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PostPosted: Sun Jun 22, 2014 5:38 pm 
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Taxi and minicab law changes could threaten passenger safety, warns Denton MP

Denton's MP has called on the Government to abandon proposed changes to taxi and minicab laws which he says could threaten passenger safety.

The proposed reforms will enable people without a minicab license to drive one when it is ‘off duty’, end annual license checks and allow minicab operators to subcontract bookings to firms in other areas.

At presents taxis and minicabs can only be legally driven by someone licensed through the council – who has undergone rigorous checks – but now under the new law, drivers would be able to loan their cars to anyone they choose.

There has been widespread criticism from MPs, councillors, campaigners, unions and taxi drivers themselves about the Governments last minute decision to insert these reforms into the Deregulation Bill over fears that it will increase the number of ‘bogus’ taxi drivers on our streets.

Denton and Reddish MP, Andrew Gwynne, has slammed the proposed changes because of concerns they could put passengers at risk.

“At present, minicabs in my constituency are driven by people who have undergone criminal, medical and background checks with our councils in Tameside and Stockport but the Government is threatening to remove these safeguards and let anyone drive an off duty minicab,” he said.

“I know many people in Denton and Reddish, 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 our roads – I’m calling on the Government to abandon these proposals and put passenger safety first.”

Councillor John Longsden, chairman of Manchester City Council's licensing and appeals committee, said it has always been a major priority for them to keep taxi passengers safe.

He says this is why the council has put in place very clear rules to make sure customers can easily identify private hire vehicles, but these new reforms would jeopardise their efforts.

"The City Council and members of the taxi industry are very concerned about clauses within the Deregulation Bill which would undo a lot of this work, make it more difficult for customers to know they are getting into a taxi they can trust, and make it harder for councils to regulate the industry," he told MM.

“We believe these clauses will potentially make it easier for bogus taxi drivers to operate and reduce the opportunity for effective enforcement.

“We're urging the government to rethink these proposals, instead of rushing through without any effective consultation."

Chair of Stockport Council’s Licensing, Environment & Safety Committee, Cllr Chris Gordon also has concerns, but underlined that this was his personal view and not the view of the Liberal Democrats or Stockport Council.

He said: “Although the vast majority of licence holders are honest, hardworking individuals, these changes will indeed put members of the general public, and especially women and vulnerable people at risk and will vastly increase the level of monitoring and enforcement needed by our officers.”

Eddie Cooke, of Stockport’s Private Hire Association, told MM the proposed reforms have been a ‘complete waste of tax payer’s money’ and are a ‘recipe for disaster’.

“Would you want your daughter to be taken home in one these potentially bogus cabs?” he asked.

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which has campaigned for safer taxis since the early 90s, has raised concerns that enabling anyone to drive a licensed minicab will provide “greater opportunity for those intent on preying on women.”

There have been a number of high profile cases involving taxi drivers committing sexual assaults, but it is believed many go unreported.

Last year, the number of sex crimes involving taxis increased at such a rapid rate that a judge issued a warning that no woman can expect to be safe while travelling in a cab.

However, these assaults are not limited to men, in February last year, cab driver Elhadi Sakhri was jailed for almost eight years after admitting two counts of rape against men he picked up in Manchester’s Gay Village.

Campaigners fear that with these new reforms, the number of cases could skyrocket, as potentially predatory individuals would be able to masquerade as legitimate drivers.

The reforms are part of the Governments Deregulation Bill, which is to be voted on by MPs tomorrow.

source: ... -denton-mp

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