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New Taxi and Minicab Laws could put passengers in Newcastle at risk

18/06/2014

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Chi Onwurah MP is opposing changes to taxi and private hire vehicle law because of concerns they could put passengers in Newcastle Central at risk.

The reforms are included in the Government’s Deregulation Bill which will be voted on by MPs on 23 June. As Shadow Minister in the Cabinet Office Chi will be speaking for Labour during the debate and have already raised concerns during the Bill’s Committee Stage.

The Government’s proposed reforms to the taxi and minicab trade will enable people without a minicab license drive one when it is “off duty”, end annual checks on drivers’ licences, and allow minicab operators to subcontract bookings to firms in other areas.

There has been widespread criticism of the Government’s last minute decision to insert these reforms into the Deregulation Bill at a late stage in the Parliamentary process. Campaigners, industry bodies and unions are also warning that these changes will have severe safety implications, as local councils don’t have the powers to enforce the changes safely.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns for better personal safety, has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide “greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women”.

The Local Government Association has said that “it is imperative that the Government withdraws these plans” to ensure passenger safety.

Labour will be voting against the Government’s changes to taxi and private hire law in the Deregulation Bill on 23 June.

Chi Onwurah MP, Labour MP for Newcastle Central has said:

“At present minicabs in Newcastle are driven by people who have undergone criminal, medical and background checks with Newcastle City Council. But the Government are threatening to remove these safeguards, and let anyone drive an off duty minicab.

“I know many people in Newcastle particularly women and those with impaired mobility, rely on taxis and minicabs to get home safely. I’m worried that Minister’s plans will increase the number of rogue drivers on Newcastle roads.

“I’m calling on the Government to abandon these proposals and put passenger safety first.”

Richard Burden MP, Labour’s Shadow Roads Minister said:


“The Government’s changes to taxi and minicab law are poorly drafted, badly consulted on and could result in real risks to public safety. The reforms mean that people getting minicabs won’t know if the person driving it is licensed to do so, can’t be sure whether it has come from the company they booked with, and won’t know if vehicle and driver have been safety checked.

“The taxi and private hire trade, safety charities, unions and councils are telling the Government these changes will put passengers at risk but out of touch Ministers are refusing to listen. Labour will vote against the Government’s rushed and risky proposals and stand up for the travelling public.”

Notes

  1. 1.      Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles:

The main difference between (referred to in legislation as hackney carriages) and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs or “mini-cabs”) is that PHVs can only accept pre-booked passengers, whilst taxis can ply for trade on the street or from taxi ranks.

  1. 2.      Government’s reforms:

In 2011 the Department for Transport requested the Law Commission undertake a comprehensive review of taxi and PHV legislation. But in March 2014 the Government inserted three piecemeal reforms to the Deregulation Bill – to (a) allow people who do not hold a PHV license to drive a PHV when it is “off duty”; (b) set a standard duration of three years, rather than one, for taxi and PHV driver’s licenses; (c) enable PHV operators to subcontract a booking to another operator licensed in different licensing district.

  1. 3.      Criticism:

The reforms have been criticised by the National Private Hire Association, unions including Unite and GMB, National Association of Licensing Enforcement Officers, National Taxi Association, Institute of Licensing Officers, the Local Government Association and safety organisations, many of whom weren’t included in the government’s ‘informal consultation’ on the proposals. The Government’s reforms have been criticised for undermining the Law Commission’s work, damaging the trade and threatening passenger safety.

The Local Government Association

“The consequences for someone entering a vehicle marked for hire where the driver has not been properly licensed and vetted by the council can be severe. Under the proposals, councils will also find it more difficult to revoke licences from reckless drivers who repeatedly put passengers at risk by driving dangerously.

Keeping residents safe is a priority for councils and it is imperative the Government withdraws these plans so that we can continue ensuring passengers are safe when taking taxis and private hire vehicles.”

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a prominent women’s safety campaign group, has been particularly critical.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust

We are very concerned both about the safety implications of some of these clauses and the way they were inserted into the Deregulation Bill so late into its passage through Parliament.

“We know from the number of sexual assaults in London each year that posing as a legitimate minicab driver is the preferred MO of some particularly dangerous sexual predators. We are very concerned that moves to allow any individual to drive a licensed minicab when it is ‘off duty’ will provide greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women in this way.

We are also concerned about the proposal to require licensing authorities to renew licenses on a three-year basis rather than annually, should they wish to: we think that checks on drivers should be as rigorous and frequent as necessary to ensure that all relevant information is collected before a licence is issued. “

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