“Be booked, be safe” is the message.
West Midlands Police and Birmingham city council ouncil are keeping Christmas revellers safe during the festive party season by clamping down on rogue and illegal taxi drivers.
As people head to the region’s nightlife hubs between now and New Year, officers are targeting dodgy drivers looking to take advantage of high-spirited partygoers.
The operation focuses on regular drivers falsely posing as cabbies and private hire ‘plyers’ looking to pick up fares at the roadside which is against the law and puts the public at risk.
Passengers accepting lifts from private hire drivers plying for business aren’t insured in the event of being injured in an accident. Only Hackney Carriage vehicles can take on-street fares and, as West Midlands Police Public Protection Sergeant Sarah Little explained, passengers can leave themselves vulnerable at the hands of bogus cabbies.
She said: “The vast majority of taxi drivers operate legally and are earning an honest living but in 2011 and 2012 there were 75 incidents where passengers, usually lone young females, have been sexually assaulted by drivers. Many of these offences are committed by people falsely purporting to be taxi drivers and in cases like this it can be challenging to trace offenders as there’s no audit trail and no booking details or phone numbers to follow up.
“We conduct operations throughout the year targeting rogue operators ramping them up near Christmas but people can protect themselves by either booking private hire cars in advance or only using Hackney Carriages.”
Specially-trained plain-clothes police officers joined council licensing officials and HMRC vehicle inspectors last Friday and Saturday night (December 6th-7th) in popular Birmingham entertainment spots and will be out in force again tonight (December 13th) on the look-out for rogue operators.
Six private hire drivers plying for business in Selly Oak, Moseley and the city centre had their vehicles seized over the two nights after accepting un-booked roadside fares from members of the undercover team. They will answer driving without insurance charges where they can expect to be fined up to £300 and have six points added to their licence; offenders also face being hauled before the council’s Licensing Committee and having their taxi licences revoked.
Cllr Barbara Dring, chair of the Licensing & Public Protection Committee, said: “Birmingham has around 1,300 Hackney Carriage and 4,500 private hire drivers and vehicles. Taxi and private hire safety is a priority for the council’s licensing department: all year round we monitor this type of activity but it’s particularly important at peak times like the festive period.
“Birmingham’s licensed drivers must adhere to the high standards we set for them and their vehicles. If we find that taxi drivers have fallen short of this in any way we will always use the relevant legal steps to protect the public who use their services.”
So far this year the clampdown has seen approaching 900 private hire vehicles checked of which 21 per cent failed on safety grounds and were found not to be roadworthy, whilst 42.4 per cent didn’t complying with taxi regulations.
To reinforce West Midlands Police’s stay safe message a large-screen ‘digi-van’ will tour Birmingham’s busiest nightlife areas tonight (December 13th) urging people to make homeward travel plans in advance. West Midlands Police PC Dave Humpherson, a taxi enforcement officer, said: “We’ve exposed around 50 plyers so far this year, loitering around pubs and clubs late at night hoping to pick up fares. As soon as people set foot in un-booked vehicles and take the journey, the insurance is nullified and there are also some awful examples of people being overcharged. The worst I’ve seen this year is a man being charged £25 for a two mile journey. There are drivers looking to take advantage of people who have perhaps had too much to drink and aren’t as astute as they would normally be.”
Photo (c) West Midlands Police.