Safeguarding the public
Unlike buses and trains, there are no national standards for taxis and safeguarding the public is left to local authority licensing officers and local police. The standards set vary from one area to another – some have good standards of safety and customer care while others are lower. One thing that is worrying is that there are no limits on how many hours a taxi driver can work – again, a contrast with lorry, train and bus drivers who have to abide by strict rules.
Many licensing officers (but by no means all) belong to the National Association of Licensing Officers (NALEO), an organisation dedicated to safeguarding and improving standards, including for taxis, and NATU will support the good work of this organisation. See www.naleo.org.uk for further details.
One of the dangers for taxi users is getting into an unlicensed vehicle, which is neither licensed hackney or private hire vehicle. This is especially a problem at night in clubbing areas where there are queues for taxis and where people are confused about which saloon cars are hackneys, private hire or just touting. Other danger points are outside supermarkets where ‘touts’ offer illegal lifts home, targeting people with heavy bags.
Some local authorities, Transport for London and the Suzy Lamplight Trust (www.suzylamplugh.org) have developed posters and advice to alert people to this danger but there are still far too many incidents of very dangerous vehicles and/or drivers who search out young women and other vulnerable people to assault or rob by such means. The problem is exacerbated in areas where the hackneys and private hire cars look similar to ordinary saloon cars.
Another problem is the suitability of applicants to be granted a licence as a taxi driver. Most authorities carry out an enhanced criminal record check and would not grant a licence to anyone with a criminal record. However, overseas records can be inaccurate and magistrates do sometimes overturn decisions on appeal from the driver, especially if seven years have passed since the offence was committed. NATU think this is unacceptable and dangerous, as evidenced by the growing number of sexual assaults carried out by taxi drivers (albeit fortunately a minority).
NATU believe that no person who has been convicted of violence or sexual assault including rape should ever be granted a licence to drive a taxi.
NATU would like both hackneys and private hire taxis always to be clearly distinguishable from ordinary saloon cars.