drivers and in effect the fraud by Mr Omonoseh and the co-defendants was in collaboration.”
Judge Peter Ader, sentencing, said: “This was a sophisticated operation that took place over a period of time to defraud Uber of their commission and their fee. Each of of you played a part in this operation.”
He sentenced Omonoseh to eight months in a Young Offenders’ Institution and jailed Julien, who was involved in 17 fraudulent trips, for eight months.
Pasat, Tekagac, and Toader were each given six-month prison sentences suspended for 18 months and ordered to pay £500 compensation each to Uber.
Sagoo, who made the least amount of money from the scam, was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for 18 months, and was told to pay Uber £486 in compensation.
Omonoseh, from Islington; Julien, from Southwark; Pasat, from Ilford; Sagoo, of Neasden; Tekagac, from Enfield; and Toader, from Stevenage, Herts, admitted fraud by false representation.
Wolverhampton Council have given a taxi licence to a driver successfully prosecuted for fraud by a neighbouring local authority, it has been revealed.
Officials ignored a warning that the driver broke the terms of the licence granted to him by Sandwell Council by working out of the area covered by the badge, the city’s Crown Court was told.
Several other drivers caught in the same purge and dealt with at a magistrates court were also given licences by Wolverhampton City Council, it was claimed.
Aklilu Tedros pleaded guilty to fraud and received a four month prison sentence suspended for 18 months. He was also ordered to do 80 hours unpaid work and pay £800 towards the cost of the case after he elected trial but admitted the offence on the day the hearing was due to start.
The 37-year-old father of four from Eritrea was given a private hire taxi licence after applying to Sandwell Council in March 2015. The local authority – like Birmingham but unlike Wolverhampton – only gives licences to those based and working in the borough.
Tedros, from Gregory Avenue, Weoley Castle, confirmed he would be doing this and gave the name of the local firm he would be working for. Hours after getting the licence he joined a Birmingham taxi company and took his first job.
“He never worked for the taxi company he named in Sandwell and was never going to, ” said Mr Mark Jackson, prosecuting. He explained there was far more work for drivers in Birmingham but the Knowledge test was easier to pass in the smaller, neighbouring borough of Sandwell. Mr Jackson continued: “He never learnt the Birmingham Knowledge and was not subject to Birmingham licensing restrictions.”
The defendant was caught in a crack down by enforcement officers who discovered his licence did not allow him to work in Birmingham. Sandwell were alerted and launched an investigation.
He handed in their badge but was then given a licence by Wolverhampton City Council. Mr Jackson disclosed: “They were told of his breach but that did not seem to matter.”
Mr Richard Davenport, defending, conceded: “He knew what he was doing was fraudulent but he did it because he knew others were doing the same thing. It is very difficult to say how much money he made from the fraud.”
Tedros was told by Judge James Burbidge QC: “You have committed a serious crime. You are a resourceful man who escaped from your country of birth because of the persecution of Evangelical Christians. This was a deliberate fraud and it may be that people around you were committing the same fraud.”
Wolverhampton council has vastly increased the amount of money it receives from the issue of private hire licences after deciding to grant them to drivers working both inside and outside the borough. Critics have claimed the facility is being used as a ‘cash cow’ – a suggestion denied by council officials.
The local authority made over £1.2 million handing out private hire licences in the last year after netting £416,070 during the previous 12 months. In the year 2012/13 it granted just over 600 private hire licences. This figure rose to almost 3,000 last year.
A spokesman for Wolverhampton Council said: “When Mr Tedros applied for his licence with us, we were notified by Sandwell Council that there was a court case pending against him. In accordance with our procedures, We concluded that the allegation posed no imminent risk to public safety and the licence was granted. We have received no complaints about Mr Tedros in the 12 months since he got his licence. We have kept a close eye on the court proceedings and N
“Now that he has been convicted of the offence it will automatically trigger a licence review.”
A fraud conviction would ordinarily result in a licence being revoked, however each case is judged on its specific circumstances and we cannot predetermine what the outcome will be here.”
SOLIHULL is considering joining with other neighbouring authorities who are united in opposition to Wolverhampton’s licensing of Uber taxis uncutting the borough’s licenced cabbies.
The Observer understands West Midlands councils including Solihull are considering a joint approach to government against licensing deregulation which has led to ride-hailing US firms such as Uber driving down prices in Solihull and the region.
Councillors say it has led to a ‘race the the bottom’, with passenger safety compromised by an alleged lack of driver training, and pay and holiday and sickness rights being driven down.
Elsewhere in the region, notably in Coventry, councils are joining with taxi drivers and trades unions to campaign against Wolverhampton’s liberal handing out of licenses to the new ‘out-of-town’ companies, which can operate across council borders.
Yet many passengers have welcomed the lower fares and phone tracking service of App-based Uber.
It includes ‘ride sharing’ and hailing a nearby taxi promptly using a mobile phone.
The company has been banned from London streets over safety fears, while critics have called the clampdown and infringement on the free market, and town hall and union protectionism.
Councils in turn say deregulation has broken the historic link between a local area and taxi licensing based on meeting needs and demand, with democratic accountability through local authorities.
They claim Wolverhampton doesn’t have the same standard of English language requirements, disabilities training, child sexual exploitation training, any local knowledge test, or six- monthly vehicle checks
But more than 800,000 people have signed a petition on the change. org website to save Uber as the firm fights the London ban.
The capital’s transport officials and mayor Sadiq Khan stripped it of its licence. Uber is appealing and it is hoped a compromise can be reached without major job losses among drivers.
Uber claims safety is of the highest importance and drivers go through enhanced background checks.
It claims its technology has gone further to improve safety, with trips tracked and recorded by GPS satellite navigation systems.
London Assembly Tories claim analysis shows Uber is 40 per cent cheaper than black cabs, and a ban will cost Londoners an extra £90million a year in fares.
Max McLoughlin, Solihull Green councillor, said: “This is a serious problem. We give a great deal of power to taxi drivers. We let them drive in places that other cars can’t. We allow them alone, in a locked space, with vulnerable people. It’s only right that a local authority says who can and can’t drive a taxi there.”
“This isn’t the case anymore and we’re seeing a race to the bottom on standards and safety. Councils like Solihull, who prioritise safety, end up losing out financially.
“This isn’t a problem with one local council or taxi company. This is a problem with one piece of legislation passed in 2015.
“If Solihull council aren’t satisfied that someone should have a taxi license, why should we have to pay for them when they appear on our streets?
“It means that council tax payers in Solihull are subsidising another local authority on a get rich quick scheme.”
“The responsibility lies with government and our MPs. They’ve made local authorities so cash poor that some will tread on others to balance the books. Not only that, they’ve also given them the tools to do so in the Deregulation Act 2015.”
The Institute of Licensing (IoL) has written to the Government to raise concerns about failings in the taxi and private hire licensing system that is putting public safety at risk.
IoL President, James Button, said in the letter:
“We are aware that there is currently much discussion ongoing in relation to the licensing of taxi and private hire drivers, operators and vehicle owners, including the recently established working party by Minister of State John Hayes MP. We are conscious that any discussions must seriously consider the adequacies of current arrangements concerning criminality checks, data sharing and ability of licensing authorities and police practitioners to identify concerns relating to licensed individuals and those seeking to be licensed with a view to maintaining public safety and taking appropriate action as necessary.”
The letter addressed to the Home Office, DfT, National Police Chiefs Council and the chairman of the newly established Taxi and Private Hire Working Group, outlined the result of its member’s survey about the level of checks undertaken, data sharing with the police and other similar issues:
• Less than 25% of respondents consider the current data sharing arrangements are satisfactory
• More than 50% of respondents agreed that changes to the Notifiable Occupations Scheme affected information sharing between police and licensing authorities
• 72% of respondents said that do not receive immediate notifications from the police when a taxi licensee (driver, operator or proprietor) is under investigation, arrested or charged
• 42% of respondents said that the Data Protection Act used as a reason for not sharing information
• A substantial 80% of respondents agreed it would useful would it be to have a single point of contact within the police for taxi licensing issues
Mr Button continued: “The IoL has raised concerns previously with the Home Office in relation to data sharing between police and licensing authorities in relation to taxis. In March 2015, we put on record with the Home Office our concern over the then imminent changes to the Notifiable Occupations Scheme and the proposed removal of Home Office Circular 006/2006 which provided guidance to police forces about the disclosure of convictions and other information in relation to people in professions or occupations which carry additional trust or responsibility (notifiable occupations). In summary, the concern at that point was that the changes would increase uncertainty and inconsistency in data sharing.”
The IoL is currently leading on a project to develop a national model convictions policy for licensing authorities to consider adopting locally. It has been working with the Local Government Association and the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers on the project and the aim is to consult on the draft document imminently. This project has been undertaken with the sole purpose of providing a potential national minimum standard endorsed by the relevant organisations with a view to raising consistency across England and Wales.