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?