Monday, September 26, 2016

Deregulation by stealth : Nearly half of Derby's private hire drivers are registered elsewhere

How far has your private hire driver gone to get their licence?

Shocking statistics reveal almost half of the 2,800 private hire taxi drivers operating in Derby have not been cleared to work by Derby City Council.

Figures obtained from other authorities show more than 1,300 cabbies have gained licences elsewhere, meaning they have not passed Derby City Council's knowledge test. The council is powerless to check drivers or vehicles in the area if they have qualified with other authorities.

The Derby Telegraph revealed last week that 254 licensed drivers had travelled as far as Rossendale in Lancashire, which has no such test, to gain their qualification but further investigation showed this was just part of the problem.

Gedling Borough Council, in Nottinghamshire, showed a total of 765 drivers with a Derby home address had obtained licences from the authority.

About 1,500 private hire drivers in the city have taken and passed the Derby test.

Derby councillor Baggy Shanker, who responsible for taxi licensing in Derby, said this was "worrying". He said: "It gives us a lack of control to assess these guys who are licensed elsewhere. We can't, by law, stop and inspect them. We simply do not know who is getting a licence to work in Derby."

A loophole in the law allows drivers with a hackney carriage licence, who can pick up fares on the street, to operate as private hire drivers anywhere in the country. Private hire drivers are only permitted to pick up passenger who have made a prior booking.

Drivers have registered as far away as Rossendale in Lancashire.

The Derby Telegraph asked a number of councils how many licences they had handed out since the start of 2013 to drivers from Derby.

Gedling said a total of 765 had been issued since 2013 - 154 were handed out in 2013, 323 in 2014, 171 in 2015 and 117 so far in 2016.

A Gedling council spokesman said: "In May 2014, the council introduced the knowledge test as part of the fit and proper test, with the aim of improving and driving up the standards of the drivers driving Gedling licensed vehicles. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests the introduction of the knowledge test may have reduced the number of hackney carriage licences issued to people outside the Nottingham area."

The spokesman said the Gedling knowledge quiz included 25 questions on directions and local landmarks, five on conditions of licences and legislation, five on mental arithmetic and five based on knowledge of the Highway Code. Applicants must answer 75% of the questions correctly to pass.

Erewash Borough Council revealed it had issued 299 licences to Derby drivers in that time – 68 of those in 2013, 72 in 2014, 86 in 2015 and 73 so far this year. A spokeswoman for the authority said: "Local knowledge was removed from the knowledge test in 2007/08 when it was considered an unnecessary requirement with the increased use of sat navs. However, with the increase in inquiries from persons living outside the borough and those having plans not to work in Erewash, the council reintroduced local knowledge and also disability and safeguarding elements to the existing knowledge test in June 2016."

Erewash said its knowledge test addressed hackney carriage and private hire vehicle laws, disability and safeguarding issues, area knowledge and the Highway Code.

Mark Keenan, of Western Cars, which only uses drivers with Derby City Council badges.

East Staffordshire Borough Council said it currently had five people licensed with a Derby address and Derbyshire Dales District Council said it had four.

Mr Shanker said the law needed to be changed nationally to put a stop to the problem. He said: "If you are a Derby driver and a Derby resident then you should qualify in Derby. I think you should be licensed by the local authority in the area you are working in, it's as simple as that."

Mark Keenan, managing director of Derby-based taxi firm Western Cars, said the numbers were "remarkable". He said: "It makes me wonder why these drivers are going there, what have they got to hide? Is there something in their personal or driving records that would prevent them from passing in Derby or can they not pass the Derby test?"

Mr Keenan said his policy was to only hire drivers with Derby City Council badges.

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