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RAISING STANDARDS
OR JUST MONEY?

A council that has imposed almost seven hundred fines on its taxi drivers over the course of a year has been accused by cabbies of being over-zealous. Indeed, the situation appears to have deteriorated to the point where strike action seems a distinct possibility.

Bradford Council's head of business services, David Webster, insisted that the fines resulted from breaches of regulations and were imposed to ensure the safety of vehicles and their drivers: "The health and safety of our passengers is of paramount importance. If our officers catch a taxi driver breaking the regulations in a minor way, for example not displaying a licensed driver's badge, we issue a 30 fine in the form of an offence notification. We have issued 691 offence notices in the year up to 31 July 2006. "If the offence is more serious, for example if we are notified they have accumulated six or more points on their driving licence, they are required to appear before a designated Council officer.

That officer has the power to revoke their licence, shorten their licence subject to no further transgressions, or issue a warning. For the most serious offences, we will revoke their licence, the return of which is dependent on the outcome of any prosecution through the Courts." Although drivers have the right of appeal, there are concerns about the disciplinary appeals system that the council makes available. Pervez Naik, of Oxford Taxis, thought that the system was not working properly: "We should go back to the old system where there were two councillors who could hear the appeal. At the moment, we have to go straight to the enforcement officer and many drivers don't think that leads to a fair hearing." David Webster has agreed to look at the concerns, with the possibility of bringing in an independent person to hear disciplinary appeals involving taxi drivers. At present, the power is delegated to an officer — a system which the drivers believe makes the person ‘judge, jury and executioner’. Feelings are running high, with drivers complaining of unfair rules and regulations. There is a general perception of harassment by officers from the council's taxi licensing department, who impose instant fines for minor vehicle faults and for offences such as not wearing a seat belt.

Drivers also object to the need for a Councilimposed safety test that is in addition to the normal MOT. They believe it is no more than a ‘money-making ploy’. There is also a firm conviction that the requirement to appear before a council officer after accumulating six penalty points on a licence is an unnecessarily severe imposition. It is thought that a level of nine points is more realistic. The strength of feeling and the number of concerns has led to a ‘clear the air’ meeting in Keighley, attended by representatives of private hire firms and Councillor Kris Hopkins, the leader of Bradford Council. But the councillor did not help matters by launching into a scathing attack on some ‘appalling’ driving standards. Councillor Hopkins wanted to raise standards and asked that cabbies helped him to achieve his aim. He commented: "If we have got a mechanism in place that's not working, I will challenge people about it but I won't compromise on safety. I want the driving standards of taxi drivers in this district to be the best in the country and the regulations are there to protect the public and raise standards."

The councillor believes drivers are professionals and should be aware of speed cameras and of all the rules and regulations, warning: "If they fail to comply, they will be penalised. We want to help private businesses work, but some of the driving standards of the taxi drivers of this district are appalling. It's not a universal problem but you should go away and challenge your colleagues about their driving. I have been driving along in 30 mph zones and been overtaken by a taxi driver as if their life depends on it. In reality, there's probably only 4.50 at stake." It seems that tempers have hardly cooled as a result of the meeting. Shahid Saleem, a driver for Arrows Taxis, believes a strike is now a distinct possibility. "I agree that safety is crucial and we want bad taxi drivers off the roads, but some of the regulations are crazy." "Private hire drivers in Keighley have just had enough of being harassed by Council officers over minor things like brake lights being out. If the police stop you, you maybe get a warning but with the Council, it's a fine straight away. The one thing I want to avoid is a strike but the way it's going, I wouldn't rule it out."

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