Taxi law changes sparks safety fears

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  • Drivers could face less stringent checks
  • Punters may be picked up by an out of town cab
  • Council could be powerless to act over problem drivers

The committee responsible for taxi and private hire licensing in Leeds has raised serious concerns for public safety when new national rules come into force next month.

Leeds City Council’s licensing committee met earlier this month to discuss how Leeds will try to mitigate potential safety risks when new government legislation is introduced on October 1 which will further de-regulate the taxi and private hire industry.

These deregulation changes will allow private hire operators to sub-contract bookings to other operators anywhere in the country.

This could mean customers making a booking with their favourite operator in Leeds only to receive a vehicle from another operator, licensed by a different council with possibly less rigorous licensing arrangements than we have in place in Leeds or West Yorkshire.

The licensing committee is especially concerned about this because it could lead to numerous private hire vehicles from other authorities working in Leeds, with very different markings on them which may cause confusion and could allow unlicensed drivers or other drivers to illegally ply for hire. This creates a big safety risk for the travelling public.

Compounding the issue is the fact that council enforcement officers, who carry out roadside spot checks, don’t have the powers to inspect vehicles which are licensed by other councils. The Deregulation Act will allow private hire vehicles to work across England and Wales - leaving local enforcement officers powerless to inspect vehicles licensed from other districts.

Coun Mary Harland, chair of the licensing committee, said: “In Leeds we take the safety of our residents and visitors very seriously and we are very concerned about the implications of the new Act, and the risk it poses to the travelling public.

“We have worked hard to establish a strong licensing policy which includes rigorous checks on new drivers and high standards for vehicle safety and customer service. Our drivers must take part in training in safeguarding, English Comprehension, customer care and private hire law, whereas standards expected in other areas of the country may not meet our own.

“This new Act will make spotting unlicensed drivers, or drivers illegally plying for hire, much more difficult amongst the subcontracted out of town vehicles – which our enforcement officers will have no powers to stop and inspect.”

In order to try to mitigate the impact of the new Act, Leeds is working with other authorities in West Yorkshire to try and establish some common licensing standards and enforcement compatibility across the West Yorkshire area. Some of the key issues being considered include: -

To co-ordinate a scheme of shared delegated powers across all West Yorkshire authorities to enable Licensing and Enforcement Officers to carry out inspections and suspension powers on vehicles licensed by any West Yorkshire authority;

Safeguarding including training on Child Sexual Exploitation and human trafficking;

Establishing improved common minimum standards in the driver application process;

Establishing common minimum English comprehension standards for new applicants;

Adopting a standard convictions policy and convictions criteria;

Adopting a common standard for Private Hire Operator conditions; and

To ensure all West Yorkshire licensed vehicles have a similar recognisable door livery.