Sunday, April 30, 2017
Sealed with a hug from his ‘wife in a million’, Alexander Blackman finally savoured freedom yesterday.
The Royal Marine was reunited with Claire after 1,277 days behind bars and said: ‘She has saved me. Her determination to keep on fighting for me has been nothing short of incredible.’
Released from prison in the early hours of yesterday, he described waking up as a free man to the sound of ‘glorious birdsong’.
It was the moment the couple have dreamed of since the commando was jailed for life in December 2013 for shooting a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.
Top brass and the Establishment left him to rot in prison but Sergeant Blackman – known as Marine A at his military trial – was saved by a campaign for justice spearheaded by his loyal wife.
Daily Mail readers raised £810,000 to fund a fresh legal challenge and last month he won a stunning victory at the Appeal Court which dramatically slashed his sentence.
Now released on licence from HMP Erlestoke Prison in Wiltshire – half way through his revised jail term – Sergeant Blackman, 42, said: ‘I will be eternally grateful to Claire and I cannot put into words how wonderful she is.
‘She is a wife in a million. Other inmates often said how lucky I was to have her fighting so hard for me.
'I don’t think there is anybody who has witnessed the effort she has gone to who will doubt how she feels about me, and that’s beyond words really. You just can’t imagine anyone cares for you that much.
‘I also want to thank the Daily Mail’s readers with all my heart. Without their amazing support, I would still be behind bars.’
Sgt Blackman added: ‘Being out of prison is an immense feeling, but I am very conscious that my sentence is not complete. I have been released on licence, and there are certain conditions which I must – and I will – respect.
‘But it is the little things I can enjoy. Suddenly I can sleep when I want, eat when I want, go for a walk... this freedom of choice over basic things is going to take some getting used to.’
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The hits keep coming for Uber — and not the good kind.
The embattled ride-share company, already buffeted by a barrage of lawsuits and public-relations crises, is being sued again. This time, a driver is alleging that the Silicon Valley behemoth’s fare structure deliberately shortchanges drivers.
In the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, attorneys for the plaintiff say they seek to have the case designated as a class-action on behalf of all Uber drivers in California.
At the center of the lawsuit is Uber’s use of upfront pricing. Introduced in major markets last year, the feature provides passengers with the cost of their ride before they summon a car. Uber pitched the fare model as a way to increase transparency and address anger over unexpected rate surges when demand for rides spiked.
“There’s no complicated math and no surprises: Passengers can just sit back and enjoy the ride,” the company said in a press statement.
However, according to the lawsuit, Uber also took the change as an opportunity to pull off “an active, extensive, methodical scheme … to defraud drivers.”
The lawsuit alleges that Uber essentially calculates two fares for each ride — one charged to the passenger and a cheaper one used to determine the driver’s pay. Uber, according to the suit, then can pocket the difference. (Sound familiar?)
The lawsuit claims that the discrepancy between the two prices violates the terms of an agreement Uber drivers must sign, specifying that they will receive the amount charged to passengers minus a percentage the company keeps.
In California, Uber generally takes 25%.
To bolster their claims, attorneys Bobby Saadian and Daniel Miller — representing driver Sophano Van — allowed The Times to review photos of receipts that drivers and passengers received from three rides.
In one, a rider paid $54.80 to be brought from the Fairfax district in Los Angeles to LAX. But Uber used a fare of $43.55 when calculating the amount it forwarded to the driver, which came to $32.89.
A spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment on the lawsuit. She acknowledged that the calculations used to determine what passengers are charged and what drivers are paid can differ.
"Riders agree to a fare upfront, while drivers earn based on the actual length of the journey plus applicable surge and promotions,” the spokeswoman wrote in a statement to The Times. “There are times when the two differ, and as we’ve noted before, the rider fare is often lower than what a driver earns for the same trip.”
Uber’s software algorithms calculate the fare charged to riders based primarily on the distance of the trip and an estimated time it will take, as well as factors such as how many drivers are in the area at the time, the company said when it unveiled upfront pricing.
But Uber's programs can overestimate or underestimate the distance or duration of a ride, leading to passenger fares that are out of line with the reality, according to the company.
The lawsuit is only the latest legal trouble for the company.
For years, Uber has been fighting class-action lawsuits that seek to redefine the employment status of drivers in California and elsewhere from independent contractors to full-fledged employees. A ruling against the company would upend a crucial underpinning of its business model, as it would have to pay drivers benefits and reimburse them for gas and other expenses.
A $100-million settlement proposed by the company was rejected last year by a federal judge in San Francisco as insufficient.
And Uber has been in damage-control mode over a sexual harassment allegation from a former employee that led users to drop the service’s app from their phones. Google also has sued over alleged theft of trade secrets, and Uber’s senior vice president of engineering recently resigned for not disclosing another sexual harassment accusation.
Saturday, April 29, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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?
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.”
Over the last few days, drivers have been receiving emails and letters from their MP, in reply to the pointcab.co.uk system, and we've noticed a worrying trend from the Conservative MPs.
It seems the conservative MPs are under the impression that all Boris's recommendations to make the private hire industry safer, have been implemented.
It also appears most of the Tory replies contain similar breakdown of supposed events.
This one below comes from Helen Grant MP:
. A formal English language requirement for drivers
. Private hire operators to ensure that customers can speak to someone in the event of a problem with their journey
. Even more robust 'hire and reward' insurance requirements and improved record keeping and real-time provision of driver and vehicle information to TfL to make enforcement even easier and more effective.
And yet while he was Justice Secretary, Mr Grayling led Government plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.
But the best emails I saw this week was the reply to James Berry MP.
Friday, April 28, 2017
The government is proposing that newly purchased vehicles have their first MOT when they are four years old (rather than three, as per the current requirement).
The government argues that extending the wait for MOTs could save an average of £45 over the course of a vehicle’s lifetime. That works out at a saving of £100 million per year for the UK’s motorists. Of course, the counter-argument is that it will cost the car servicing industry to lose the same amount.
In order to put the proposal into action, a public consultation will occur. If successful, it could lead to the new measures being in place as early as 2018.
It seems, however, that the majority of motorists oppose the proposal. YouGov has conducted a survey on the matter, which indicates that 83% of drivers would rather have peace of mind over the safety of their vehicle than an extra £45. 76% of a similar data set back calls from the automotive industry to keep the law as it stands (currently a three-year wait between the purchase of a new vehicle and its first MOT).
What risk does this bring to road safety?
During an MOT, a mechanic rigorously tests the vehicle against legal requirements. This includes examining lights, seatbelts, tyres, brakes and emission levels. Motorists can receive fines of up £1,000 for driving a car without a valid MOT.
Interestingly, many in the car industry actually believe that the current MOT checks are not rigorous enough. They would prefer reform in this area, rather than a new policy that they see as potentially harming the safety of motorists even more.
In reality, most four year old cars should pass an MOT with flying colours. Indeed, the Department for Transport points out that improvements in manufacturing standards mean that new vehicles stay roadworthy for much longer nowadays.
However, as AA President Edmund King said, the new proposal could see an increase in the number of cars on the road with “faulty tyres and lights,” which an MOT would address and which enhanced manufacturing standards have not necessarily impacted. King did also acknowledge, however, that the new measures would bring “cost and time savings for drivers.”
What do you think about the government’s new proposal? Would you take the £45 saving over the full peace of mind regarding vehicle safety? Let us know in the comments section below
As McDonald's Make Uber Announcement : Taxi Drivers And Their Families Announce Boycott Of McDonalds.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Hundreds of taxi and bus drivers protested outside Romania's government offices on Wednesday to demand that Uber and other online ride service be outlawed.
Drivers parked some 200 taxis and buses outside the office buildings in the capital, disrupting transport in the already crowded city, and blew vuvuzela horns.
The protest, which had been planned to last all day, ended early after the government agreed to pass an ordinance within days better regulating taxi services.
Minister for Public Consultation and Social Dialogue Gabriel Petrea met with some of the protesters and the two sides signed a protocol where the government pledged to pass the ordinance within 30 days.
There were no details immediately available how Uber would be affected.
The Confederation of Licensed Transport Operators says it wants "online technology platforms that provide unauthorized taxi services to be outlawed," to protect licensed carriers.
Uber says it is a ride-sharing service with transparent costs and its drivers pay taxes. It says some 250,000 clients have used its services in the Romanian capital and other major cities in the past two years.
Taxi drivers blow into vuvuzelas during a protest outside the government headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. Some 200 taxis and buses have parked outside the government offices in Romania's capital, Bucharest, demanding that Uber and other online taxi services be outlawed in the country.
Source : Daily Mail