Thanet cab bosses: “Passengers ‘put at risk’ due to decline of council licensing services”

CONCERNS: Cab office bosses Maria, Andy, Afran and Karl

By Jodie Nesling

Taxi passengers are being “put at risk” due to a major decline in services at Thanet council’s licensing department, according to a group of isle cab bosses.

Thanet Private Hire Association consists of Thanet Cars, Central Cars and  United Cars, who work together to  ensure  best practice across their firms – an arrangement which is beneficial to both their businesses and their customers.

Between them they have more than 100 years’ experience in the industry and are responsible for 370 drivers on their books.

Andy Doody of Thanet Cars has worked in the industry for 40 years and says the breakdown in communication with Thanet council’s licensing department is causing major concerns, adding that the group have struggled in vain to get in touch or have their queries answered.

The companies often drive vulnerable customers such as young children and the elderly and says if anything was to happen it would be difficult to contact licensing.

He said: “If you have an emergency such as police stopping a car with children in the back, you can’t get in touch with the department.

“They say you have to call after 2pm, but you often can’t get through and if you email, the auto-response says they will respond in ten days.”

Another serious issue raised by the TPHA is drivers working for other smaller firms while they drive under their company name.

Maria Seagar, director of Central Cars, explained: “A car with our branding on and badge name could be picking up customers from a smaller firm.

“If anything happens, there is no way of tracing the driver. “This is especially concerning if elderly people and children are travelling.

“Sometimes we get a phone call asking where the fare is and we have no idea about it because we haven’t taken the booking.”

Another issue concerning new drivers is the tests undertaken to gain their licensed badges.

The test of the driver’s knowledge of the area’s roads is only being offered on a monthly basis when previously it was every fortnight.

Andy said: “Drivers cannot wait a month to earn money so are being put off from applying for their badges.”

Maria said: “The summer period was particularly hard as the lack of drivers sometimes meant we could not pick up a fare for more than an hour.

“Thanet is getting busier and busier during the period and we could not get enough drivers and it was awful to not provide our usual service.”

Andy says new drivers have been forced to wait for up to four hours to download forms at the council’s Gateway building and says some drivers are being awarded their badges without basic English, with one driver turning up with a translator.

Regular inspections to assess a car’s cleanliness and safety have also been ditched in favour of spot- checks which the TPHA say are not fit for purpose and do nothing to stop drivers with substandard or damaged vehicles moving from one firm to another.

Despite a lengthy meeting with  the  authority’s head of Safer Neighbourhoods, Penny Button, in August nothing has progressed, which has left TPHA members exasperated.

Andy said: “It’s a shame that, after all that was said from licensing with regards to the sharing of ideas, the safety aspects that were raised, and the fact that everyone agreed it could be a real danger to the public, nothing has happened since. There is now talk of strikes.”

A spokesman for Thanet council said: “We have responded to requests from those in the taxi trade and are working on a new licensing policy for consultation that balances their needs with those of the public.

“Developing a policy to protect the public, encourage a respected trade, and ensure a more environmentally friendly fleet is a big undertaking, and a proposal is expected in January 2020.”

Letter from Andy’s Airport Cars, Steve’s Airport Transfers, Drew’s Cars, James Airport and Cruise Transfers

A number of small, independent cab firms have requested the opportunity to respond to this article:

“This article involves the three biggest private hire firms in the Thanet area raising some serious concerns about the current state of the licensing department at Thanet District Council and other factors involving certain drivers and their cars as well.

Whilst we are forced to agree with a lot of these remarks, we draw your attention to the following excerpt from it.

“A car with our branding on and badge name could be picking up customers from a smaller firm.

“If anything happens, there is no way of tracing the driver. This is especially concerning if elderly people and children are travelling.

“Sometimes we get a phone call asking where the fare is and we have no idea about it because we haven’t taken the booking.”

We feel this could imply that there are serious safety concerns when being transported anywhere by a smaller business. This is certainly not the case.

There is a large problem in the Thanet area where a lot of drivers who feel they are not making the money they desire do their own “private jobs”. This is a big no no as Thanet District Council states that to take your own work you have to have an operator’s license in addition to your own paperwork and the cost of that is over £600. This lasts for five years. If you don’t have one, then it is illegal to take your own work and you are genuinely putting your passengers at risk as you invalidate your insurance cover.

Another point to add is a driver is not employed directly by a private hire company they are a self employed contractor and therefore they are allowed to work for who they like providing that operator fulfils their obligations as set out (we have had clarification of this in the past)

The smaller firms who are behind this response all have their own operators license and have built successful businesses with excellent reputations.

All of our companies have invested a great deal of time and money into developing booking and tracking systems which enable us to know exactly what is going on with all of our jobs, all of our drivers and exactly where they are supposed to be. As responsible operators we also have records of all the paperwork for the drivers that we use.”

Letter from TPHA

I feel it is very important to reply to these messages as these companies seem to be missing the point completely, this is about issues that have been raised with the licensing department that affect them too. At no point have we in any way accused any of these other companies of not running their businesses without the correct operating licence or insurance and if they took the time to read the article properly they would understand that we were speaking for the benefit of all taxi and private hire drivers and companies because what we were doing was asking the council why the service to the trade has over the last year become so bad in the service, support and communication that is being provided to all operators and drivers .

The costs to the operator and driver have gone up but the service has dramatically dropped. Any operator out there is welcome to join the TPHA at any time, simply email tpha338860@gmail.com for details.

Andy from Thanet Cars in his role at TPHA tries to fight for all taxi drivers and operators not just the “big3”, The smaller companies should bear in mind he is fighting not just for the TPHA but for all of us in the trade locally when others have just moaned and groaned. Supportive comments, personal communication and questions would surely have been much more productive.

As far as safety is concerned would you as a parent be happy if you order a car from your chosen company to transport your child to school or even a relation or partner of a loved one to an airport, to then find out a driver from another company displaying the name of a different firm on his car had carried out the fare without your knowledge? A driver with the name of another company on his council badge; what would you do if they break down, have an accident or worse, imagine if your child doesn’t arrive at school! Who do you contact?  the company you chose and booked with or the company who picked them up that you are unaware of?

28 Comments

  1. I saw a taxi last week in Margate, on a school run, with the emergency” get out of trouble” small yellow heel fitted, witha foxed speed limit on it and instructions not to use for normal driving, being driven with a maniac driver at the wheel at break neck speed ignoring all traffic laws – speeding and weaving in and out of traffic and I bet nothing gets done til an accident happens. Couldnt get the registration or else I would have reported it

  2. My girlfriend was in a taxi the other day and the driver was doing 58mph in a 30 zone (poor hole lane) and 45 in pretty much every other road. Apparently speed limits do not apply to thanet’s taxi drivers.
    A lot of Thanet’s taxis are also transporting young drug dealers to deals. Its blatantly obvious the kids are dealing drugs. These taxi drivers aren’t idiots and know they are transporting people with large quantities of drugs but continue to facilitate the drug dealers because they don’t want to lose a fare.
    Just another example of lawless Thanet.

  3. If they are so worried about public safety they can complain to the social care ombudsman via Thanet district councils website.

    This story is more to do with the loss of revenue from not having enough drivers on their circuits.

    Minium wage job with no holiday/sick pay will be the reason why there’s a shortage of drivers

    • Be brave and get in touch with me and I will be happy to explain why in this case you are incorrect. You sound like a driver we know well JG, Andy.

  4. Do you know one of the biggest ways in which the three firms in this article make their money? They charge them all on average £100 per week regardless of the level of work there is (I know there are some exceptions to the rule). If you multiply that by the 370 drivers is says they have on there books that makes for quite a substantial annual turn over between them, we won’t mention school contracts as that goes further than the scope of this article.

    The problem is not lack of drivers it is and has been for sometime lack of work for those drivers. You see there is a basic cycle in play here. The firms want as many £100’s a week as they can get so they flood their businesses with as many drivers as they can take on. When the established drivers have to work 70 hours a week to make the same money they did doing 20 years ago they get fed up with the trade and either start up there own smaller firms or leave the trade completely. There certainly needs to be a cap on the licenses issued and those employed by the firms.

    Until they wake up and see this problem it will never end and in fact get worse. Added to this the drivers that do want to stay in the trade go and look for work elsewhere to supplement there income. The driver is perfectly entitled to do this and I have an email from the council clarifying this position which I am perfectly willing to produce.

    The three firms represented in this article think they have the monopoly on the business in this area and locally at least its fair to say they probably do however that does not give a sense of entitlement and allow them to treat drivers the way they do in some cases.

    I worked for some of these people for a great number of years and consider myself a casualty of the change of the times. My solution to this problem was to start my own business which I have grown into quite a successful operation. The problem I had when this was discovered was that I was given an ultimatum either continue to work 70 hours a week for us or work for yourself you can not do both, and, believe me, im not the only one.

    I take exception to the implication made that customers are not safe with smaller operators. To do this properly you have to have an operators license issued by the Council and you have to keep detailed records of all your drivers information and also what jobs they have done and for what customer, I have invested alot of money in a dispatch system that does this efficiently.

    There are alot of drivers who do “private work” and they are the ones you have to watch out for as if the work is not put through and operator it is illegal.

    I completely agree regarding the comments about the council and it is very difficult to get through to them with regard to things such as licencing a new vehicle or even a basic query and all forms of communication we are used to seeming to have been cut.

    There are certain checks that have to be carried out on operators as well which are simply not being done and that im sure is down to cutbacks in their own departments.

    At the end of the day this business will only work if we all stick together and watch each others backs.

    Ive been a cab driver for eight years and have ran my own airport transfer business for three. This may be a different outlook to most but its what I have seen with my own eyes over the years and until people analyse this it will continue.

    All the best!

      • I was not going to as this was not about advertising. It was about making a point. The fact you mentioned my business name in your previous comment I dont need to now do I. Thanks for the mention 🙂

        • You are welcome, so are you going back into anominity and sarcasm or going to be a grown up and contact TPHA at tpha338860@gmail.com and join operators that are for the local community, I’m sure that the subs are not too much for you and I can’t imagine you have ever upset the founding committee members. We might be glad of your input. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

          • One thing I am not is anonymous and last time I checked I am certainly not sarcastic. I think its a bit rich stating that along with “being grown up” when your initial reply to what I thought was quite a valid critique was basically rudeness which in itself proves a big part of what I Stated in the first place.

            That being said we can call that 1-1 🙂

            I will certainly email you at some point and discuss with you the parts of the article we small operators take exception to and perhaps you can correct us, As you can see from Steves comment about your trolley pushing days im not the only one.

            to clarify are their subs to join your association? how much?

            All the best

            Andy

  5. Wow that was a long reply. I must say i have never had a problem with any of the cab firms, they always been on time for me, never speeded as such.
    I think the drivers are underpaid , it cost me £5.80 to go from Ramsgate to Margate , its the price the firms quote , being a driver (private) it has taken me an hour to do the same route , if heavy traffic, its usually about ten mins.
    It must cost a couple of quid in fuel, so where does the driver go after my drop? back to Ramsgate or sit around for the next call, this could be 10 mins or 2 hours.
    Not many see this, they see a cab thats it end of. I had a friend who was a cab driver for 20 odd years, he worked the evenings and late night, he packed it in because he had a few customers that were sick in his car (drunk most likley) an he had to clean it without any pay.
    It is not a job i would like to do.
    As for transporting people with drugs (i dont agree with drugs) why not? , they are a fare , they not the dealers or the buyers.
    Sorry for spelling i carnt spell .

    • Thank you for your sensible unbiased comments, Paul. It is difficult for any of us trying to raise a point when one or two individuals comment with inaccuracies and then mention they have their own airport transfer company… Its a shame they do not represent themselves properly and attend meetings along with the larger established operators and TDC instead of hiding and trying to diss honest working men and women.

      • Mr doody well the Last time I saw you was still pushing trolleys at Tesco’s lol ,I run Stevesairporttransfers.co.uk, and have done for 5 years and very successfully ,I use all my own drivers andy ,and some of the so called big 3 lol comments ab small companies are under hand .you should all look closer to home and chase your unlicensed drivers doing airport transfers and what ever else they can do to try make a living in the ever growing amount of taxi drivers .I blame the likes of your selfs for taking on to many drivers in a work deprived area only so much money to go around

  6. How many cab drivers actually gained their licence in the uk? The standard of driving is in my opinion diabolical!

    • I’m a cab driver and I can assure you I work 100% within the law and I and my colleagues regard ourselves as professional 100% of the time, there are a few bad apples as it were but I have been in the trade 12 years 99% of the drivers are very good drivers and do a fantastic job often beyond the call of duty

      • Hi Mark, absolutely agree with you. I myself was both a hackney and private hire driver for over 3 decades and only came off the road due to poor health. This whole episode came about because of the lack of communication between the licensing department and operators alike. Drivers having to wait for hours at the gateway to complete their renewals and then being told that either a photocopier had broken down or some other excuse as to why they would have to re-queue another day, that visuals for new or changed vehicles would be delayed costing the drivers to lose days in earnings etc. This isn’t about 1 firm being dissatisfied with the service it’s about all operators and drivers not getting the service they pay for.

  7. Thanet cabs are about the cheapest in the country, perhaps this is why we have some of the ropiest. The whole earnings thing is distorted by the tax credit and housing benefit system, some drivers will be happy doing 16-20 hours a week.
    Getting a cab to pick you up in westgate, birchington, minster etc is a joke, you’ll get “we’ll be there as close as we can” (even when you book an hour before) it may never turn up, drivers don’t want to go out of there way for a fair.
    Staring to get plenty of fake cabs , a restaurant on northdown road has a very cosy deal with friends/relatives.
    The standard of driving / local knowledge/ english with some drivers leaves leaves much to be desired..
    But TDC has no money and will do anything to spend less so alongside slow issuing of licences we also have lax enforcement of standards.

  8. OMG this actually happened to me about a year back when I booked my airport transfer with a so called specliaciast transfer company.

    On the day of the booking the car didn’t turn up at the agreed time. I called the transfer company who said a car was being sent out and would be with me shortly. After a number of calls the car arrived nearly 2 hours late. I was fuming!!!! it didn’t have any stickers or cards of the transfer company but had a cards and stickers of a different company which I thought was bizarre. I questioned the driver on this and he said he don’t work for the transfer company and that he was asked to help out.

    Cut a long story short due to the delay I missed my flight. I contacted the original Airport transfer company that I had booked with, told them what had happened and that I wanted compensation and a refund they confirmed they had to get a different driver from a different firm and that he was responsible for not getting me there on time. I then contacted the company that was displayed on the car as I thought they were now responsible for the booking, when I called them they knew nothing about the booking which I was shocked by. They advised me to call the number I had booked on in the first place. I then contacted the original Airport transfer company I had booked with who didn’t even answer my phone calls or emails. Thanet Council really need to tighten up on regulation!!!!!!

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