Licensing committee approves consultation into taxi trade penalty points scheme

COUNCILLORS today approved plans for consultations into a penalty points system for taxi drivers and operators – but were told by an angry colleague the policy treats them like children . If it s introduced after the consultation, Fenland s hackney carri


COUNCILLORS today approved plans for consultations into a penalty points system for taxi drivers and operators - but were told by an angry colleague the policy treats them "like children".

If it's introduced after the consultation, Fenland's hackney carriage and private hire policy will see taxi drivers and operators issued penalty points for breaching licensing conditions.

If they reach the maximum total of points in a set time, drivers and operators could be hauled in front of Fenland District Council's licensing committee and face suspension of even having licenses revoked.

The licensing committee today agreed the policy should go out to consultation with taxi firms and drivers. But the heated meeting saw a number of councillors question some of the punishments.

Councillor Carol Cox raised problems with enforcing nine penalty points for drivers who park with one or more wheel on the pavement.

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"There are quite a few roads in Wisbech where, if you don't do that, you're obstructing the middle of the road because it is so narrow," she said.

"There are three or four roads around there where everybody parks on the pavement because, if not, there is no room.

"Nine points for that seem harsh."

Kim Winterton, the council's licensing regulatory officer, said: "There is some intention in the consultation document to provoke thoughts on what penalty points we should issue for an offence.

"I didn't put the penalty points listing together, but as a consultation document we need to get responses before deciding what points to impose."

Councillor Kit Owen, chairman of the licensing committee, told Cllr Cox the policy "has the interests of the public at heart".

Councillor Jan French also slammed proposals about drivers over 45 having medical check-ups every three years, and drivers over 60 having check-ups annually.

She said: "I realise we have to have drivers who are fit but this is bordering on ageism."

Mrs Winterton said: "We are being advised by the Primary Care Trust of the medical conditions and health of the population. Some of the issues taxi drivers are facing include diabetes and having pacemakers fitted.

"The PCT are asking for it to come down to 45, it could come down to 50 but it is needed for drivers before they turn 55."

Cllr French also questioned why drivers who wear shorts, or T-shirts could face points.

"Yes, we want smart," she said. "But I am sure you can get some smart looking shorts for the hot weather, there are some nice T-shirts and smart tracksuit bottoms.

"They (drivers) need to make sure they are dressed appropriately but this is over the top."

Mrs Winterton said: "We have had female passengers complain about male taxi drivers' shorts cutting too high and wearing vest-like exercise tops. But we need to be more specific."

Cllr French also said the council should not limit the age of new hackney carriages and private hire vehicles to three years and historic vehicles to 1973 because a lot of "lovely cars" will miss the cut.

But an outraged Councillor John West - who is not a member of the licensing committee but registered to speak at the meeting - said: "We need a taxi service out there and so do the people of Fenland, but I do hope we are not going to cripple people with these types of legislation; it's like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

"This is what these people do to earn a living and whether someone picks me up in a T-shirt or a pair of trousers I don't care - as long as it is clean, tidy and respectable.

"Let's get rules, but when we go out to consultation please do not treat them (taxi drivers and operators) like children because this is what the report does."

Cllr West particularly highlighted plans for licensing officers to remove licence plates from vehicles.

But Kim Winterton, the council’s licensing regulatory officer, said it was a power delegated to licensing officers by government to protect the public.

She said: “If something is happening that we feel will put the public in danger under new legislation, we have the power to pop the plate off the vehicle.

“We are not asking for it, we were delegated it.”

The meeting was also attended by Dave Patrick, chairman of Wisbech and District Hackney Carriage Drivers' Association, who said in the run-up to the meeting that the proposed points system would not be supported by drivers.

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