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Safety fears over "free-for-all" private hire changes
4:51pm Sunday 22nd June 2014 in News
FEARS that the relaxation of private hire rules could lead to a dangerous free-for-all and attacks by sham drivers has led to police chiefs lobbying the government.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Mark Burns-Williamson has joined others across the country who want to get three changes in the reforms removed from the Deregulation Bill, which is going through Parliament.
Currently, only licensed taxi drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle, they have to be regularly relicensed and there are restrictions on taxi drivers who are licensed by one authority working in other areas.
Those against proposed changes fear the Deregulation Bill will mean limited safeguards would be swept away, opening up the prospect of a private hire free-for-all, with no guarantees that the driver of a vehicle is who they say they are.
Mr Burns-Williamson said some changes may be needed but added: “There are real concerns that taking away these safeguards will pose a real risk to unsuspecting passengers climbing into a taxi as there will be no guarantee that a driver is who he says he is.
“I am committed to working with local partners and local people to make sure our communities are safer and feel safer and will be working with my fellow PCCs to ensure everything we can do is done to make sure these crucial safeguards stay firmly in place.”
The cross-party group of 19 PCCs is, led by Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd who said: "The current system is far from perfect, but at least there are safeguards there which mean people can have confidence that, when they get into a marked private hire vehicle, it is genuine and being driven by a licensed operator.
"Taking these safeguards away opens the prospect of a private hire free-for-all. There will be no guarantee that a driver is who he says he is, and the inevitable consequence is that there will be an increase in people being attacked after a night out."
The PCCs have written to Ken Clarke, the minister responsible for the Bill, urging him to remove three of the measures and introduce a dedicated Taxi Bill so that reforms can be brought in a considered way which will be subject to rigorous scrutiny.
Bradford Private Hire Liaison Service spokesman Khurram Shehzad said concerns over public safety were well understood, but added some of the changes would work in taxi drivers' favour - especially by allowing people who do not hold the taxi licence to drive that vehicle when it is not at work.
"Our drivers would welcome that change although they do understand peoples' worries. Many of our drivers have it difficult because they work late shifts but have to get up again to drive their own children to school or do other family runs because their wives can't use the car.
"The cost of running a second car is too high, they just can't afford it - maybe the council could look at taxi visors for the front of cars that can be put on and taken off again when not being used as a taxi."
Mr Shehzad said the idea of letting other taxi drivers from out of Bradford come in and trade would not be well received. He said: "We have high standards of training and checks in Bradford, other drivers do not - that's what could really put the public at risk."
Bradford Council's Deputy leader with responsibility for safer and stronger communities, Imran Hussain added: "I have grave concerns that someone could be driving a vehicle as a taxi drive without any training or checks to see if they are fit and proper to drive but in terms of a taxi driver's wife, partner or members of their family using it - I don't have an issue over that.
"We have got to appreciate that taxi driving is a hardworking trade, working long hours for very little money and there are some who really struggle to get a second car for their family's use. If there is some way of compromising to cover that but keep the public safe then I'm all for looking at that."
A report on the Deregulation Bill is due to be discussed in the House of Commons tomorrow.
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