A taxi driver who was banned from holding a taxi licence in Bath is back working as an Uber driver in the city.
Bath and North East Somerset Council refused to renew Ariel Neamt’s licence in 2013 on the grounds he was not a “fit and proper” person to hold one.
The licensing authority made the decision after Mr Neamt was arrested and received a police caution for large-scale illegal money lending.
But Mr Neamt returned to Bath as an Uber driver earlier this year having gained a licence to operate a private-hire vehicle from London’s licensing authority, Transport for London.
TAXI LEAKS EXTRA BIT : A question to Helen Chapman. What happened to "uber driver have the same enhanced criminal records checks as Taxi drivers???
There is no law preventing Uber drivers licensed in one authority from operating in a different licensing authority area.
B&NES Council’s licensing sub-committee refused to renew Mr Neamt’s combined hackney carriage/private-hire licence based on evidence from the National Illegal Money Lending Team.
Officers had discovered £9,980 stashed at an address and “a vast amount of documentary evidence pointing towards large scale illegal money lending”, minutes from the committee meeting showed.
The National Illegal Money Lending Team concluded Mr Neamt was “lending to fellow drivers and extorting money from them”, according to the minutes.
The licensing committee also heard that police had been in touch “on many occasions” about Mr Neamt’s taxis since he became a licensee in 2007.
Mr Neamt had accrued 15 penalty points on his driving license for operating without an MOT and failing to provide the identity of a driver.
Drivers of his taxi vehicles had also “collided with other road users” without providing any insurance details on a number of occasions.
The licensing committee concluded Mr Neamt had “failed to live up to his responsibilities as a licensee and had put the public at risk in doing so”.
“Members heard nothing to persuade them that a member of their family or a loved one would be safe in a taxi owned or driven by” him, the minutes showed.
Although he was cautioned rather than prosecuted by police because of his “previous good character”, the committee rejected the licence application.
“An extremely dim view has been taken of his illegal money lending operation which had connotations of a loan shark and organised criminal activity calling into disrepute the good name of the taxi trade in Bath and North East Somerset,” they said.
Mr Neamt told the Bath Chronicle he was not a “loan shark” but a taxi operator who had tried to sell his fleet of cars so he could return to Romania after his father was diagnosed with cancer.
He said his drivers had been paying him in instalments and he had not realised he needed a “consumer credit licence” to sell goods in this way.
He could not attend the licensing committee meeting to “fight” for his licence because he was in Romania, he said.
On returning to the UK last year, he gained his private-hire vehicle (PHV) licence in London and signed up with Uber but returned to Bath because he “didn’t like working in London”, he said.
He said it was more difficult and less profitable to work as an Uber driver in London.
A spokesman for TfL said it granted PHV licences following advanced criminal background checks.
A spokeswoman for Uber said: "We have notified Transport for London who licensed the driver and have blocked the driver from using the app while we investigate.
TfL banned Uber from operating in London last month on grounds of "public safety and security implications".Uber has appealed the decision.
Bath MP Wera Hobhouse has called on the Government to re-introduce a law that made it illegal for private-hire drivers to operate in a licensing authority area other than the one they were licensed in.
Ms Hobhouse said: “I was shocked to learn that a driver who had his licence revoked by the B&NES Licensing Authority, for not being a fit and proper person to work as a Hackney/Private Hire driver, is back working here having got an Uber licence from TFL in London.
“I am concerned that the cross-border rule change (by David Cameron’s government) means that Bath is now being swamped by drivers who have been licensed in other towns and cities, and I think we need to get that reversed.”
Source : Bath Cronicle