Women's group says passenger safety could be the cost of proposed taxi reforms

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: CONCERN: Steffy Bechelet who is campaigning against proposed taxi reforms CONCERN: Steffy Bechelet who is campaigning against proposed taxi reforms

A BRADFORD'S women's group has added its voice to fears that the relaxation of taxi hire rules could lead to more sex attacks in the city.

Steffy Bechelet, who is Women's and Liberation Officer at the University of Bradford, said she is deeply concerned the proposed taxi changes which are now going through Parliament would "undoubtedly" leave vulnerable people at risk.

"My immediate concern, should this bill pass through Parliament, is that those without taxi licences and access to vehicles could exploit them for their own malicious means, including theft, assault and sexual assault," she said.

Concerns that the changes to taxi regulations, if they go ahead, could be exploited by sham drivers posing a risk to unsuspecting passengers have already triggered police chiefs to lobby the Government.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson has joined more than 15 other police commissioners across the country who want to get three changes in the reforms removed from the Deregulation Bill.

Currently, only licensed cab drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle, they have to be regularly re-licensed and there are restrictions on drivers who are licensed by one authority working in other areas.

But the Deregulation Bill could sweep those safeguards away making it a free-for-all, with no guarantees that the driver of a vehicle is who they say they are.

Miss Bechelet added: "I am however encouraged by the strong statement issued by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns Williamson.

"It is imperative that those within our community who lead and indeed our community as a whole stands up to ensure that this bill is not passed, safeguarding all those who wish to use this form of public transport in the future."

However, Shabir Ahmed, of Keighley and Bradford Taxi Drivers' Association, said: "People keep talking about women passengers not being safe but no-one talks as much about taxi drivers being the victims of attacks.

"The police don't make as much of a fuss about that. It can be hard being a taxi driver, we don't deserve to be judged as the type of people who would misuse taxis to carry out crime."

He added: "We would be in favour of the change that would let others drive our cars when we're not using them as taxis because our family could also use them and we wouldn't need to find money for a second car - it would be a popular change with us."

Mr Burns-Williamson has conceded some changes might be needed but he has insisted that safeguards should "stay firmly" in place.

The PCCs have written to Ken Clarke, the minister responsible for the Bill, urging him to bring about reforms that could be brought in a considered way, subject to rigorous scrutiny.

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