Some cab prices in Merseyside area to rise by a THIRD

The Liverpool Echo reports that Police have said a shortage of cabs could lead to increased crime in a Merseyside area, with it also being revealed some fares there will rise by over a THIRD.

The substantial increase is set to hit black cab customers in Wirral across all tariffs following a consultation with drivers.

It came as results from a survey about cabs in the area revealed what a difficult position the industry is in – including insufficient demand, fears visitors to the area will not return because of bad experiences, and potential crime caused by a lack of night time services.

Two separate documents are set to be discussed by Wirral council’s licensing, health and safety and general purposes committee when it meets on September 19.

The first of those – a review of Hackney carriage fares – has revealed how they are set for a significant rise – some by as much as 37.5%.

That will mean a one-mile journey on the night tariff will increase from £4.30 to £5.40 – by 25.6%,

Other fare rises aren’t so steep but are still going up – a one mile journey on the normal day rate tariff will rise from £4 to £4.60.

For a one-mile trip on public and bank holidays, that will mean a 14.3% increase from £4.90 to £5.60, while on the Christmas and New Year tariff, that will see a huge 37.5% rise – from £6.40 to £8.80.

Several representations from industry figures were made to the council over the proposals, with both supporting and opposing views submitted.

One said the proposed increases were “excessive”, adding that it will lead customers to seek alternative transport options.

The letter said that the proposals were made by a “small minority” of union members, adding: “I personally believe that what with the financial pressure some of our customers are under, to ask for this increase shows a total lack of common sense.”

Another letter to be discussed by councillors was from a private hire operator, who wrote that the changes “will assist us greatly”. He said “ill-conceived and unsustainable” Hackney carriage fare structures through the Liverpool city region meant private hire services already dominate “more than 80% of the Merseyside taxi market”.

He added the rise meant private hire would be able to corner the “remaining 20%” of their target market.

Members will be asked to consider the representations received by the council, and decide whether to bring in the new fares.

Also at the meeting, the committee will discuss a survey about the supply and demand for Hackney carriage vehicles in the borough.

That survey came out with the following observations:

Police officers felt there was a weekend and overnight “shortage” of both Hackney carriage and private hire in the area and, as they told the survey, “that did lead to potential issues of crime and disorder”.

It suggested there was “insufficient demand” for the current Hackney carriage fleet, although many “gain significant fares” from phone orders.

There were no “significant” levels of unmet demand, but said a lot of the off-peak demand was by phone rather than people going to ranks. But there does not appear to be “enough sufficiently rewarding work available either for these pockets of demand to be met by either Hackney carriage or private hire means.”

Asda in Birkenhead was the busiest rank, with the next two busiest Claughton Road and Liscard.

The night rank Conway Street provided just 3% of total estimated weekly passengers.
Of six ranks surveyed, one saw “poor” service, one was “fair”, and all others were “good” or “very good”.

The only request for a new rank was for locations in New Brighton.

People interviewed said they were more confident of getting a Hackney carriage in the day than at night, with 14% of those surveyed saying they could not get one. People were also unaware they could flag down a black cab.

There are currently 258 licensed vehicles out of a current limit of 289.

Mystery shoppers found good service from ranks and on trips taken.

Hackney carriage drivers told the survey the limit on that number “should be retained”.

The demand in Wirral is “generally both disparate and low volume”, but there are “frustrated” potential customers who need the service to benefit Wirral’s economy. It said the impact from that was that there was a “very high potential” people visiting the area would have poor experiences that may prevent them from coming back.

It added: “The issue is how to marry supply to demand at these lower levels. Something needs to happen to reverse the spiral of decline.”

The committee members will be asked whether they want to continue the policy of limiting Hackney carriage vehicle numbers, or to remove the policy “in order to allow further future development of the fleet when required”.

That question will also be put to a public consultation.



Taxi driver refused to pick up two visually impaired people and their guide dogs

Devon Live reports that a taxi driver who refused to transport guide dogs and their visually impaired owners has been fined and had his hackney carriage driver licence revoked.

Syed Al Miah recently appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court after launching an appeal against East Devon District Council’s decision to take away his licence following a complaint.

It was alleged he had refused to transport two visually impaired people and their guide dogs in his vehicle after they had requested a taxi to take them from a hotel to the train station in December 2017.

The court was told when the taxi driver arrived at the hotel, he informed hotel staff and the two customers he would not take the dogs and drove away.

It was heard Miah, of Birchwood Avenue, Weston Super Mare, had changed his story on several occasions.

At interview he said he was scared of the dogs, but at a licensing hearing he stated for safety reasons he believed his vehicle not to be big enough, despite it being licensed to carry five passengers.

At the appeal hearing he claimed when arriving at the hotel he wasn’t sure if he had attended the correct job.

During an investigation into the complaint by the council, officers established he had not operated as a taxi driver in East Devon at any point since obtaining his licence from the district council in 2016, but instead had worked from North Somerset where the incident occurred.

East Devon’s licensing sub-committee decided to revoke the taxi driver’s licence as they felt he was no longer considered as a fit and proper person to hold the licence due to his actions, and he did not operate as a taxi driver in East Devon.

Councils have legal powers to suspend or revoke the licence of a taxi driver on certain grounds and all councils granting licences to taxi drivers need to be satisfied that the person is fit and proper.

The Equality Act 2010 sets out the legal duty of taxi drivers to carry assistance dogs ensuring they do not discriminate against any person because of disability and to carry a disabled person’s dog by allowing it to remain with the person and not to make any additional charge for doing so. Refusal to carry registered assistance dogs without an exemption certificate is a strict liability offence.

Exeter magistrates found in favour of the council and the decision it had made to take Miah’s licence away.

Following the court hearing, Cllr Steve Hall, chairman of East Devon District Council’s licensing sub-committee, said: “The council recognises the serious nature of these allegations and the impact upon those individuals being refused transport.

“I’m pleased to say that the magistrates agreed with our approach and we will not hesitate to defend further appeals of this nature to ensure that the public receives a fair service. The safety of our public is paramount.”


Ex Dundee taxi chief who once said all cabs should be wheelchair-friendly loses fight for non-accessible car

The Dundee Evening Telegraph reports that a Dundee taxi driver who once called for all city cabs to be wheelchair-friendly has had his own appeal to drive a non-accessible car dismissed by a court.

City cabbie Erik Thoresen, from Lochee, had asked to stop using a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in May 2016 – but his application was rejected by Dundee City Council.

In his appeal, heard at Dundee Sheriff Court, Mr Thoresen claimed that the authority’s “mixed use” taxi policy – which maintains a 60/40 split between wheelchair-accessible vehicles and saloons across the city – was unfair.

However, Sheriff George Way has ruled that the council’s licensing committee had laid out its reasons for rejecting his application in a “straightforward manner”.

It marks a dramatic shift in stance for Mr Thoresen, who had previously called for all taxis in Dundee to be wheelchair-accessible when he was chairman of the Dundee Hackney Association.

When he applied for his licence in 2004, he accepted the council’s requirement that he have a car that was wheelchair-accessible.

However, in submissions to Sheriff Way, Mr Thoresen said he wished to stop driving a wheelchair-accessible vehicle because of the higher costs associated with them compared to normal saloons.

Dundee City Council had previously committed to the introduction of an “economic fairness mechanism” in order to balance costs between saloon drivers and wheelchair-accessible drivers.

He claimed the council had not operated this policy fairly.

However, the local authority contended that it had considered Mr Thoresen’s application on its merits, which it said were “self-evidently poor”.

Sheriff Way concluded that the licensing committee did not act in an “unreasonable manner” in refusing the cabbie’s request.

He said: “I can find no evidence, that persuades me, that the committee did not act in a rational and fair way towards the applicant.

“The bar that the pursuer must overcome is a high one… I simply cannot hold that the high bar has been crossed.”

Mr Thoresen was represented by the GMB union, which will now be held liable for Dundee City Council’s legal fees for the case.

A GMB spokesman said: “In light of the decision the judgment is currently being reviewed by our legal team, following which our next steps will be considered.

“All fees for legal representation are met centrally by the GMB itself.”


Taxi drivers fear new laws could create a ‘robbers’ charter’ for fare dodgers in Liverpool

Cabbies think they could become victims of crime if council proposals come in to force

New laws for Liverpool cabbies – including a BAN on hated up front charges

Taxi drivers are worried new city-wide rules could create a ‘robbers’ charter’ for fare dodgers in Liverpool.

The council’s licensing committee gave their support to new byelaws that are being proposed in an attempt to bring in more modern regulations for cabbies.

But some drivers have said a proposal to completely ban upfront charges for passengers travelling in the city could encourage those who might want to exploit the changes.

Eddie Wiles, of Liverpool Electronic Taxi Union, raised concerns about passengers in the city knowing that drivers wouldn’t have powers to demand any money upfront.

He said: “We do not want a robbers’ charter.

“We do not want every scally in the city coming up to us and saying ‘Well they can’t demand upfront payment from us’.”

However Liverpool council licensing officers said the new laws were necessary as some customers had been asked in the past by drivers to hand over belongings like their mobile phone as collateral.

Other new byelaws up for debate at this morning’s meeting were plans to force all taxi drivers with a card machine into taking payments by card if the customer requested to do so.

There are also more specific rules brought in to ensure that drivers are fully trained in using facilities in their cars designed for wheelchair users.

And councillors proposed setting up a working group to make sure cabbies remain fully aware of how to use these.

Currently, new drivers have to be trained in the use of tools like the wheelchair ramp but there is no requirement for refresher training.

Having been backed by the licensing committee, the proposed byelaws will now go to the full council for the next stage of approval.


Manchester Airport taxi rank relocation row resolved

Taxi drivers who staged a blockade at Manchester Airport in protest at the relocation of a cab rank have struck a deal with the airport.

Hundreds of Hackney carriage drivers took part in a go-slow and other demonstrations earlier this week.

An airport spokeswoman said “a compromise” had been reached over the arrangements for them to collect passengers at Terminal 3.

A spokesman for the drivers said they were “happy” with the deal.

Drivers claimed moving the taxi stand at Terminal 3, among a number of changes introduced on Tuesday, had hurt trade and caused problems for disabled passengers.

They staged the protest on Monday, claiming the new rank was a 10-minute walk from the front of the terminal.

They also staged go-slows round the airport.

Ali Qureshi from the Airport Taxi Association said: “We’ve won – the airport has backed down.”

An airport spokeswoman said: “While it was our preference for drivers to use the proposed new rank for a trial period, it was clear following a series of disruptive protests that this would not be accepted by the Hackney trade.”

Cabs can use four of the forecourt bays to collect passengers on the condition this can be reduced to two bays at busy times, she added.


Uber to learn London license fate with judge’s ruling on Tuesday

LONDON (Reuters) reports that – Uber will hear on Tuesday if a bid to overturn a ruling stripping it of its license to operate in London, its biggest European market, has succeeded after it said its corporate culture and practice had changed.

The taxi-hailing app overhauled its policies and personnel in Britain after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew its license in September for failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

While the appeal process is ongoing, Uber can continue to operate in the city, and Tuesday’s decision can also be appealed, meaning the whole legal process could take years.

With backers including Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and BlackRock (BLK.N) and valued at more than $70 billion, Uber has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional taxi operators, angering some unions.

Uber, which has about 45,000 drivers in London, introduced several new initiatives in response to the ruling, including 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to police. It has also changed senior UK management.

The ruling has also been a test of Uber’s new management at the board level, with chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took charge the month before TfL’s decision, pledging to “make things right” in London after the ruling.

Uber’s corporate culture has changed since Khosrowshahi’s arrival, company officials told the court on Monday, promising better practices and more transparency.

After its application for a five-year license was rejected last year, Uber is now seeking an 18-month one to prove to the authorities that it has reformed. But Judge Emma Arbuthnot on Monday said she thought 18 months “would be rather too long.”

TfL’s lawyer told the court on Monday that if Arbuthnot does decide to give Uber a London license, it should be under strict conditions which the regulator has agreed with Uber, and for a short time-period, as there are questions over whether the changes implemented can be relied upon.

The court will hear evidence from Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, on Tuesday, after which Arbuthnot plans to make her decision, the judge said on Monday.

The ruling is set to be made on Tuesday but the full judgment would follow later, she said.

Reporting by Alistair Smout, additional reporting by Costas Pitas, editing by Alexander Smith


Drug testing for taxi drivers plan after fatal Belgrave Middleway crash

The taxi driver who died was found to have cocaine in his system

Drug testing for taxi drivers in Birmingham has moved a step closer following a tragic road collision where six people were killed.

Inquests into the victims who died in the crash at Belgrave Middleway on December 17 heard that one of them, taxi driver Imtiaz Mohammed, aged 33, had cocaine in his system although it was not said to have caused the incident.

Senior Coroner Louise Hunt subsequently wrote to Birmingham City Council as well as Sandwell Borough Council – which had issued his hackney carriage licence – expressing concerns there was no drug testing policy in place at either authority.

In her letter she said: “The level of cocaine metabolite would have resulted in the deceased being over the legal drug drive limit. This did not contribute to this collision.

“However West Midlands Police raised concerns at the inquest that there was presently no system in place to monitor and check whether taxi drivers are over the drug limit whilst driving.

“They confirmed in evidence that some sort of testing was required for the safety of passengers.

“In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you have the power to take such action.”

This week Birmingham City Council’s licensing and public protection committee approved a proposal for officers to produce a draft drugs testing policy for drivers.

Questions were asked about how it might be implemented while Manawar Hussain, from T.O.A. Taxis stated it would have an impact on drivers.

But Emma Rohomon, acting head of licensing, said the details would not be known until the policy had been drawn up stating it would be brought back to the committee who could reject it if it was not feasible.

She added the council was under a legal obligation to respond to the coroner’s letter.

Imtiaz Mohammed was killed alongside his two passengers Lucy Davis, 43, and her partner Lee Jenkins, 42, when the taxi was hit by a speeding Audi travelling in the opposite direction.

Three of the four people in the Audi, driver Kasar Jehangir, 25, Mohammed Fahsha, 30, and Tauqeer Hussain, 26, were also killed while fourth man Zakkria Khan, 18, survived.

The coroner ruled the collision was caused by the excessive speed of the Audi which was estimated to be travelling between 94mph to 100mph on the 40mph route.


Bolton Licensing chiefs hit private hire driver duo with suspensions

LICENSING chiefs handed out suspensions to two private-hire drivers earlier this week.

Bolton Council’s traffic matters licensing sub-committee imposed the penalties at a town hall meeting earlier this week.

Members heard a private hire driver was caught breaking the speed limit on a motor in November last year.

They acknowledged the driver had declared his conviction as required by the conditions of his licence. But the driver had previously appeared before the committee in April 2011 in connection with three other offences.

The panel imposed a hit with a two-week suspension, noting that “drivers have a duty to adhere to speed limits at all times and exceeding them can be a real danger to public safety.”

A second private hire driver was suspended for four weeks. He had committed two “minor and intermediate offences” in August and December last year, including exceeding the passenger vehicle speed limit.

But members were concerned he had failed to declare either of the convictions and felt the offences occurring within four months of each other — suggested he was “developing a pattern of bad driving habits”. But the panel also renewed two private hire vehicle licences after finding the drivers to be “fit and proper persons”.


Ex-councillor’s taxi licence suspended over shocking Facebook group ‘bullying’

The Liverpool Echo reports that a former Halton councillor’s taxi driving licence has been suspended for a week over a Facebook group he set up that featured ‘offensive’ and ‘bullying’ comments towards council officials.

But an initial three-month suspension imposed against John Gerrard, former Labour member for Mersey ward in Runcorn, was set aside when he appeared at Warrington combined court on Friday to appeal against it, with the decision to take effect 21 days hence from the hearing.

District Judge Bridget Knight said she was giving Mr Gerrard the benefit of the doubt.

The matter relates to a 48-hour window from November 1-3, when a ‘Halton Taxi Owners & Drivers’ Facebook group set up by Mr Gerrard, briefly became public.

Mr Gerrard was also the group ‘admin’ and was a serving Labour councillor at the time.

Halton Council’s legal counsel Malcolm Hope told the court that Mr Gerrard himself had been party to making offensive comments, referring to the local authority taxi enforcement officer Nick Wheeler as a ‘d***’ and senior council traffic officer Stephen Rimmer a ‘t***’.

Former Halton councillor John Gerrard’s former Facebook profile picture and header. He told the court he could not discuss the police badge’s relevance and his former employment in an open setting.

Judge Knight dismissed Mr Gerrard’s claims that ‘d***’ had been a ‘nickname’ for Mr Wheeler, and that predictive text was to blame for him calling Mr Rimmer a ‘t***’ when he had meant to say ‘twit’.

Most of the ‘offensive’ comments were about Mr Wheeler. Mr Hope said the official had been ‘ridiculed, degraded and insulted throughout these posts’.

When quizzed by Mr Hope, who claimed the Facebook page had a sparked a ‘witch hunt’ from a social media ‘mob’, Mr Gerrard denied being a ‘bully’ or ‘abusive’ and disputed that the tone of the comments was ‘bullying’ or ‘threatening’.

The former Labour councillor, who was an elected member until May when he did not re-stand for election, told the hearing he was bad with computers and had not known how to log in to his Facebook taxi group.

Two other taxi drivers were each suspended for one month in January by Halton Council’s regulatory committee for offensive comments they made about Mr Wheeler in the Facebook group, but did not appeal and apologised as required by the committee.

The hearing heard two others had received warnings.

Mr Gerrard’s solicitor, Anthony Schiller, said his client had an ‘exemplary’ record as a taxi driver spanning 20 years, and had no penalty points, had a clean Disclosure And Barring Service certificate and had received no sustained complaints but had been praised for his work including with vulnerable residents.

He urged Judge Knight to replace Mr Gerrard’s ‘disproportionate’ suspension with a lower penalty.

He said the comments made against Mr Wheeler by the two drivers who had been suspended for one month by Halton Council’s regulatory committee had been more ‘colourful’, adding that this suggested the panel members had an ‘axe to grind’.

Judge Knight remarked that social media users may say lots of things due to ‘freedom of speech’, saying that she herself had been called an ‘incompetent cow’ on Youtube.

In her summing up, she said Mr Wheeler’s authority and ability to do his job had been undermined but that it was reasonable for staff in the same job to have a ‘talking shop’ and the group was public for a short time, remarking ‘we’re only talking about 48 hours’.

She said: “All what was being laid at his door was by misinformed people.

“They had got the wrong end of the stick but naturally that unleashed personal venom.”

She added: “I am giving him (Mr Gerrard) the benefit of the doubt.

“He knew it was a closed site, he was encouraging rather than saying to them ‘listen chaps, we’ve gone far enough’.

“It wasn’t just chaps, it was women as well who raised some of the more vile comments.

“He never said ‘we’ve gone too far, let’s keep this proper and professional’ and for that he must bear some responsibility.”

The judge rejected an appeal from Mr Schiller for the council to pay costs.

She said the committee members were ‘doing exactly what they are elected to do’ in ‘benefit of the public’, adding: “There will be no costs.”