Report of a meeting between Members, Taxi Proprietors and Officers held at Knowle, Sidmouth Thursday 29 October 2015
- Steve Hall - Chair, Licensing and Enforcement Committee
- Jim Knight - V Chair L & E Committee
- John Goodwin
- Raymond Borkowski
- George Shorters
- Alan Hill
- Brian Bailey
- Debbie Soan
- Robert Fowler
- Nina Peters
- John Huffer
- Gary Marles
- Alasdair Layland
- John Tippin - Licensing Manager
- Douglas Jackson - Licensing Office
The meeting started at 14:33 and ended at 17:04 hours
Apologies - Kevin Crudge, Adrian Phillips, Karen Luxton, John Lawrence, Rupert Crofts, Charlie Stone and Steve Glover
2. To receive the report of the meeting held 30 October 2014
3. Matters Arising
4. Exmouth taxi and other ranks
Mr Jackson asked the meeting if there were any problems with the ranks in East Devon. Nina Peters replied that there was parking by the public on the rank constantly outside SES in Sidmouth and Exmouth operators reported parking on the rank outside KFC in Exmouth. Mr Shorters reported a sign missing on one of the ranks but was unsure of the location. He was asked to report it to Devon County Council (DCC). Mr Tippin informed the group that the rank at Beer was still operative as a rank until it was turned back to normal parking by DCC.
(At the end of the meeting Councillor Knight told those present that Councillor Hughes who has special responsibility for highways as a Devon Councillor has agreed to ask those responsible at county hall to give more attention to stopping cars parking on taxi ranks).
Mr Jackson to ring DCC parking enforcement in an effort to give these two ranks some attention.
5. New Application Forms
Mr Tippin informed the meeting that there were new application forms for driver applicants to reflect that drivers had the option of a one or three year licence for driving licences, (and five years for private hire operators) with some additional questions on the vehicle application form.
As the counterpart (paper) part of the licence no longer exists there is a box on the front of the application form where the driver's check code must be entered (obtained from the DVLA website). This check code is a link to the driver record and is case sensitive and needs to be copied very carefully as it will not work if copied down wrong causing delay.
There were some additional questions on the forms, asking where the driver and vehicle is going to operate. This was to ensure that vehicles operated mainly in the East Devon area as there had been complaints that hackneys were operating outside the area. The complaint was from Bristol City Council but not necessarily directed at us as there were lots of other vehicles licensed with other authorities apparently working in the Bristol area. The fact that vehicles obtained a licence in East Devon and operated elsewhere was not a correct method of working.
Mr Shorters said the only problem in this area was with Apple Cars who were mainly based in Exeter but had the contract to work out of Exeter airport which was East Devon. Mr Tippin explained that as the airport was private property Exeter licensed cars could legally operate from there. However there were a number of Apple drivers and vehicles working out of the airport which were now licensed with East Devon.
Mr Huffer said that Exeter conditions for hackneys were changing/had changed to make it harder to obtain a licence to work in Exeter.
Mr Tippin to check Exeter licence conditions, to see if they will impact on East Devon hackney and private hire drivers, vehicles and operators.
6. Updates Driving Licences and DBS checks
Mr Jackson gave an update on the new DBS procedure which seemed to be working well. The meeting was reminded that the applicant had to do the DBS on line and then contact the licensing office with the fee and relevant documentation to ensure the application is completed. The checks seemed to be very quick with some coming back in twenty four hours.
It was explained that there was an update service whereby a driver can register with the DBS by paying a £13 annual subscription which lets drivers keep their DBS certificate up to date. That then permits the council to check any person's DBS certificate without the need to complete a new certificate providing they have given their consent. However to make this arrangement there is only a very short window of opportunity as it can only be arranged in the 19 calendar days following issue of the DBS certificate. If anyone wants to avail themselves of this service the procedures are clearly set out on the DBS web site. Although there is a charge it turns out cheaper than doing a new DBS every three years. By joining you can save yourself a lot of time and money.
Mr Tippin said that at a recent court hearing a judge had criticised Durham Council for not checking driver's criminal records more regularly than every three years and instead relying on drivers to self certificate that they have no recent convictions. In view of the judge's comments councils would now have to consider if they should increase the frequency of their DBS Checks. One solution might be to require all licensed drivers to join the update service as part of the application procedure. This would then allow councils, with the driver's permission, to do regular annual checks of licensed driver's criminal records. Mr Tippin emphasised that although drivers would have to pay for the initial DBS Enhanced check and thereafter pay the annual fee to permit update checks of their records, in the long run that would prove cheaper than paying for the three yearly DBS Check.
7. Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs)
Mr Jackson informed the meeting that there is still a need to licence more WAVs. They are thinly spread across the district. DCC use local operators with WAVs for the school runs etc. Applications for this type of vehicle would be welcomed. Mr Huffer stated that there are several groups for example TRIP who get sponsorship. Taxis are expected to compete with volunteers who do not need all the requirements of a taxi licence and the outlay for a WAV was very expensive. Mr Tippin informed the group that it was not possible to charge extra when carrying disabled passengers. Cllr Knight said he would ask DCC if they gave a grant to TRIP. Brian Bailey also stated that many passengers including some disabled passengers don't like WAVs and prefer to ride in ordinary taxis.
8. Video Surveillance in Licensed Vehicles Update
Mr Jackson asked if there was still no need for video surveillance in licensed vehicles. Mr Hill stated that he was now considering fitting all of his fleet with CCTV. The meeting was informed that there were certain legal requirements which needed to be met, for example signs in vehicles and the issue of sound recording.
Mr Marles said it was now becoming quite difficult on the rank at 03:00hrs in the morning.
Mr Tippin said CCTV in taxis was a good idea and he saw no problem with installation as long as the law was complied with.
9. DVSA testing
Mr Hill told the group that he and his drivers were having difficulty arranging taxi driving tests. The company had tried to book a test with all the centres from Plymouth to Weston Super Mare and the first available test was 22 December 2015. Mr Tippin reported that he had made enquiries with other local councils and they had received no similar reports. Mr Tippin informed the meeting we could not go back to the old system where we used local driving instructors to do the test as they seldom ever failed a driver and the DVSA test was specifically designed for testing taxi drivers, This was a professional test of a high standard in use by most councils in England. It was also beneficial as the test had greatly reduced the number of people coming to the committee with points on their licences. Mr Hill asked if there could be a grace period of say three months when a driver could drive pending a test date. Mr Tippin declined that request but he stated that enquiries would continue with the DVSA to try to reduce the test waiting time and he was actively investigating an alternative professional test supplier.
In the meantime Mr Tippin would be glad to receive suggestions on how to improve this situation.
Mr Tippin to make further enquiries into the matter. The DVSA had initially guaranteed that tests would be available within a six week period.
10. Proposed Vehicle Age Change
Mr Tippin stated that the council was considering amending the vehicle age criteria in the taxi licensing policy. Currently the policy was not to licence, for the first time as a taxi vehicles over 4 years old but a suggestion had been made that owing to vehicles' modern construction the age should be increased to 5 years. Mr Tippin explained that he was canvassing opinions prior to formerly consulting on any policy change. The proposal had been brought about by the recent controversy over the council licensing for the first time vehicles over 4 years old contrary to the council's policy not to licence for the first time vehicles over 4 years old the law required that the council had to be prepared to consider exceptions to any policy. That meant that if an application was made to licence an older vehicle the applicant had to be given the opportunity to ask for an exception to be made to the policy. It was then up to the applicant to persuade the council to make an exception and provide the reason/evidence for the sub committee to make that decision. The Council however shouldn't depart from its policy without setting out the reasons for making the exemption which should be published in the sub committee's minutes for the meeting. If the sub committee is not persuaded to make an exception the application would be refused.
Mr Huffer explained the reasons for the original introduction of the policy and indicated that in his opinion the position had not changed. Mr Huffer said the age and engine size of vehicles to be licensed would be challenged and indicated that h was in favour of a review by the council to protect the age policy.
11. Smart Phone Meters
Mr Tippin informed the meeting that the Uber app was now quite widespread and the company had recently started operating in Portsmouth. The service allows passengers to hire a taxi using a mobile phone once they had signed up for the service. The Licensing Manager at Portsmouth had produced a presentation explaining its operation in the city. The app was for private hire only and mainly used in urban areas. There had been a lot of controversy over the app and its legality. A recent court case had now declared it was not a meter and could be used in private hire vehicles.
Mr Tippin explained that electronic meters in PDAs could not replace the normal meter in a licensed hackney carriage. The current legislation required a proper meter set to the local tariff to be fitted in the hackney and sealed. A PDA could be used as an accessory to help plan bookings but could not be used in place of a normal meter.
12. Any Other Business
Mr Marles asked if cars with a smaller engine size would be considered for licensing due to to changes and advances in engine advancement. Mr Tippin explained that the Council's taxi policy was currently under review and it was something that was being considered. Once the draft policy was ready it would be circulated for consultation before it was approved by the Licensing and Enforcement Committee.
13. Date of Next Meeting
The date of the next meeting - Thursday 7 April 2016 commencing at 2.30pm in the Council Chamber, Knowle, Sidmouth.