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Facing up to the community transport challenge (are some Community Transport vehicles acting illegally?)

Posted by admin on December 15th, 2014

Source: Bus and Coach Professional

The community transport sector has become something of a political hot potato in recent months. A complaint to the European Commission about possible illegal state aid to CT operators from a group of independent bus and coach operators has led to the start of potential infraction proceedings against the UK government.

Tension between commercial operators and the voluntary sector has been simmering for some time and the issue is at last being debated more openly, although the search for a resolution continues.

The recent announcement by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin of a new £25million fund to support the purchase of new minibuses by community transport groups included an explicit recognition of the current row. In launching the fund, McLoughlin said: “Smaller operators and those who help out in rural areas will be favoured in the scheme. Each bidder will need to undertake that the vehicle will be used only for voluntary services and will not be used to compete for bus service contracts.”

The Community Transport Association has broken its period of relative silence on the challenge made to the sector concerning European state aid in its State of the Sector report published last month. The CTA document refers to “unfair and unwarranted attacks on community transport”, from a “small, but very aggressive and vocal, anti-CT lobby”. The protagonists in question are those behind the Bus and Coach Association which was launched in February 2014.

The Bus and Coach Association has responded to the CTA report in kind, dismissing it in a response co-authored by safety organisation BUSK which has a long history of campaigning on the issue of training and regulatory oversight of the voluntary sector, including the use of school teachers to drive minibuses. “A large number of community transport operations are as commercial as the commercial sector,” says the BCA/BUSK response, “bidding for paid contracts and winning them. This is not legal, neither is it safe as they do not have to comply with a high enough standard that the commercial operator is required to.

“Small operators are right to object to the voluntary sector bidding and winning contracts for work that should legally be only for the commercial operator. So yes, they are concerned about community transport taking their work.”

The nub of the issue is the operation under Section 19 and Section 22 permits by community transport groups. The CTA report claims that there are around 500 Section 22 permits for local bus service registrations operated by about 200 different organisations. It points out however that Section 19 permits, which involve carrying members of a local organisation or those it specifically caters for, rather than the general public, account for 83.6 per cent of permit operations by CT groups, while 2.2 per cent operate under a full PCV O licence.

The distinction between ‘voluntary sector’ and commercial is important, since operating under permit rules enables the CT groups to avoid the need to comply with regulations including drivers’ hours, Driver CPC and vehicle checks. BUSK reports that the department for transport was unable to supply it with evidence of the records of monitoring or checks on the voluntary sector.

The Bus and Coach Association was set up by a small group of operators who appear to have been driven partly by frustration that the issue was not being addressed by the industry’s main trade body CPT. The BCA has adopted a very robust approach to the CT sector which may not win it many friends, but its persistence has undoubtedly awakened interest at the European level in the state aid issue.

The government’s guidance document on its new £25million CT fund includes the warning: “We expect bidders to ensure that they are compliant with European rules on State Aid funding.”

European intervention is also possible on the application of Driver CPC requirements and the rules on financial standing and drivers’ hours. In its State of the Sector report, the CTA depicts this as an existential threat: “Put simply, this would mean having to accept an EU definition of ‘commercial’ which means that community transport organisations delivering public sector contracts are engaged in commercial activity and will have to do so under an ‘O’ licence.

“If enacted, this could be a massive blow for all types of operators, not just those delivering public sector contracts using section 19 permits. Some would say a line can be drawn between those operators who would need to comply (those wishing to deliver public sector contracts) and those who could continue to work under the current derogations (everyone else). It is doubtful whether such a line can be drawn.”

The CTA claims that funders might be frightened off providing any further grants to the sector for fear of falling foul of state aid rules, even if such awards might not be in contravention of the rules.

The government appears to be in no mood to see the community transport sector’s work diminished however. The DVSA has issued guidance which states that: “Drivers who hold a category D1 (101) on their licence are exempt from driver CPC when driving a vehicle being used under a section 19 or 22 permit. There is an exemption from driver CPC requirements where the vehicle is being used for the non-commercial carriage of passengers.”

The DVSA points out that while it is the view of DVSA and the Department for Transport that a vehicle used under a section 19 or section 22 permit is being used for the non-commercial carriage of passengers, “the interpretation of the law remains the sole prerogative of the courts”.

In its guidance for bidders for the new minibus fund, the DfT states: “Commercial operators often struggle to run passenger transport services in communities where demand is thin or diffuse. Community transport can play an important role in providing services in these circumstances.”

The question of whether community transport services are restricted to such gap-filling is of course the main bone of contention.

The relationship between the BCA and CPT could at best be described as distant. A BCA member resorted to a Freedom of Information request to get confirmation of a meeting attended by CPT amongst others at the DfT in September 2014. The formal response to the FOI request confirmed that a meeting was attended by CPT, Community Transport Association, Office of the Traffic Commissioner, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, Transport for London, DOE Northern Ireland, Association of Transport Coordinating Officers and DfT officials. An “oral overview of various domestic and European legislation” was given to the attendees by barrister Alan Bates. Conspiracy theorists will be energised by the fact that the DfT claims that no formal minutes were made of the meeting, although it is inconceivable that some form of written record is not buried somewhere within the department.

For its part, CPT prefers to project a more statesmanlike approach to the subject. It is certainly not unaware of the concerns among commercial operators about losing contracts to voluntary groups who may be backed by public funding, and issued a request earlier this year asking its members to advise it of cases where they are “losing business to a community transport operator”. CPT claimed credit for pressuring the DfT to update its tendering advice to local authorities, which now states: “It is potentially distorting competition for the authority to grant aid to a community transport scheme and then to allow, or indeed to expect, the scheme to bid competitively to undertake contract work for the authority using grant-aided resources.”

In a letter to CPT members, president Chris Owens spelt out the trade body’s approach: “As I am sure you appreciate, this is a very difficult policy area to address. No politician wishes to be seen to do something which could be portrayed as having a damaging effect on the community sector no matter what the issue. This therefore is one of those cases where a loud ‘tub thumping’ campaign would not be appropriate and could well make things worse rather than better.”

Owens acknowledged that the problems surrounding Section 19 permits have not gone away and “continue to cause problems to many of our operators – in some cases threatening their very existence”.

CPT says its appeal for information from members follows a case it is pursuing on behalf of a member whose business has been affected by the award of a lottery grant to a community operator. The organisation in question used a “lack of local bus services” to justify a grant for a luxury 16-seater that it uses to compete with genuine PSV operators.

Owens is right to highlight the protected status of the voluntary sector, always something of a sacred cow to politicians, and with good reason. It is not sensible for commercial operators to be seen as attacking the voluntary sector which is often working with some of the most vulnerable members of the community. But it is entirely legitimate for a professional operator to cry foul if they suffer unfair competition for contracts from organisations that receive grant aid which is designed to assist them to carry out their core purpose rather than help them get involved in work that is already covered by commercial businesses. It is also not something which is restricted to transport; many small retailers make similar complaints about charity shops mushrooming in high streets, assisted by exemption from business rates and other taxes.

In addressing the state aid issue so publicly, CTA has acknowledged how seriously it is taking the matter and leads one to conclude that it believes that the sector has been benefiting from state aid in a way that may not satisfy an in-depth investigation by European authorities.

CTA is calling for what it terms a “new settlement” for community transport and is seeking support across the political spectrum for its approach. “We must continue to defend the use of section 19 permits in delivering public sector contracts and build a wider coalition of support for defending community transport in the UK.”

From the commercial operator’s standpoint however the issue is simple. There are two types of organisation providing similar services, yet one has to abide by a raft of rules and regulations designed ultimately to protect the safety of passengers, and the other doesn’t, even though both are carrying fare-paying passengers.

It might be seen as a circle that can’t be squared, but it is also an issue that can no longer be ignored; putting our collective heads in the sand is no longer an option.

www.cta.org.uk

www.busandcoachassociation.org

www.cpt-uk.org

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North Eastern Traffic Commissioner v Wasteney

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Up to 100 city cab drivers hold late-night crisis meeting at Kings Dock over arrival of Delta in Liverpool

Posted by admin on December 2nd, 2014

Source: Liverpool Echo

Up to 100 city taxi drivers held an emergency meeting following the news that Sefton-based cab firm Delta was opening up offices in Liverpool.

The Taxi Alliance, comprising of both hackney and private hire drivers, gathered at Kings Dock late on Sunday night to discuss the bombshell.

For years city firms and cabbies have complained that Delta have been undermining their chances of making a living, being licensed in neighbouring Sefton but getting a huge share of the Liverpool trade. But their anger at Delta, which has 2,000 licensed drivers, appears to be matched by fury with the council, which they believe has kept the knowledge of Delta’s plans secret from them in numerous meetings.

The Taxi Alliance’s leaders have been meeting with council officials precisely to discuss the impact the Bootle-based firm was having on their own livelihoods. Alliance spokesman Jimmy Bradley said there had been no mention of the plans when the taxi forum – attended by representatives of the licensing department and Mayor Joe Anderson’s office – last met at the end of October. He said Delta’s plans – which will include a call centre at Brunswick Dock – must have been in the pipeline for some time, but there is no information at present as to how long the proposals have been known to the council.

Mr Bradley said: “The council will be rubbing their hands (at the income from Delta), but it’s so shocking that we have had four representatives at several meetings and they never once mentioned this when we were discussing Delta. “You don’t just open up a taxi office. This must have been going on for three months.” The last minutes of the Taxi Forum state that Ben Fitzpatrick, who works in Mayor Anderson’s office, had expressed the mayor’s “commitment to the Liverpool taxi trade”.

Mayor Anderson has long been a critic of Delta, and has campaigned on the issue for many years. Today a spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said: “The City Council and the Mayor have been working with the drivers, operators, owners and customers of the licensed Liverpool taxi and private hire trade to get the best possible outcome for all.

“The Mayor has instituted a forum to give the trade a clear voice, working together to resolve issues in the city, remove barriers impacting on business, and support the trade during large scale international events. “The City Council is not able to comment on the specifics of any individual application or licence holder. In general terms, as the local Licensing Authority, the City Council has to act within the law set down by national Government.

“Therefore, the Council is under a legal duty to grant private hire operator licences to applicants who meet the criteria. To refuse an application on any other grounds would leave the Council open to legal proceedings. “All licences granted to private hire operators are made subject to conditions aimed at ensuring satisfactory records are kept of all bookings in order to protect public safety. In addition, by law, all private hire operators licensed by the City Council must only use drivers and vehicles also licensed by the City Council to fulfil their bookings.

“The Mayor is committed to continue working with the Liverpool taxi trade and continues to call on the Government to rethink its Deregulation Bill that will have a wide ranging impact on the trade in the city.”

But Mr Bradley said he believed Mayor Anderson had to become the focus of taxi drivers’ anger now Delta were being allowed to move into the city. He added the meeting last night had seen the launch of the “Taxi For Joe Anderson” campaign, and that the 6,000 licenced drivers in the city would be working together with other pressure groups to get the 5% of electors’ signatures needed to force a recall referendum on Mayor Anderson’s mayoralty.

Quite how the Liverpool Delta office will operate is not yet clear. A source said that it would book in requests for cabs that had come through the firm’s online and mobile phone app while traditional phoned bookings will still be handled and dispatched by the Bootle office.

While city-based private hire drivers are angry at the move, the source said Delta drivers who are registered in Sefton should also be concerned about the move. The source added: “The people who should be up in arms about this are the long standing Sefton-badged Delta drivers who are now going to see their workload decreased.

“The Liverpool office and any Liverpool-badged taxi driver that opts to come and work for Delta will only have access to jobs that are booked through Delta’s mobile phone /internet app … any jobs that are phoned through to Delta on the normal number are only available to Sefton badged-drivers.

“This in effect means that Delta are taking work from their own core base group of Sefton-badged drivers and giving it to a new group of Liverpool-badged drivers. It also means that any Liverpool-badged drivers who choose to move to Delta are working form a much smaller pool of the work available to the company as a whole.”

Delta is one of Europe’s largest taxi firms, with its fleet of drivers taking 10m bookings a year. Its boss, Paul McLaughlin, could not be contacted for comment today, but in December last year, when the Liverpool Taxi Alliance took a vote of no confidence in council licensing chiefs over the amount of city work going to Delta cabs, he said: “As far as we are concerned, the council’s doing a fantastic job, everything the law requires, but it’s the city taxi drivers who want to take the law back 100 years.

“If other firms invested the same in technology and training as we do then they might have the same success.”

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Nissan’s new London Taxi project postponed

Posted by admin on November 23rd, 2014

Source: Auto Express

Nissan has suspended development of its new London black cab, because it won’t meet standards for the planned Ultra-Low Emission Zone

Nissan’s controversial design for a new black cab for London appears to be on hold and will remain so unless the proposed Ultra Low Emission Zone in London is not given the go ahead. The taxi design, which features a petrol engine, can’t meet the tough vehicle emissions standards for central London that will be brought in if the emissions zone is signed off.

The news comes as a blow for plans to replace the popular but ageing current black cab, and it appears that London Mayor Boris Johnson’s own proposal to make all London taxis zero-emissions capable by 2018 is to blame. Nissan’s design, based on its NV200 van-based MPV, is powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to a CVT gearbox and the powertain can’t be adapted meet the proposed emissions standards.

Although the Nissan taxi claims to offer considerably better fuel economy and emissions than the 32mpg and 233g/km of CO2 the current TX4 diesel black cab manages, it seems the firm would have to completely re-engineer the vehicle if the proposed zero-emission zones come into effect.

The proposals, drawn up by London Mayor Boris Johnson, include charging owners of old diesel cars up to £20 every time they drive into the capital. The Mayor also hopes to have 7,000 zero-emissions capable taxis on London streets by 2020.

James Wright, Managing Director of Nissan Motor GB says that the firm has “suspended the project until the regulation of the market has been decided”. The NV200 taxi is already in service in cities such as New York and Barcelona, but a raft of styling and engineering changes were being made for the London version.

The decision to completely postpone the project until the ULEZ is confirmed could be seen as unusual, as Nissan has already developed and launched an electric version of the car, called the e-NV200, which would presumably meet these emissions standards.

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London Taxi Drivers: MPs’ Inaction over Rickshaws Will Cost Lives

Posted by admin on November 5th, 2014

Source: International Business Times

MPs’ inaction over Rickshaws in the capital will cost lives, according to the London Taxi Driver’s Association.

Bob Oddy, deputy general secretary of the trade union, told IBTimes UK that the vehicles, otherwise known as pedicabs, can flip-over and throw passengers out.

“Fortunately, no one has gone under a passing vehicle, but I’m afraid it’s going to happen and when it does a lot of the parliamentarians, who have not acted when they might have acted over the last few years, are going to be looking for a lot of reasons to justify their inaction when someone gets killed,” Oddy said.

The union official’s comments come after the Law Commission recommended giving local authorities the power to ban rickshaws who fail to meet safety standards and advised that the vehicles could be licenced.

The move, if enacted, would bring London in line with other capital cities like Berlin and Amsterdam.

But Oddy said that it was unlikely that the Law Commission’s recommendation would be acted upon until after the 2015 General Election next may and he argued that “primary legislation” from the House of Commons is needed.

“It’s primary legislation that’s required and parliament feels it has more important things to deal with, I guess,” Oddy told IBTimes UK.

“Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the Law Commission’s recommendations will be acted upon because of the coming general election.

“But when they do get around to it, whoever gets elected next year, what’s been recommended is that there’s an opportunity for different areas around the country to licence or not to licence.

“It’s probable that they won’t ban them nation-wide for that reason.”

“You can’t licence a vehicle that’s inherently dangerous.”

The comments come after figures from Transport for London and the Metropolitan Police revealed that there were more than 650 incidents involving rickshaws in 2013.

Friedel Schroder, the director of BugBugs and the chairman of London Pedicab Operators Association, admitted to IBTimes UK that there are some “cowboy” rickshaw drivers on the streets of the capital.

“The cowboy operators will have a bike and run it into the ground, so there’s no regular maintenance or training,” he said.

But Schroder claimed that pedicabs have been one of the safest forms of transportation in the last 15 years in London.

“You have had no fatalities in the last 15 years, compared with 10 a week from motorised vehicles in Central London,” Schroder.

“The detractors will work with a lot of hearsay and, unfortunately, it’s not as libellous as it should be.

“They have the idea that they can stamp something out while it’s still in its birth phase.”

Schroder also claimed that the taxi drivers’ efforts to oppose the rickshaws have “backfired” because the number of pedicabs have grown from hundreds to up to a thousand in London.

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Rochdale minicab firm admits providing white drivers on request

Posted by admin on October 26th, 2014

Source: The Guardian

Car 2000 minicab company, which serves area where Asian grooming gangs have operated, says it is catering to demand

Customers ordering minicabs in the town at the centre of Britain’s biggest grooming scandal are being offered white drivers on request.

Residents in Heywood in the Greater Manchester borough of Rochdale have been offered the service after two local drivers of Pakistani origin were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.

Stephen Campbell, the manager of Car 2000, which took over Eagle Taxis, a firm that employed drivers at the heart of the scandal, said that a consequence of the affair was that many white customers ask for white drivers – or “local” drivers, as they usually describe them.

“We have had quite a lot of customers requesting what they call a ‘local’ driver. A bit insane if you consider that most of the [Asian] lads were born in Rochdale.

“But its a business and we have got a duty to do what the customer asks us to. I don’t think we can discriminate against the customer in the same way. It is a business at the end of the day. We have a large bank loan to pay back,” he said.

If he could, Campbell said, he would persuade people to take any driver. “The Asian drivers are harder working, they do what they are asked and they don’t complain about it. They have a much better work ethic. If the public could actually see these [Asian] people close up and see what they are about, I don’t think they would be asking for white drivers.”

The disclosure comes as MPs in areas where Asian grooming gangs have operated have voiced concern about racial tensions, which have yet to subside some six years after the scandals first emerged.

Heywood was at the centre of the Rochdale scandal after a sex trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom were white. Two drivers from the now defunct local firm of Eagle Taxis were among nine Asian men jailed for their involvement.

Ukip ran a byelection campaign in Heywood and Middleton earlier this month focusing on the issues of child grooming and immigration and came within 617 votes of overturning a near 16,000 Labour majority.

Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, said: “This is extremely worrying and a stark reminder of the impact that grooming scandals have had on northern towns. This will not be a problem exclusive to our borough, I’m sure.

“It must act as a wake-up call to politicians who just pretend tensions like this don’t exist and bury their heads in the sand. There’s a lot of work to do to improve race relations and if we’re going to build stronger communities then we have to tackle these concerns head-on,” he said. ​

Campbell, 34, said his father James bought into the Heywood firm in 2011. A few months later, they realised that Car 2000 was at the centre of a major scandal as it emerged that drivers from Eagle Taxis were embroiled in grooming allegations. Mohammed Amin, 45, of Falinge, a driver for 14 years who was known as “Car Zero”, was convicted of sexual assault and received a five-year jail term.

Abdul Aziz, 41, a married father-of-three from Rochdale who was also a driver, was convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation, received a nine-year sentence. They were two of nine men initially convicted in a complex trial.

“We were dead centre at the centre of that debacle. We bought the business knowing nothing,” said Campbell. “If you had lived through the 18 months that I went through you would understand how difficult it has been,” he said.

Around two thirds of drivers are of Asian origin, but more white drivers work during the day. Campbell said they receive up to 60 calls a week requesting a white driver.

Asked if he was concerned about the possible reaction from MPs and councils who may question the firm’s policy, Campbell said: “They [councils and MPs] can’t tell us what we can do.”

It emerged during the grooming trial in May 2012 that a number of men worked as taxi drivers and would ferry young and vulnerable girls around northern towns for sex with other Asian men.

The gang offered gifts to girls, won their trust and then forced them to have sex. Some victims were driven between Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere to have sex with men for money. Most of the victims came from Heywood, while most of the perpetrators came from Rochdale.

Since the trial, there have been serious racist incidents against drivers including threats with knives and assaults. Campbell said there has been a lack of a response from the police. “The Asian drivers do a great job, given the grief they have had from customers. They can’t say anything back. It is a terrible position to be in,” he said.

Abdul Afiz, 42, a driver at the firm from Rochdale, said that racist abuse happens often but only comes from a minority of customers. “You have to just get on with it,” he said.

But the “white drivers on request” policy does not run contrary to the conditions of the minicab firm’s license and can continue, a spokesman for the council said. Mark Widdup, the director of economy and environment at Rochdale borough council, said: “This is first the council has heard of this company’s policy. However, this appears to be a decision made by the company and there is currently nothing in the conditions of their license which state that they cannot operate such a policy, just as some firms choose to offer customers only female drivers.”

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Government scraps plans to relax taxi licensing rules

Posted by admin on October 17th, 2014

Source: LGA

LGA press release 15 October 2014

Commenting on the Government’s withdrawal of plans to relax taxi licensing rules within the Deregulation Bill, Cllr Ann Lucas OBE, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“We are delighted that after concerted LGA lobbying, the Government has listened to our concerns and withdrawn plans to relax rules about who can drive licensed minicabs. Councils – alongside children’s charities, personal safety organisations and taxi drivers themselves – have long-warned that this unwanted change would increase the public safety risk to people using minicabs.

“When people get into a taxi, they put their trust in the fact that the person driving the car has been vetted and licensed and that it is safe to be in a vehicle with them, especially if they are travelling alone. Anyone getting into a minicab should be assured that the only person allowed to drive the car has had their background checked, and it is right that Government has now agreed to let councils maintain this protection.

“Government should also now delete the two remaining taxi clauses in the Deregulation Bill, which would increase the length of driver licences and enable minicab firms to sub-contract bookings to other firms from different areas, without any requirement to tell the person making a booking.

“Our own opinion polling shows 80 per cent of women would be concerned if they booked a journey with one firm and a different one turned up.

“Councils support comprehensive reform of taxi licensing but on the basis of the whole of the recent Law Commission report and not through this unwise piecemeal approach that could have a negative impact on public safety.”

Notes to editors

The poll found:

Seventy-three per cent of people polled would be very or fairly concerned if they booked a minicab from one firm and a minicab from another firm turned up – including 80 per cent of women.

Eighty-five per cent of those polled said they were fairly or very concerned about the plans – including 91 per cent of women.

1. Telephone Omnibus – Populus Data Solutions
(Minicab survey data (PDF, 5 pages, 61KB)) • A representative telephone survey of 741 English adults aged 18+, living outside of London, was conducted. London residents were excluded since the proposed new taxi licensing rules already apply in London.

• The survey took place 10-12 October 2014.

• 50 per cent of the sample was contacted via landline and 50 per cent via mobile to ensure that the correct proportion of mobile only households is achieved.

• Sample methodology: RDD (Random Digit Dialling).

• Quotas are set on age, gender and region and the data weighted to the known GB profile of age, gender, region, social grade, taken a foreign holiday in the last three years, tenure, number of cars in the household, working status, and mobile only household.

2. The Government has dropped Clause 10 from the Deregulation Bill which would have allowed anyone to drive a licensed minicab when off duty. This follows extensive LGA lobbying supported by the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Victim’s Support, Age UK and the GMB Taxi Union.

3. Further taxi and minicab clauses remaining within the Bill will end annual license renewal for minicab drivers and enable minicab operators to subcontract a booking to another operator, licensed in a different area. The Bill returns to the House of Lords Committee Stage on Tuesday 21 October.

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