Taxi drivers have hit out at new legislation that could cost them their licences for being late or wearing the wrong thing.
In a bid to improve safety and service, West Northamptonshire Council introduced the Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy 2023, which comes into effect from April 1 and includes a penalty points system. Following complaints against drivers from the public, points can be imposed for breaches of the code of conduct, including “failure to comply with the dress code, not offering reasonable assistance with luggage, and turning up late to a booking without proper reason”.
If a driver collects more than 12 penalty points during a rolling 12-month period, their taxi badge may be revoked or suspended with immediate effect. While this may not affect their taxi insurance directly, it would stop them from being able to earn a living and could have an impact on future policies.
But the move has caused a conflict between the council and taxi drivers, who took to the streets in protest, as reported by the Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
Mohamed Dogan, a taxi driver at the protest, told the newspaper he was “extremely worried” about the implications of the new regulations and felt that the points system was the “biggest issue”.
He said: “We have to be careful all the time. I have a family to support – I’ve been doing taxi driving for 18 years and we never had a problem. This policy is created to penalise us.”
As well as the points system, drivers took issue with the new “certificate of good conduct”, which forces them to provide documents from every country they have lived in for more than six months. Many drivers were angered by this demand, which the App Drivers and Couriers Union called “racist” and accused the council of introducing “regressive” regulations, as reported by the BBC.
The new policy has also introduced other changes, which include the requirement for proper signs on vehicles and more training to be undertaken by drivers who, the council says, will be given time to complete. And existing licenced vehicles that do not meet the new standards will also be granted more time under ‘grandfather’ rights until a replacement is purchased.
While taxi and private hire drivers have accused the council of penalising them, licensing committee member Cllr Gareth Eales said the update was aimed at improving safety and standards of service across West Northamptonshire.
He told the meeting that the points system was an “upgrade” from the previous rules. As reported by the Chronicle and Echo, he argued that there is a right to appeal at every step if a complaint is lodged.
And Cllr Eales explained that this system was fairer to drivers as under the old Northampton Borough Council policy, “the first time there would be an opportunity for the warning to be challenged would be when they’re in front of a sub-committee with their license under review”.
In its consultation and explanation, the council emphasised that the new systems were seen as an “open and transparent way” of dealing with licensing issues and that ultimately each case would be dealt with “on its own merit”.
It insisted that the policy was not “designed or intended to be punitive” and the main aim is to “improve safety” and provide the “best possible service to the public”.
Other councils have recently updated their licensing policies to focus on safety and levels of service, especially for the vulnerable. Hopefully the new system in West Northamptonshire will do the same and drivers won’t feel they are being unjustly persecuted.
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