Saturday, March 23, 2013

Forced to urinate in street? Westminster toilets contract row continues

The ‘West End Extra’ continues its coverage of the Westminster toilets scandal;

“PUBLIC toilets have been closed across Westminster leading to people urinating in the street while a dispute between the council and a company owned by Tory party donor Lord Ashcroft continues.

The West End Extra understands the council is planning to bring in temporary toilets until a legal row with its private contractor is resolved.

The city council privatised its public toilets last year, contracting Carlisle Cleaning Services with a 10-year deal.
The council said it was “expecting the company to abide by the terms of its lease” but a Carlisle spokesman said the toilets were open “during the agreed hours”.

The gates of four public toilets were locked shut when the West End Extra visited on Monday and Tuesday and park regulars said some have been closed for weeks.

Lydia Manda, who runs a café next to the St John’s Wood Gardens park, said:

“It’s disgusting, it stinks. People are going behind the toilets and there’s the smell of urine there now. There’s a playground just behind, the kids are playing and there’s human urine, it’s unhygienic. People in the park are so angry, but they can’t do anything about it.”

In January last year, the council announced its contract with Carlisle would include “at least 50 per cent of the sites being free for all users” and would “safeguard” public toilets from closure.

Carlisle is part of the Impellam Group owned by the billionaire and former Conservative Party treasurer Lord Ashcroft.

Zbigniew Palgan, who lives in Luxborough Tower overlooking Paddington Street Gardens, where the toilets have also closed, said:

“They need to be open, otherwise people will go in the park. There are many workers, taxi drivers, people who are passing by and many people bring their kids to the park so we’d like to see it reopen.”

A park warden, who did not wish to be named, said he had seen people urinating in the bushes since the toilet closed around three weeks ago.

He added: “They’ve closed down – they’re no more. In Baker Street, you have to pay 50p.”

Ed Argar, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for city management, said:

“Our main priority is to ensure that public loos are kept open across the city. To protect the interest of council taxpayers we expect Carlisle to abide by the terms of their lease.The dispute between the city council and Carlisle regarding the lease of the city’s loos, a lease they signed in 2012, is now in the hands of the council’s lawyers who are working hard to resolve the issue as swiftly as the legal process allows.”

Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour group leader, said:

“We call on Westminster Council to bring these toilets back in to public control urgently so that residents, visitors, shoppers, tourists and cab drivers can get their free public toilets service back.”

The West End Extra found that public toilets were closed at Paddington Street Gardens on Monday at 1pm and Tuesday at 2pm. St John’s Wood Church Gardens was found to be closed on Tuesday at 3pm. James Street and Broadwick Street were also found to be closed at 1pm on Monday. Toilets were reportedly closed at Church Street and Westbourne Grove.

A statement from the company said: “Claims in the press that Carlisle Support Services has been closing public conveniences as a part a dispute with West-minster City Council are completely false. Toilets are open during the agreed opening hours.
“For operational reason, there are times when some locations are closed for short periods. Two other locations are currently closed; one following vandalism, and one by a water leak. Both of these will reopen as soon as remedial work is completed.”

Carlisle did not respond to a request to clarify “the agreed opening hours” and the two locations that are closed for maintenance

Source: West End Extra.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cabbies Cabinet Idea Scrapped.....there's a surprise.

London Taxi Drivers
‘Cabbies Cabinet’
Further to TPH Notice 25/12 this notice provides an update to taxi drivers and
driver associations with the outcome of the engagement held late last year with
taxi drivers regarding the Mayor’s proposed “Cabbies Cabinet”.

In November 2012 Leon Daniels, Managing Director Surface Transport wrote
to every licensed taxi driver outlining the commitments made by the Mayor in
his manifesto including the proposal to set up a “Cabbies Cabinet”.

A total of 215 responses were received (less than 1% of all drivers) to this
letter with many positive comments and constructive ideas as to a possible
constitution and role of the Cabinet. Suggestions as to who should sit on the
Cabinet were varied and mixed with some suggesting that more driver
associations who currently do not meet with the Mayor should be invited while
others suggested that the existing arrangements were sufficient.

All the responses from drivers regarding the Cabbies Cabinet were considered
carefully by the Mayor and TfL. Given the very small response from drivers on
this issue, the Mayor feels that there is not a significant consensus across the
table on the formation of a larger representative body and that the
arrangements already in place are serving the needs of taxi drivers and the taxi
trade as a whole. TfL will therefore continue to meet with representatives from
LTDA, Unite and LCDC on a formal, regular basis and TfL will continue to liaise
and meet with all driver groups, associations and representatives as required.

However TfL will continue to hold regular “Open Forums” for all driver groups,
individual drivers and trade stakeholders providing anyone involved in the taxi
trade the opportunity to meet with TfL to raise and discuss key issues on a
regular basis.

John Mason
22 March 2013 Director Taxi and Private Hire
For previous TPH Notices visit tfl.gov.uk/tph

Free WiFi brought to London Taxis

A free WiFi platform has been launched using Vodafone's machine-to-machine mobile network. Microsoft has sponsored 225 London Taxis with free WiFi as part of a wider roll-out to the public.

Taxi advertising specialist Ubiquitous and technology supplier Track4Services have launched the CabConnect platform via Vodafone's machine-to-machine (M2M) mobile network.

Microsoft is CabConnect’s launch customer, bringing free WiFi to London Taxi passengers from this month via a network of 225 branded cabs. The three-month WiFi sponsorship initiative is part of a wider campaign that aims to showcase the benefits of Microsoft’s business solutions.

The onboard Taxi wireless network will enable passengers to access the Microsoft for Business mobile hub via their smartphones or other mobile devices, as well as the wider web while travelling.

Transport for London approved plans to install free WiFi into Hackney Carriages in December 2012. This is the first time that a Taxi advertising campaign has included branded WiFi with an interactive advertiser hub.

Philippa Snare, chief marketing officer at Microsoft, said, "Offering free WiFi during a Taxi journey means there’s an opportunity for passengers to explore our mobile hub, which is full of information that could be useful to their everyday tasks."

Source: Computer World UK.

Exclusive: Driver Robbed By Men With Shotgun.

Reports have been received of an incident that took place, late on Wednesday night.
A licensed Taxi driver was robbed at gunpoint in the Westbourne Park area.

The driver had picked up two men in the Earle's Court area, who asked him to drive them to Westbourne Park. He was directed to the estate close to the Cow public house. At the drop off point a sawn off shot gun was produced by one of the men and the driver was ordered out of his cab. The second man then searched the drivers compartment and took items including money, phone and cab keys.

The two men then threatened the driver not to follow and made off further into the estate. The Driver flagged down a passing cab and the police were called.
The police have impounded the cab for forensic examination as one of the robbers had been in the front compartment. The driver, after giving a statement was left to make his own way home.

This is all the information we have at the moment. More news as it comes in.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Licence for online alcohol sales supplied direct from mini-cab premises refused.

Westminster Council has refused an application for a licence to sell alcohol from the rear of a mini-cab office in Riding House Street. The Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association and local residents had made objections to the application.

The licensing sub-committee of 14 March heard that the applicant, who did not attend the hearing, wanted a licence to sell alcohol over the internet with the drinks distributed from the premises using cars and scooters but customers would not be allowed to visit the premises. The committee also heard that the mini-cab office was operating without planning permission.

Miss Aroush Amin applied to sell alcohol 24 hours a day and seven days a week at Call for Drinks, 35 Riding House Street. In support of the application she submitted a photograph and drawing of the mini-cab office operated by Pinnacle Cars. However, planning permission for the mini-cab office had been refused by Westminster Council in December 2012. Westminster’s planning website states that an appeal has been lodged against the decision.

Prior to the hearing, the applicant amended the hours for deliveries of alcohol from a 24 hour a day operation to Monday to Saturday (08:00 to 23.00 hours) and Sundays (10:00 to 22:30 hours).
Richard Brown a solicitor from Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau attended the hearing on behalf of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association. Mr Brown asked the licensing sub-committee to refuse the application to prevent public nuisance from delivery vehicles and to protect children from harm as there was no age verification procedure in place to prevent alcohol being bought by people under the age of 18 years.

Westminster Council’s licensing news of 15 March 2013 reported:
The Sub-Committee refused the application, taking into account the significant concerns of Environmental Health, Metropolitan Police and local residents. In particular there were doubts as to whether conditions could be attached to the licence which would address the problems of noise nuisance, particularly in respect of the vehicles being used. It would be difficult to enforce when the cars left the premises. The Applicant had also not set out what procedures would be put in place to verify the age of those consuming the alcohol as it could potentially be delivered to a child under 18 in the event an adult had ordered it from a specific address.

source: http://news.fitzrovia.org.uk/


New Tougher MoT From Today

If you thought you were in for an easy time under the new system of 2 MoTs and a safety check, think again.

Defective warning lights and faulty car seats could see thousands of motorists failing their MoT test when strict new rules come into force tomorrow.

The changes, which will bring Britain into line with the rest of the EU, reflect the increasing sophistication of modern cars.

But, the AA warned, it could lead to motorists facing hefty bills to comply with the new rules.

“If you’ve been happily ignoring a warning light because it’s not part of the MOT, these changes mean your car could now be on the MOT scrap heap or you’ll need to fork out on expensive repairs,” said Andy Smith, the AA’s patrolman of the year.

“While it could have expensive consequences for someone running an old car on a tight budget, these changes are long overdue as airbags, for example, have been widely fitted since the mid-nineties.

“It’s important that these systems remain safe and effective throughout the life of the vehicle.

A typical modern car has 40 or more computers and a level of technical sophistication a world away from that seen in the early 1990s when the MOT test last underwent a major revision. These

changes are important and help bring the MOT test in line with 21st century car technology.”

Other key changes will include testing whether an array of dashboard lights are working properly, including seat belts, brake fluid and headlights.

Tyre pressure monitoring systems, which became compulsory on all new cars from January 2012, will also be checked.

Car seats must be able to move forward and backwards, to ensure that drivers can reach the pedals.

The electric motor fitted to many seats in modern cars will also be checked separately.

Car doors will have to open and close properly. The warning light, which warns that they have not been fully shut, will also be checked.

Other additional items subject to the tougher testing regime include airbags, electronic stability controls, the speedometer and the catalytic converter.

However the testing interval will remain unchanged with the Government resisting EU proposals to delay the first inspection by 12 month to four years after the first registration.

Subsequent inspections will take place every year rather than after 24 months, as takes place in many other parts of the EU.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Drivers Complain About New Licensing System And TPH Overcharging Drivers.

Initially, the new system of Taxi inspections carried out by NSL got the thumbs up from the first few drivers in the opening days of operation. But it didn't take too long before the true picture became clearer and now the cracks are beginning to show.

Examiners who seem unsure of exactly what they should and shouldn't be inspecting, have led to some drivers demanding answers from LTPH. What's the point in having an MoT when, whole aspects of the MoT are again examined by the NSL inspectors. This is also causing delays to other drivers waiting in the system. Reports of unacceptable waiting times of up to 90 minutes, as inspections overrun.

Last week, a driver tweeted that his Taxi received a stop, because the drivers compartment was judged to be not clean enough, to be fit for service.

A second driver phoned to ask why he hadn't received a reminder for relicensing and was told "We don't send out reminders anymore, you just phone up and book your appointment. Most drivers will be completely unaware of this new arrangement and many are not in possession of NSLs booking line number.

Another driver who called to book an appointment for April, was informed he would have to pay the full amount of £154. When he said that the price for an appointed is quoted as £102 from 1st April, he was told "It's still March and your paying now and at this moment, the price is still £154."

This overcharge is unacceptable.
How are they allowed to get away with it? This is like advertising on the side of your Taxi, "Heathrow Airport for £20" and when you get there, telling the customer, "The offer doesn't start till next week!"

Legally a licensing authority or Council, can only charge for the true cost of licensing. It cannot make a profit from license fees or add the cost of enforcement. Enforcement is funded by direct taxation. This was made clear in the recent case between Westminster Council and a well known sex shop group. In our opinion, to charge £154 for the new inspection is unlawful as the true cost is shown to be £102. TfL/LTPH have had plenty of time to set up the running of the new inspection centres and again, It's been a complete mess. So who's to blame?


By the end of March, over 2000 Taxi owners will have been overcharged. This amounts to over £100k and with Private hire also be overcharged, you can see why LTPH is keen to hang on to the money. The Private Hire trade have instigated a full audit and review of LTPH.

As far as we know, only the RMT and the UCG have made representation to demand refunds for their members. The UTG have said nothing publicly. Not only have they said nothing, the agreed to a below inflation fare rise which will see a drop in the living standards of over 20 thousand Taxi drivers.

TfL seem to be unable to recruit the quality of staff required to manage both private hire and London's Licensed Taxi trades. Whoever had the job to implement the services of NSL as their remit, has failed miserably. Just as London's Taxi drivers were sidelined by TfL during the Olympics, again we have been treated with scant disregard.

Article by, Jim Thomas





Monday, March 18, 2013

Manchester Show The Way: London Should Be Next: Long Live The Revolution

Hundreds of Hackney Carriage drivers converged in Manchester City centre today in protest amid claims minicabs are illegally taking work
They staged a go-slow protest as they headed in convoy from Manchester airport to Albert Square ahead of a council licensing committee meeting this morning
The drivers claim minicabs have been illegally picking up passengers on the city’s streets without bookings being made in advance.


Gholam Mustapha, the drivers’ spokesman, called on Manchester council to take action.
He said: “Private hire cars can only accept fares that are pre-booked through their office. When they pick up passengers off the street, they commit offences formally known as illegal plying for hire and touting and it means that the driver’s insurance is invalid.
“We want the council officers to do regular undercover ‘test purchase’ operations to check if private hire drivers are illegally plying for hire. Such operations are regularly undertaken in Birmingham, Liverpool and Stockport.”

Gholam Mustapha’s words to Manchester City Council
Madam Chairman, Councillors, ladies and gentlemen, and colleagues.
My name is Gholam Mustapha, I have been a taxi driver for 35 years, I am the secretary of the Airport Taxi Association but today also have the full support of the trade unions, and taxi associations.

Due to time considerations I have condensed my speech but have compiled folders to read at your leisure. I respectfully request that you do as they contain the full speech and other materials which support my case.

I will speak on two issues, both of great concern to all taxi drivers in Manchester – as demonstrated by the numbers here today, they are the high level of illegal plying for hire or pirating, and allowing Private Hire to falsely advertise themselves as taxis.
These issues have contributed to a significant reduced income for all taxi drivers.

Why should you be concerned with taxi drivers’ earnings?
Academic papers on the subject quote many reasons, I will pick one, less takings lead to longer working hours causing driver fatigue, this is a real risk as tragically demonstrated in the Selby rail crash which caused 10 deaths.


On the first issue, the enforcement of plying for hire is woefully inadequate
17 years ago Rachel Thacker was brutally raped and murdered by a bogus private hire driver, the then Manchester City Council spokesman said that they valued public safety very highly and would leave no stone unturned to ensure that this would never happen again.

Well since the murder of Rachel Thacker, the amount of pirating that goes on has increased considerably it would seem that to simply warning people of the dangers involved in getting into unbooked vehicles and enforcement officers observing in the hope of catching an offender do not discourage this and are time and cost consuming and lead to appeals in Court.

We are told by licensing that PH drivers waiting outside clubs are not necessarily committing an offence; it is their intentions that matter. Why not test those intentions?

A private hire car or an unlicensed car that is sat outside a club and when approached tells the customer that she has to phone “his company on this number first” to book, then immediately says “right I can take you now” is no safer than no booking at all.

Who is to say that the driver works for that particular company at all?
He could be a criminal intent on rape or robbery.
Like Amine Kacem who disguised his car as a private hire car with yellow stickers, parked outside a club on Sackville Street and brutally assaulted and twice raped the woman who got into the car.

There has not been a test purchase operation since the murder of Rachel Thacker, yet a FOI request showed that GMP recorded 109 sexual assaults with a “taxi” connection, Merseyside police recorded only 22. Of the core cities Liverpool has the highest number of prosecutions for plying for hire, due to a monthly test purchase operation, the figures suggest a correlation between an effective enforcement deterrent and the number of sexual crimes reported.

It is common knowledge that when sexual assaults do happen, it is when a woman has got into a car without a booking, most of these attacks are by licensed drivers.

When challenged on pirating by taxi drivers, private hire drivers can resort to violence. Recently a taxi driver was hit with a hammer by a PH driver, he was very lucky not to have been killed
A licensing officer said that when they had been out checking on cars waiting outside city centre bars, all appeared to have a booking on the data head. It didn’t seem to occur that the bookings might be bogus.

When I was on private hire, 32 years ago, the radio operator would often tell the drivers to go and park outside clubs and he would put bogus bookings down for them.

How can I be 100% sure that illegal plying for hire is so rife?
Well we have all done 2 cab jobs with unbooked PH cars.
An individual who is prepared to commit the criminal offence of plying for hire is not a law-abiding citizen and may well be prepared to commit serious crimes if opportunities arise. He is fully aware that there is no record of a booking and is unlikely to be traced especially if the passenger is under the influence of drink or drugs

We request test purchase operations by the licensing unit, these are cost effective use of resources as used by many Councils, Birmingham a comparable city recorded 14 times as many convictions as Manchester, many of these were achieved using the Nottingham vs. Woodings approach meaning that officers did not even have to undertake a journey, they asked only two questions of the driver “are you free?” and how much to..?”

My second point is about the Terms and Conditions for Private Hire Operators
Section 19B states
Advertising other than on private hire vehicles – no notice, sign or advertisement seeking to advertise or promote the business of a private hire operator wherever it is displayed shall consist of or include the words taxi or cab, whether in the singular or plural, or any words or devices which give any indication that the service to which the notice, sign or advertisement relates is that which can only be provided by a licensed hackney carriage……….. Unless the words private hire are also displayed with equal prominence.

The last line seem to have been added to the sentence and changes the whole meaning to suggest that a private hire operator may falsely imply that he is offering the services of a hackney carriage as long as he has the words private hire displayed in equal prominence.
It also means that private hire vehicles are not allowed to call themselves taxi’s but, the operators can say that they provide a “taxi” service. Where is the sense in that?

This is a particular problem at Manchester airport where the operator’s office is strategically placed adjacent to the taxi rank and is emblazoned with the words “TAXI PRIVATE HIRE PAY HERE” in a deliberate ploy to mislead customers, many of them foreign visitors, to believe that they have to pay at this office for the British iconic black cabs they can see and want to hire, the operator of course does not inform them of the true situation in fact he offers no refunds without the customer writing to head office.

Passengers have actually paid Arrow cars and then got into a black cab only to produce the receipt at the end of the journey; this shows that the passengers are confused by the signage. If it is the intention to offer a private hire alternative to a taxi, the definition of which I am about to come to, then why not make that difference absolutely clear .

What is a taxi?
I have a letter from The Department for Transport . Paragraph 4 reads “your subsequent e-mail asked for the legal definition of a “taxi”……“A taxi is a vehicle licensed under Section 37 Of The Town Police Clauses Act 1847….” This is a hackney carriage Act, so “a taxi is a hackney carriage”.

The Miscellaneous Provisions Act defines a private hire vehicle as “a motor vehicle constructed or adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers, other than a hackney carriage”
Substituting the word taxi for hackney carriage it becomes clear that a private hire vehicle is;
“A motor vehicle constructed or adapted to seat fewer than nine passengers, other than a taxi”
Therefore there cannot be a “private hire taxi” or a “taxi private hire”.

Mr. James Button licensing solicitor agrees in this book that taxi is not a generic word as this legal definition of taxi has been consistently used in every Act since the 1980 Road Transport Act.

It is clearly the wish of parliament (and of Manchester City Council) that there be a distinction between hackney carriages and private hire vehicles and it has become customary in statutes, among government departments, and on the council’s own website, to refer to hackney carriages as taxis; this corresponds to the international usage of the word “taxi” to refer to a vehicle that is available for public hire.

In summary the trade requests just two things today; that the licensing unit carry out regular test purchase plying for hire operations and that the words “unless the words private hire are also displayed with equal prominence.” are removed from Section 19b we respectfully ask that you consider these two points as a matter of urgency.

I invite all of you to come with me on a tour to see for yourselves what is actually going on and how the taxi drivers of Manchester are willing to work with the city council to achieve a safer city and I would be happy to report back any changes after 6 months or so.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

New Mode Of Touting and Possible Fake Taxis Operating In North London

it has been alleged that a number of black cab drivers (apparently Licensed Taxis) are using the business cards and services of a minicab firm in North London
This really is a weird one.

1st Report: A couple walking along Camden High Street, were approached by what appeared to be a genuine Taxi. Passengers asks to be taken to Greenwich. The drivers says "I can't do the job myself but phone this number and my friend will. With that he handed the man a card issued by a minicab firm based in Seven Sisters Road, N7. They phone the number on the card and a voice on the line agrees a price of £45. Within minutes, another black cab turns up stating that there had been a mix up with the agreed fare. This had suddenly increased to £60 with £50 to be paid up front. The potential passengers refused and flagged down a passing Taxi.

2nd Report: We have also heard from a member of the public who, along with his friend, approached what appeared to be a genuine Taxi driver outside the Bronze Age Bar in the Kilburn High Road. This time the driver told the couple wait in his Taxi while he arranged for them to be picked up by friend, but this time a minicab turned up. The couple were too frightened to refuse. We have now advised the passengers on how to complain using the TfL website.

The Taxi driver in both these cases, was of a Turkish appearance and speaks English with a strong accent.

It is not known if this driver/drivers, are real licensed Taxi drivers or just part of a growing number of fake Taxi drivers in possession of fake/cloned documents driving cheap 15 year old vehicles. Excellent quality cloned Licenses and IDs have appeared on the black market and are openly being offered to certain drivers by word of mouth. LTPH and the Met know about the forgeries but have no idea just how big the problem is.

The problem of fake Taxi drivers is set to get a lot worse
Large numbers of cheap FX4s and TX1s are about to come onto the private market, in line with the Mayors 15 year Age limit on Taxis. This is a problem that could have been easily dissipated, had the Mayor kept his word and introduced a scrapage scheme for vehicles that reach the end of there service life.
But again, money seems to be more important than the publics safety.