Saturday, April 29, 2017

Taxi Alliance Spends The Night With Liverpool Echo Who Were Shocked At What They Saw....

We spent a Saturday night in town with the Taxi Alliance

It is a typical Saturday night in Liverpool city centre , the streets are alive with groups of people partying the night away and having a good time. 

Not me though, as I have been invited out by the Taxi Alliance of Liverpool - the city’s association of black or hackney cabs - to see some of the issues they say are facing as they try to ply their trade.

    

Jimmy Bradley is the association’s leader and has been driving a cab for decades, he arranged to pick me up near my home in Aigburth at 11pm to begin our tour. 

 

This private hire car chose to park up in a disabled bay

At the start of the night, Jimmy tells me that black cab drivers are facing numerous difficulties due to the huge influx and subsequent actions of private hire drivers operating in the city centre - particularly at weekends.

The ECHO has previously reported how private hire drivers are flooding into the city with licenses from elsewhere and picking up fares - an issue which has led Mayor Joe Anderson to call for a city region-wide crackdown on the issue and a new universal license for all drivers. 

As we are in Aigburth, Jimmy first takes me down the popular suburban night spot Lark Lane and we get a first glimpse of an issue we will see throughout our trip.

Along a clearly marked taxi rank, which should only be reserved for black cabs, there is a mix of privately owned cars and private hire vehicles.

A private hire driver is parked illegally at a bus stop

Jimmy explained: “As you can see there are plenty of privately owned cars on the rank, but the bigger problem is when its a private hire vehicle.

“If those cars are plying for trade from people coming out of the bars then they are technically uninsured.”

He is right of course, private hire vehicle drivers are only allowed to pick people up who have pre-booked.

If a private hire driver plies for trade on the street, then both the driver and passengers are uninsured in the event of an accident.

Jimmy says there are just 400 taxi rank spaces across the city and with more than 1400 black cabs on the roads it is already a squeeze - so you can see why the Lark Lane scene is frustrating.

City Centre

Next we head towards the city centre and to Seel Street - one of the busiest night spots in Liverpool.

Jimmy informs me that a large swathe of the street actually becomes a black cab rank after 10pm.

I had no idea - and you wouldn’t - because there is not one single space for a hackney to pull into, with privately owned cars and private hire vehicles taking up all of the room.

Jimmy said: “This is what we have to put up with and it is why there are so many black cabs circling round, they have nowhere to stop and this is a rank for our vehicles.”


Private hire drivers parked on the pavement

Jimmy is at pains to tell me that his main issue is the safety implications of private hire vehicles plying for trade with no insurance and if they have come from outside the city, no checks on who they are.

He said: “The problem is that these guys can pull up outside a nightclub and take someone home to Kensington or wherever without anyone checking their background.

“It just seems like anything goes as long as people are being moved out of the city, with no enforcement action being taken.”

Jimmy is not impressed with the efforts of the council in attempting to tackle the issue and throughout the nearly two hours I spent with him I did not see a single officer compared with the scores of offences we witnessed.

But some action is being taken, the council said its nine enforcement officers issued 250 fixed penalty notices for private hires parked on hackney ranks between January and March.

The problem is the sheer volume of private hire cars coming in - it is uncontrollable as things stand.

Plying for trade

A warning sign has not deterred the cars in the background from illegally parking on a black cab rank

I am intrigued about Jimmy’s claims of how many private hire vehicles are breaking the law by plying for random trade off the street instead of waiting for pre-arranged bookings.

We head to the corner of Bold Street and Newington Street - which he says is a ‘private hire hotspot’.

One driver is parked illegally on a yellow line and is looking hopefully out of the window.

I decide to try out Jimmy’s theory and knock on the window and ask how much it would be to take me back to Aigburth.

He tells me it will only be £7-£10, no problem and I am about to hop in before I say I have to ‘check with my mates’.

This is a clear indication of the willingness of private hire drivers to illegally pick up trade at random and it is something we see countless examples of all night.

Direct action

The frustration amongst Liverpool’s black cab fraternity is at breaking point.

Jimmy says things have got to such a point that more and more drivers are taking matters into their own hands to let private hire drivers know they are breaking the law.

And he shows me an example of this when we catch a private hire driver clearly parked up in a taxi rank in Hanover Street.

A quick word from Jimmy and the driver is off - clearly aware he shouldn’t be there - but as Jimmy says, he shouldn’t have to be doing this.

Free-for-all

As you can see from our pictures, we came across countless examples of private hire drivers parked illegally, potentially waiting for trade.

And the black cab ranks are not the worst of it - we saw private hires parked at bus stops, in disabled bays and even just on the pavement.

While you can sympathise with the struggles the council faces in terms of drivers flooding into the city - we really got the impression that the city centre is a free-for-all and of course this poses major risks in terms of the safety of the public.

So what are the council doing?

As we have pointed out, 250 fixed penalty notices in the first three months of the year is no small feat for just nine enforcement officers - but it’s nowhere near enough.

The council also prosecuted 11 private hire drivers in March for a variety of offences including illegally plying for trade.

That is because at the moment drivers can get licensed anywhere and head into the city centre and make a good living.

The council’s chair of licensing, Cllr Christine Banks has thanked the ECHO for raising the private hire issue and has explained what work is being done to deal with it.

She said: “I very much welcome the Echo highlighting this issue and we will use the evidence gathered to identify and take action against those who are breaking the law.

“Most of the 2,163 private hire drivers in our city do obey the law, but we have a specific issue in Liverpool with drivers coming in from neighbouring boroughs to ply for trade illegally because of our vibrant night time economy.

“We already run regular operations and issue fines, warnings and prosecutions to hundreds of drivers every year but could do more if we were able to use some of the taxi licensing fees paid to other areas to boost it.

“That is why the Combined Authority is looking at introducing a city-region wide licence covering all six boroughs so we can target hot spots.

“We also need the public’s help in only using properly licensed taxis or pre-book private hire vehicles.

She added: “They are placing themselves in danger as they are not insured if there is an accident. And if people do find a driver operating illegally, then my message to them is to please make a note of the taxi’s details and report it to us so we can investigate.”

And this is something Liverpool’s Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Richard Kemp - who joined me on our taxi tour agrees with.

He said: “We need a major public information activity. I have seen people tonight getting into cars that were clearly not licensed to take them and therefore uninsured.

“We have got to make people aware of the risks you take if you don’t get into a proper Liverpool taxi.”