23 May Zoom.Taxi: Letter to the Editor
Andrew Norfolk and Peter Yeung have highlighted a problem in this country which puts vulnerable people at risk unnecessarily.
In the private hire industry we have an opportunity to act as eyes where others cannot and that is why there are two changes to current legislation which, whilst cannot stop such criminal behaviour from happening, can at least help to prevent it.
The first is the requirement for all authorities to make child sexual abuse awareness training mandatory, which currently only 58%, or 170 out of 293 licensing authorities do, according to the official statistics for England.
In both the media reports and official investigations, what has become apparent is the use of private hire vehicles to transport victims before and after they are abused. Of course, sometimes drivers are complicit or involved since no industry is entirely free of bad apples and that is why we have been calling for all authorities to require an enhanced disclosure and barring service check, which currently only 23%, or 67 out of 293 authorities, require.
In November of last year one minicab driver Satbir Arora saved a girl he was due to drop of at Gloucester station from a predatory paedophile. The girl, who was in her school uniform, had no one meet her at the station and the situation concerned Mr Arora who tried to ascertain whether the girl’s parents knew where she was and calling the man she was due to be meeting, recording the calls.
The council which authorised his license, Cherwell District Council, provided safeguarding training in December 2016.
With the deregulation of the private hire industry, there has been an alarming trend in passenger safety. We have seen an influx of untrained drivers with insufficient background checks and coupled with this ‘race to the bottom’ by licensing authorities who are competing for the money from drivers and companies, this combines to create a situation where unscrupulous people could slip through the net.
In Wolverhampton there was an increase of 383% in the number of PHV licenses issued. Following the deregulation of the industry, drivers say that Wolverhampton City Council has been granting licenses to drivers who come from all over the country to exploit the easier tests. In England outside London, the total number of driver licenses increased by only 10.7% with the total number of drivers now registered in Wolverhampton standing at 3772, according to the council’s figures.
Wolverhampton charges £185 a year for a PHV license, meaning its more relaxed rules can generate income for the council. Drivers are concerned that the council was handing out badges too easily and without stringent tests which used to be a hallmark for the industry.
The industry has always taken passenger safety very seriously and many licensing authorities now include mandatory training on child sexual exploitation or unaccompanied packages. You cannot assess if someone is competent at driving or their awareness of issues like CSE and terrorism from an online form.
Because drivers are in a position of power when someone gets in their vehicle there should be that extra level of safety for passengers. We should move to a model like the United States where minicab companies are required to use ‘Live Scan’, a fingerprint-based background check of drivers.
Chief Operating Officer, Zoom.taxi