Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) has prepared an update on behalf of the Taxi Licensing Team which is attached for the Committee’s information.
Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) referred to the Taxi Licensing update that was circulated with the Agenda and highlighted the following:
The Chairman confirmed that the Committee would be happy to support Officers with hearings to review licences if required.
The Committee asked the following questions:
Q If a driver had reached 12 penalty points and a review of the licence is carried out – is there a point when the licence would be suspended or revoked?
A All cases are assessed on their own merit. Taxi Licensing don’t have the burden of proof that criminal cases have. For example, if there a number of allegations of improper behaviour we don’t have to prove it and it is likely we would revoke the licence as our overriding objection would be the safety to the public. However the team also exercise common sense and would only take action to suspend or revoke in the cases of serious no-compliance or where a driver has demonstrated no regard for the Council’s guidelines or public safety,
Q You have talked previously about a grading system for taxis (like scores on the doors for food venues) – is this still an aspiration for the service?
A Yes, although this has not been taken forward because of Covid it will be looked at in the future. There is a qualification that drivers can undertake – the implementation of this could be looked at.
Q There was a big spike in the numbers of licences that were suspended in April 2021 – what was that in relation to?
A It was mostly vehicles not having road tax or a valid MOT. Due to the pandemic drivers advised the vehicles were not being used, however the Council cannot verify this and the vehicles could be continuing to work. This is why the Council requires a vehicle to have a valid MOT at all times or be SORNd. If a vehicle did not have a valid MOT the plates would have to be returned to the Council.
Q Your report provides data plenty of data on supply, but the demand data is mostly hearsay. We don’t know if there is a problem between supply and demand, all we can base it on is hearsay – have you thought of ways you can improve demand data, are there other indications that you follow?
A We have considered demand, but it is a difficult question to gauge. We have heard from the public that they think taxis are too expensive and we can look at ways of how we can survey the users. Face to face consultation on the rank doesn’t work – we will have to be creative about how we obtain the information. We are concerned about the falling numbers of drivers, but any market is governed by supply and demand. If the work was there, we believe we would see more applications. There are barriers and the industry have been up against it, but as we move out of this period, we will look at ways of driving new initiatives forward.
Q Could you confirm that you won’t ease off on the reviewing of licences possibly leading to suspension or revocation because of the driver’s shortages?
A We carefully measure any complaints against drivers and look at where there are potential issues with safeguarding or general non compliance. Drivers are in a position of trust and can be responsible for getting people to and from work and home late at night etc All drivers have to carry out safeguarding training and this is refreshed every three years.
Q Has the Council ever considered setting up their own taxi business with a fleet of green cars – this could take the burden away from taxi providers – could that be practicable?
A We would need to look at legislation to see if we were able to do that with capital funding. We could look into what we can do and will continue to work within the Fleet Strategy to make sure that all public transport is as green as possible to protect the environment.
Q I am concerned that you do not have to have evidence of wrong-doing to enable you to revoke a licence and note that this can be appealed at the Magistrates Court – do you have any statistics on appeals?
A Officers would not take the decision to revoke lightly, this would be in cases of repeated non-compliance. We would build a case, keeping details of any complaint and the compliance history and if a driver was continually not complying, we would first invite them to interview to try to work with them as obviously sometimes there are mitigating circumstances. The Officer had only been to a Magistrates appeal twice in 2.5 years and in both cases the Court had backed the Council’s decision. Officers realise that it does impact on a person’s livelihood so they would do all they could to ensure compliance.
Q I am still concerned that it does sound a bit extreme to suspend or revoke a licence with no evidence and just an accusation.
A There have been two incidences of suspension/revocation without clear evidence and for one of them the driver accepted the action taken and the other we are currently waiting a court appeal date. The team’s overriding objective is to keep public safe and very few complaints of a serious nature are received. If for example, complaints are received from 4/5 different people against a certain driver and of a serious nature, we have to err on side of caution and protect both the public and the Council’s reputation. Government advice is clear - if we are in doubt, we don’t issue the licence.
Q Is the Council liable for costs of the appeal is allowed?
A Officers would only ever make decisions in the best interests of the public and in view of this I have not witnessed a case where costs have been claimed against us. The Court could ask us to review our policies if they felt it would improve our decisions. In the future there may be more involvement by the Licensing Committee with these types of decisions.
Q In relation to the night-time economy, the trend seems to be less renewals of licences because of Covid, although the Clubs are now getting busier – If there is a gap between demand/supply is there a risk that these journeys could be carried out by non-licenced drivers and putting the public at risk and what could be done about that?
A Whilst there is a risk of unlicenced drivers – Officers do carry out night-time enforcement, especially in Salisbury but obviously there are limited Officer resources and they would not be about to capture all incidents. We will consider looking at ways to encourage more drivers into the industry. There is an element of self-policing as we are sure that existing drivers would be quick to tell us if there was a problem with unlicenced drivers and we are confident that we would be able to follow up any complaints and concerns of that nature.
Q If someone is interested in becoming a driver – what is the process and how long would it take?
A The process can typically take around six weeks – the real hold up can be the DBS check which is beyond our control and there can be a wait for this to be determined. We also carry out checks to identify applicants, a right to work check on all applicants as well as medical checks if appropriate. Applicants have to complete a knowledge and guidance test, a geographical area test, they are given guidelines around assistance they may be asked to provide to passengers including assistance dogs. All drivers have to undertake Safeguarding training. For licence renewals there is an online application form, a meeting is set up for them to attend an office and bring in their relevant documents and time attending in the office is minimised – such an appointment can usually be booked for the following week.
The Vice Chair highlighted that as a Council we know that we are struggling with demand for drivers and we cannot see that getting easier with more houses being built further out and with no safe route to school. She suggested that as a Council we should take a serious look into how we promote the private driver side of things as being a career of choice, that it can be a good way of earning income and encourage our residents to sign up to that area of employment. With the opening up of the late-night economy who are spilling out different times they could put together a demand requirement – and point them to where the work is. She suggested that a working group of the Committee be set up to look to address the issues around taxis.
A Committee member felt there was more work that could be done on data collection, particularly in relation to supply and demand and he felt that it would be good to give further consideration on the Council setting up their own taxi fleet and make it easier for electric vehicles to be used – he suggested that a working group could also consider those issues.
There were two abstentions to this vote.
Admin note – Councillors Allison and Steve Bucknell and Daniel Cave expressed a wish to join the Working Group – the Clerk agreed to open out the membership from the substitute members of the Licensing Committee also following the meeting.