Friday, July 06, 2012

UNBELIEVABLY, JOHN MASON DOSEN'T THINK THE PUBLIC ARE IN DANGER TRAVELING IN UNLICENSED MINICABS

TERRY FLANAGAN / GMB
One of the biggest issues at the moment is touts. Can you explain what you are doing to combat this huge problem?

COLIN CARSWELL / CHIEF INSPECTOR, METROPOLITAN POLICE
We all know that touts manifest themselves in various forms, including members of the industry who step over the line and tout and also those who are barefaced and illegal and work in the industry with no licence. But the law is quite clear, it doesn’t make any difference. If you are operating illegally, we will be after you. but we have just under 60 officers to cover the whole of London 24/7. And I make no excuses at all in saying that we have to prioritise our resources. It is an unfortunate reality.
Everyone would agree our top priority has to be, the prevention of sexual assaults on young women. And that takes a lot of our resources. This is our main priority with regards to how we target touts in London and we are quite open about it. But one of the purposes of me coming here is to also try and listen to you guys. So that we get a better understanding from you of what you perceive the main problems to be. I’m here to make the industry safe for passengers and for you guys, who are trying to earn a living.”

JOHN MASON / TFL PRIVATE HIRE & TAXI DIRECTOR
Whether we like it or not, we do have to prioritise resources and sometimes that does mean that those resources are not always prioritised against those people who are acting illegally, in competition with you guys, who are licensed. These illegal operators and drivers, who are not a risk to the travelling public as such, are in competition against you and are falling outside of the licensing regime. But hopefully, we can work together and have a real partnership. But we must all acknowledge that there is a limit on the amount of resources available.

TERRY FLANAGAN
But as you must be aware, there is a terrible amount of frustration within our membership, with regards to touts?

PETER O’CONNELL / GMB
You (TfL) have in the past year, revoked 422 private hire licences for touting and refused 73 applications for previous applicants. In other words (by omission) are you saying there is no targeting of touts, unless they hold PHV licences?

JOHN MASON
Absolute rubbish. With those officers employed by TfL, their number one remit is operator and driver compliance. Where people are outside of licensing, competing against you, trying to circumvent the licensing process, we don’t have the power to take action. And that’s why the police are out there every night looking for them. Just because it’s not in our newsletter, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

CHIEF INSPECTOR CARSWELL
I don’t have the exact figures to hand but we must have arrested over 1,000 people (in the same timescale as in the newsletter).

PETER O’CONNELL
So let me be clear, you’re interested in arresting touts, whether they are licensed or not?

CHIEF INSPECTOR CARSWELL
Yes

JOHN MASON
I know that sometimes there is a problem that we are victimising the licensed driver. But nothing could be further from the truth.

CHIEF INSPECTOR CARSWELL
We deal with touts as we find them. It doesn’t matter if they are licensed or unlicensed. It’s only after we have arrested them that we find out if they are licensed or not. I can assure you, that when it comes to cab enforcement, we are ruthless. It’s not about per- formance indicators, it’s not about targets. A few weeks ago, we did an operation in Westminster. We arrested 14 touts and two
of them stuck out. One had a previous conviction for sexual assault on a girl under 13. Another had a conviction for false im- prisonment. That is why we do this job and that’s the sort of people we are trying to get off and keep off the streets of London.

MR MASON & MR CARSWELL
WERE ASKED BY ABOUT TOUT
HOTSPOTS AROUND LONDON

Arab clients come to London and they don’t know anything about the private hire regulations. The touts claim dole and housing benefit and are happy to work for less than licensed drivers and operators. We lose work to these people but they are never targeted by the authorities. There is also an ‘official’ undercover illegal cab rank around the corner from Edgware Road, near Marble Arch. We know you have priorities and we understand that, but we would like to see a continuous four week operation to really target the problem.

JOHN MASON
The important point for us is to channel the intelligence into one particular point. It’s important that everything gets logged and recorded properly. We now have a recording tool on our website where everything is collated and that helps us where to target our resources. But I can assure you that your information does not fall into a black hole. The more people that target, say Edgware Road for example, then the more we are aware and can target our resources. But we have to have clear evidence. Colin can’t arrest someone just because you say that so-and-so was touting.

STEVE GARELICK
In north London we have a particular issue with touts at lap-dancing clubs. Some of these people try to tout passengers to places where they are offered sex. And in some cases, they are given date-rape drugs in hotels and robbed. The police should come back week after week because one night is not enough. The suspects escape and come back just a few days later.
There is also a huge problem at Heathrow Airport where drivers with signs target plane customers after they come through arrivals. I had a situation about seven months ago. The last American Airline flight at night had just landed and an American girl was being touted. I said to her; ‘Use one of the licensed taxis outside’. The tout went absolutely bananas and started screaming and shouting and it worries me that these people are getting away with it. I fully understand there are finite resources, but I see the same people touting all the time and nothing every seems to be done.

CHIEF INSPECTOR CARSWELL
“Frustrating though touting is, realistically, it probably won’t ever go away. But we can do our damnedest to police it and do what we can. I’m not here to apologise but I am here to try and get you guys to understand that we are doing as much as we can within our powers, but we accept that we could do more. Now this does- n’t help you, because you are frustrated as hell. Trying to earn a liv- ing and seeing these touts taking your work. You say that if we watch this place or that place, we might see this or we might see that, but we can’t do that for this level of offence. The regulation of the Investigatory Powers Act, which governs how we are al- lowed to watch people and gather information, I can’t do that for touting.
But what I can do and what I would like to do (because I do not know about the sort of touting that you are talking about) I’ve got a small dedicated team with deals with intelligence and I will get one of them to give you a ring. If we can spend some time with you then we can try and gauge what is going on.

FORMER PHV DRIVER MICHAEL SCHOFIELD ASKED MR MASON IF TFL WOULD LOOK AGAIN AT HIS LICENCE REVOCATION, AFTER HE FAILED THE MEDICAL RULES ON EYESIGHT in 2004

JOHN MASON
I know that you feel that our position is unfair, but we are in the process of putting together a final position document on this. And this final position will either be ‘Yes, we are going to change our guidelines’ and we will accept drivers such as yourself or ‘No, we are not going to change our guidelines. And if it comes down to it, that this is not in your favour, then you still have recourse to the courts. But what I would to say is, that since I came into this job, I have tried to have a pragmatic approach to working with the trade on licensing issues. We do look at positions and change them if we think they are wrong. We don’t always get things right, but we do try and I accept that we really do need to reach a con- clusion in your case.

TERRY FLANAGAN WANTED A RESPONSE FROM THE AUTHORITIES OVER CLAIMS THAT POLICE OFFICERS WERE PRESSURISING ETHNIC MINORITY PHV DRIVERS TO ACCEPT CAUTIONS WITHOUT TELLING THEM THAT TFL WOULD THEN REVOKE THEIR LICENCE

TERRY FLANAGAN
I have to say that some of your working practices appear to be unacceptable. I understand your lack of resources and I don’t doubt your integrity but one thing I want to raise is the pressure on drivers, from police officers, to accept a caution when arrested for touting. We get people from the Asian and other ethnic minority communities arrested on the charges of touting. They find themselves in a cell, don’t heed our advice to phone a GMB lawyer, but listen to a police officer instead. Who tells them; ‘We could keep you here for 24 hours and make your life miserable, but if you take this caution, we will let you out of the door in ten minutes’. So, they take the caution and the next thing they know, they get a letter from TfL telling them that their licence has been revoked and that they are now out of a job. This has (allegedly) happened over the years and I am sick of it. This practice has got to be stopped. It is outrageous.

CHIEF INSPECTOR CARSWELL
I’m not convinced that ‘it’ goes on at all. I accept that if they don’t have legal advice then they might not understand certain ramifications of accepting a caution. But that is down to them. I’m a cop, doing a cop’s job. We arrest, we interview and then the decision is made after that, what happens. But I think that where we can agree is; if I found out that one of my staff had behaved like that, they would be for the high jump. It doesn’t happen, not with me it doesn’t. And I mean that with absolute sincerity.

JOHN MASON
And let’s be clear about somerthing. If someone accepts a caution and we do revoke their licence, there is still an appeal process. I have personally intervened in cases where a driver has accepted a caution for touting and he claimed he had been misled by the police. TfL accepted that he wasn’t fully understanding that he would lose his licence and that he wouldn’t have taken the caution if he had known. I intervened, looked at the case, looked at the background and his history and decided in his favour. I don’t want to go to magistrates’ court and I don’t want to spend money on lawyers. I’ve spent enough time and money on lawyers in the last few months!

HELEN CHAPMAN / TAXI & PRIVATE HIRE DEPUTY DIRECTOR
We do make it clear to PHV drivers that if they get a caution or conviction for touting, their licence will be revoked. They are told right at the start of their licence.

Source: Target the Touts, taken from Private Hire and Courier Magazine July 2012