A report by the Assistant Director (Legal and Democratic Services) is attached.
1. Further to the published agenda it was reported that the Chair had agreed prior to the meeting, to the withdrawal by the Licensing Unit Manager of the case relating to Licence Holder 11/2019.
2. Licence Holder 05/2019 attended the meeting and was represented by Mr Giles Bridge, Barrister and accompanied by Mr Charles Oakes, from the Hackney Drivers’ Association Ltd.
The Chair made introductions, outlined the procedure to be followed and clarified that all those present had read the report. The Licensing Unit Manager presented the report submitted by the Assistant Director (Legal and Democratic Services) which was accepted by the Licence Holder and his representative, which set out the reasons for the Licence Holder being before the Panel.
The report explained that the Licence Holder had first been issued a Hackney Carriage Drivers licence with Bury Council on 29 April 2003 and that the current licence is not due to expire until 24 January 2022.
The report went on to state that the Licensing Unit had received a number of complaints within the last 12 months from a member of staff at the Council’s test centre, passengers and members of the public regarding the Licence Holder. These related to various matters.
Mr Bridge, the Licence Holders representative then asked the Licence Holder to explain his version of events for each of the incidents.
· On 1 April 2018, a complaint was made by a passenger that this Licence Holder did not switch on the meter and over charged him for the short distance to his home. The Licence Holder stated that this was not the case and the passenger was drunk and abusive and threw a stone at his vehicle. The Police were called but no further action was taken.
· On 14 May 2018, a passenger approached the licence holder to ask the cost of the journey to his home address and was told £10 but as the passenger had purchased a TV cabinet and loaded this into the Licence Holder’s vehicle, the passenger alleged he had charged an extra £5. When contacted by the Deputy Licensing Officer, initially the licence holder stated that he could not remember but then he telephoned to say he could remember. He refunded the £5 when he was reminded that an additional charge was not permitted and a warning letter was sent to him. The Licence holder stated to the Panel that the passenger had agreed to the additional charge of £5 before the journey, however, he accepted that he shouldn’t charge extra over the agreed fare table.
· On 9 September 2018, a passenger approached the Licence Holder’s vehicle, which was third in line on the rank, but the two in front had passengers in. Initially the passenger knocked on the window, but was ignored by the Licence Holder. The passenger got into the vehicle and so the Licence Holder then asked where he wanted to go to. The passenger replied Brandlesholme Road and the Licence Holder then told him to get in the taxi in front. The passenger explained there were passengers in them and the Licence Holder then told him to get out and wait for another taxi. The Licence Holder stated to the Panel that he asked the passenger to pay £5 up front and that he would put the meter on and give back any change at the end of the journey. He also stated that as a Hackney Carriage it was more expensive than a Private Hire vehicle.
· On 30 January 2019, the Deputy Licensing Officer was contacted by an investigator at an insurance company as the Licence Holder had made a claim relating to an accident in December 2018. The vehicle had been examined by an independent assessor and concern was raised as to the safety of the vehicle. The vehicle’s licence was therefore suspended and the Licence Holder asked to attend the Council’s test centre for an inspection. The Licence Holder wished to retain his licence plates himself before the vehicle was examined and therefore suspension stickers were placed across them. When the vehicle was presented for test on Monday 4 February 2019, the examiner found the licence plates on the passenger seat with the stickers removed. When questioned about this by licensing staff, the Licence Holder claimed that his daughter had washed the stickers off the plates. The Licence Holder stated to the Panel that after the accident in December 2018, he contacted the Licensing Service and was told he would be given a month to sort out the vehicle. Regarding the licence plates, he took the plates off the car and took them into the house and as they were dirty, his daughter decided to wash them and removed the stickers. He denied that he had forcibly removed the stickers or that he had used the Hackney Carriage whilst the stickers were off.
· On 9 April 2019, the Licence Holder’s vehicle was presented for test at the Council’s test centre, for its 6 month interim test. The vehicle examiner contacted the Licensing Service after the test to complain about the Licence Holder’s manner explaining that initially the Licence Holder was reluctant to hand over the keys and questioned the examiner about his qualifications. Whilst the vehicle was raised on the ramp, the other examiner saw the Licence Holder filming them and shouting things through the viewing area, trying to distract the examiners. Towards the end of the test, the examiner opened the rear doors of the Licence Holder’s vehicle to gain access to the wheelchair ramps and the Licence Holder became agitated and angry at this. At the end of the test, the examiner explained what faults had been found and that due to the number, the vehicle licence would be suspended. Initially the Licence Holder decided to remove and surrender the plates but refused to hand them to the examiner. He then decided to refit the plates and demanded that the suspension stickers be fitted to the plates, which was done. The Licence Holder stated to the Panel that he did not know the examiner and that was why he did not want to hand over his keys but did when the usual examiner approached him. He sat in the waiting area and was speaking on his mobile phone and was holding it out in front of him as he was using the speakerphone and the examiners thought he was filming them. When the examiner opened the rear doors, the Licence Holder told him to ask if there was anything he was unsure about and the examiner was rude to him. Once the test was finished, the Licence Holder went outside and when he was shown the fault sheet he took the plates and asked for the stickers. The Licence Holder stated that the examiner was very aggressive to him. A witness, who is a Private Hire driver for Uber in Bury was called. He stated he was in the waiting area at the time the Licence Holder was using his phone and explained that he was on the speaker phone of his mobile phone and that he did call out when the rear doors were opened to say if any help was needed. The witness stated that both the Licence Holder and the examiner seemed a little frustrated.
· On 10 April 2019 a complaint was received that the Licence Holder had overcharged and had an argumentative manner. The complainant had approached the Licence Holder’s vehicle and when asked where he was going he gave his address and got into the vehicle followed by the Licence Holder, who told him it would be £5. The complainant said he knew it would not be that much as he had taken a taxi on several occasions and asked for the meter to be turned on and eventually the Licence Holder agreed and the fare on the meter at the destination was £3.90. The Licence Holder stated to the Panel that he had explained that as a Hackney Carriage the price was more than a Private Hire vehicle, he was unsure where the address was and thought it was further away and also that the journey would cost more as it was a Sunday.
(Councillor Keeley left the room)
Mr Bridge, the Licence Holder’s representative finally summed up by explaining that the Licence Holder had explained his version of the events regarding the incidents and that the point had not been reached that the Licence Holder was not fit and proper. There was clearly a different version of events in relation to the testing station and the witness had confirmed that both the Licence Holder and examiner had frustrated attitudes on that day. Overall, he stated that all of the incidents were minor and could warrant a possible suspension but for the Panel to appreciate that this was the Licence Holder’s livelihood and he has been driving for 27 years. Three references were provided to the Panel.
(Councillor Keeley returned but took no part in the decision, as he had missed the summing up from Mr Bridge).
The Panel carefully considered the report and oral representations by the Licence Holder, his witness and representative and taking into account the Council’s Conviction Policy and Guidelines and in accordance with the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 resolved, on a majority, to suspend Licence Holder 05/2019 for a period of 3 months. Furthermore during the period of the suspension the Panel required that the Licence Holder complete a communications course and the statutory safeguarding course.
The Panel noted the following;
· That the Licence Holder did not appear to understand the seriousness of his actions
· That the Licence Holder did not accept any responsibility for any of the incidents or complaints
· That the Panel felt it reasonable to expect the Licence Holder to be more aware of his attitude and behaviour towards staff, passengers and members of the public
· That there were a number of complaints regarding the Licence Holder, many of a similar nature
· That the Licence Holder appeared to have a low tolerance in relation to being asked by passengers for information as to the fare
· That the licence holder should be fully aware of the Licensing conditions and what is expected of him as a Private Hire driver in Bury.