Fiona Goldsmith – Taxi Licencing
At our May 2019 open meeting, Fiona Goldsmith from Calderdale Council’s Licencing Department, gave a presentation centred on the licencing of taxis and private hire vehicles and the training of drivers. Our members had asked us for an opportunity to hear from and question someone about the provision of taxis and private hire cars in Calderdale and the skills of their drivers when dealing with disabled passengers.
Fiona Goldsmith is Calderdale’s principle licencing enforcement manager and is part of a small team of six people with a vast array of responsibilities and licencing powers. Their remit includes licencing the sale of alcohol, hot food and drink, entertainment and gambling venues, street trading, charitable collections and animals.
However, the principle subject matter of Fiona’s presentation was taxis and private hire vehicles. Many disabled people depend on these essential travel providers. The membership of Disability Partnership Calderdale had asked the trustees of the organisation to invite a representative from Calderdale Council’s licencing department along to an open meeting to discuss the service they were receiving from drivers and concerns they had with the service.
Fiona began by explaining the difference between taxis and private hire services. In Calderdale, Taxis, which are categorised as Hackney Carriages by the licencing authorities, are always uniformly white, have taxi sign on top, a taxi plate at the rear and a taxi sticker on both front doors. They are the vehicles you often see lined up at taxi ranks outside stations and in town centre taxi ranks. All are fully wheelchair accessible. As well as making themselves available at “taxi ranks”, taxis can also be flagged down as they pass on the road.
In contrast, Private hire vehicles can be any colour other than white, to differentiate them from taxis. Unlike taxis, they cannot be flagged down in the street. In all cases, they have to be pre-booked – any other form of hire scenario invalidates their insurance. Although some private hire vehicles are wheelchair accessible, the majority are not.
Fiona acknowledged that passengers do occasionally have issues with both taxis and private hire vehicles. She explained that, as the licencing authority, Calderdale Council has the power to revoke a driver’s licence, but that she and her team are totally reliant on members of the public reporting issues to them. Without public feedback on the service, especially in cases where the service provided has been unsatisfactory, the Council have little chance of challenging poor drivers and bad service.
Key to identifying and tackling drivers who offer a poor, dangerous or sub-standard service is identifying them. This is best done by making a note of the taxi’s identifying number (found on the rear and door plates and on an information sign within the taxi). This should be done before any journey commences. As taxis are generally not pre-booked, this is the only way of tracing a driver.
Private Hire vehicles and their errant drivers are easier to trace as all private hire bookings have to be logged by their private hire company as soon as they come in.
Fiona also acknowledged the need for improvements in how taxi licencing is linked to the training of drivers. She announced that changes in training were imminent, following a wide consultation carried out through social media, websites and print media and involving all the West Yorkshire authorities. This should ensure a degree of consistency for taxi users across the region.
Coming out of the consultation will be new policies covering a number of aspects of driver training. Currently, drivers are only required to attend a four hour seminar covering all aspects of the job. This will be replaced by a series of modules, each with a test at the end with an additional requirement be able to show a good level of practical knowledge as well.
In particular, there will be a separate module covering the carriage of disabled people with a wide range of impairments. To this will be added a more thorough testing of a driver’s “knowledge” of the local area and that he/she is capable of quickly identifying optimum routes to destinations.
This promises to make the experience of taking a taxi more consistent and predictable for all customers, disabled or not. A more thorough training emphasis on the skills needed to carry disabled passengers is very welcome, though every driver who holds a licence is already required to have completed a practical wheelchair loading test.
Despite this, Disability Partnership Calderdale regularly hears of wheelchair users coming across drivers with a lack of knowledge and, in some instances, drivers failing to correctly strap wheelchairs into vehicles. Partnership trustee, Malcolm Kielty, recounted a personal experience of a taxi driver who admitted he’d forgotten how to use his vehicle’s wheelchair access equipment. Malcolm said that they’d managed to work it out together and he suggested that helping receptive drivers to overcome their own shortcomings was a good way of dealing with some situations.
Fiona then turned to the availability of taxis in the Upper Calder Valley and other outlying areas, admitting it was in need of improvement and that some of the few taxis available in these areas are still not wheelchair accessible. Calderdale Council is looking at ways to provide more and better taxi provision in these areas.
Concluding her presentation, Fiona repeated her advice that all taxi users should make a note of the number of the vehicle before embarking on a journey and that all users who encountered poor service should report it direct to her team via the email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Fiona then made herself available to answer questions from the floor. These included the following:
Q: Can driver training include carrying assistance dogs?
A: Yes, the new driver training and test will encompass all forms of disability, not just wheelchairs.
Q: Taxi drivers sometimes don’t wear seatbelt and are adamant they don’t need to wear them. Are they right?
A: Yes, taxi drivers don’t need to wear a seatbelt if they have a fare in the vehicle.
Q: What do we do if we are picked up by a taxi where the wheelchair belts don’t work?
A: You need to report it and we will remove the vehicle from use if the belts are found to be faulty.
Q: Why do we encounter price variations on the same journey?
A: All taxis fares are set by local authority so there should be no price difference, unless there are hold ups, like traffic jams, on the route, which incur a “waiting” charge. Every taxi should have a tarrif notice in the car including waiting time fees. Private hire vehicles are different. Their fares are set by the hire firms and so inconsistencies are more likely.
Q: My driver was speeding – can I report this?
A: You should definitely report this and any other instance where you feel you are not being kept safe or treated well. That will enable us to spot repeat offenders who will have their licences revoked.
Q: Can a taxi driver charge for an assistance dog?
A: No! Again, let us know if you encounter this.