Southampton taxi drivers voice safety concerns over other muscling in on their patch
It’s the time of year when the city’s taxi drivers try to make hay.
Over the festive season the taxi trade is at its busiest – ranks are crowded and phone lines engaged.
With pubs and clubs full of Christmas and new year revellers this is the period when cabbies can cash in.
But a war has broken out among the ranks of drivers in the city.
They say that drivers from other regions are muscling in on their trade and they are demanding action.
Southampton taxi drivers argue that cabbies from elsewhere are not bound by the same strict regulations and are putting passengers at risk.
The ‘foreign drivers’ which are licensed by other councils are allowed to operate in Southampton under the Governments Cross Border Act, introduced in October 2015 as a form of deregulation.
The act allows drivers to operate in any areas of the country if they are licensed by any one particular council.
But Southampton Hackney Association chairman Ian Hall said among the tough rules imposed on city taxis is the need for CCTV in the cab – a requirement not imposed by some authorities.
He said: “Southampton taxis are safe, but when you get into a vehicle not licensed by the city council, then it poses a risk to anyone using them.
“Without the cameras we don’t know what could happen, so using a Southampton vehicle instead will ensure a person’s safety.
“Southampton drivers also have a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check so the public can be reassured that their driver has no criminal convictions that could pose a severe threat and risk.
“Although it’s more expensive for our drivers, it is important we ensure the safety of the general public.”
Mr Hall added: “We have a bad situation when cars from places as far afield as London, for example, are permitted to work legitimately in Southampton.
“They are not having any of our licensing conditions, including the requirement for CCTV cameras, something that we have to have at a cost of £700-plus for each car.
“We have 280 red plate hackney carriages which always have to be white, as per the council regulations, and 650 private hire vehicles which can be any colour apart from white.’’
However, the out-of-town vehicles do not follow this regulation, added Mr Hall.
Chair of the Southampton Trade Association, Clive Johnson also expressed his concerns.
He said: “It’s the members of the public who have to be educated about staying safe in taxis and use certified Southampton drivers.
“We will work with all members of society to ensure they are safeguarded when they get in a taxi and have a safe journey home.’’
Major countrywide taxi firm Uber – which launched in the city in April – is estimated to have a fleet of more than 60 drivers operating within the Southampton boundary but they can be licensed from any authority
City cabbie unions are stepping up the pressure for a crackdown.
Perry McMillan, South East Unite CAB leader, said: “In a recent newsletter sent to Uber drivers, it encouraged them to hang around popular Southampton hotspots like Bedford Place so they can pick up the business which threatens Southampton Hackneys.
“Technically, you’re just getting into a vehicle with a Uber sticker on.
“Some vehicles aren’t proper and the temptation for anyone to put a Uber sticker on their car is very high.”
“This puts some people, especially young girls, at risk as they could be getting into any car.”
Southampton private hire cabbie Ali Haydor has also called for a change in the rules.
He added: “The problem is a massive challenge for cabbies in Southampton as they are not regulated directly by the council so they could be up to anything.
“More needs to be done in Southampton; Christmas is coming up and the demand for taxis will be much higher, meaning more non-licensed Southampton vehicles will be present, making the problem much worse.”
In a statement, Southampton City Council said their hands were tied and that there was nothing to stop out-of-town cabbies coming to Southampton.
They called on those using taxis in the city to make sure they used one registered by the council.
A spokesman said: “New rules about taxis are from legislation created by central government. It is not Southampton City Council allowing this happen, and we are concerned our local policies and conditions will be undermined by this legislation.
“Southampton City Council licensed vehicles are required to meet stricter requirements than most other authorities, including the requirement to have a camera fitted for the protection of drivers and passengers alike.
“So we would encourage people to make sure they use a Southampton City Council-licensed vehicle to ensure they are offered the best service.”
Any city council licensed vehicles also have to be regularly tested and have age limits set.
Drivers also have to pass a knowledge test, have enhanced DBS checks and obtain a qualification in passenger transport.
He added that council officers do check that out-of-city drivers comply with legislation.
New Forest District Council has admitted the region has an influx of Southampton drivers but added: “We license private hire operators, drivers and vehicles. All our licences are issued in compliance with the law and in accordance with our policy and conditions.
“Drivers do have to complete a knowledge test which includes driving standards, geographical knowledge, licence conditions and communication skills.
“Bookings from Southampton or anywhere else can be accepted by a private hire driver licensed by NFDC, as long as both the operator which took the booking and the private hire vehicle are also licensed by NFDC.’’
And Uber have also hit back a criticism.
A spokesman said: “Since launching in Southampton we have been blown away with the demand we’ve seen for Uber and are currently increasing the number of local drivers in the city to meet this demand.
“However, it’s not illegal for drivers licensed in other jurisdictions to carry out trips in the city as long as they are pre-booked and dispatched from the operator’s licence they are registered to.
“The thing that riders love about Uber is no matter what city they use the service in they get the same assurances on partner-driver standards when they book through the app.”