The public feel at risk in minicabs in London late at night and are not sure they will arrive home safely
One in four Londoners fear they will not make it home safely in a minicab in the early hours of the morning, new research suggests. A quarter of people living in the capital who use minicabs fear a risk to their safety when travelling in one between 12am and 4am, according to a new survey carried out by YouGov.
The survey for the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association revealed that almost half of minicab users in London doubt that they would be fully insured for any injuries sustained if they were involved in an accident. And nearly a quarter of Londoners who use minicabs began travelling in them more over the last two years, the research found.
In July 2013, Recorder Michael Sayers, QC, on jailing an asylum seeker, Razaq Assadullah, 31, for eight years for raping a secretary, said: “Those hiring a private taxi simply had no way of knowing the driver’s background.”
He called for compulsory licensing of all cab drivers after police checks on the firm where the rapist worked revealed that not one driver was being legally employed.
“It appears that nobody can travel in minicabs with any degree of assurance or safety, as demonstrated by the facts in this case,” said the judge.
“At the moment, when a member of the public takes a cab he has no assurance that the driver is who he claims to be or has got any insurance or driving licence. He has no way of knowing how the driver conducts his business.
“This is something that should be investigated. If minicab drivers are driving around with false identities, it is something that should be looked into and investigated properly. I find it quite a worrying state of affairs.”
The London minicab trade is seeing a shocking and continued increase in sexual assaults and rapes in the capital. One of the biggest problems is the false sense of security given to the public by the misconception that all minicab drivers undergo the same checks.
This perception is further strengthened when companies such as Uber go on record to state that ‘all drivers who use the Uber app in London have undergone exactly the same enhanced DBS checks as black cab drivers, teachers and care workers.’
Statements like this lead to confusion because this is not the case. Not all drivers who work in London driving minicabs have undergone any background checks as they may be asylum seekers, immigrants or from a country other than the UK. In these situations a driver only have to provide a letter to Transport for London (TfL), that states that they are a “fit and proper person” or of good character.
Therefore, any claim made by either the regulator, TfL or any others that all drivers have undergone advanced DBS checks is wrong. It is unknown how many drivers or the percentage of drivers currently driving members of the public about haven’t had a criminal background check. Also, it has not been disclosed by TfL how many of the drivers accused of sexual assault or rape had or didn’t have an advanced DBS check.
Campaign group, Dads Defending Daughters, said: “It is shocking that foreign nationals are allowed to bypass checks by producing a letter of good conduct. TfL stubbornly refuse to inform Londoners about minicab rape and sexual abuse statistics – there are at least a thousand victims per year.
“TfL allow minicabs to be driven by drivers who have never passed a DVLA driving test, and TfL also refuse to release proper statistics defining the astonishing amount of minicab Road Traffic Accidents in London.”
The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (TDA) has criticised popular minicab app Uber after it launched a legal challenge to tough new private hire rules including requiring drivers to pass a basic English language tests and a crackdown on insurance requirements.
Steve McNamara, LTDA general secretary, said: “Today’s figures are yet more proof of the need for action to ensure that Londoners feel safe and secure when using a minicab.
“Uber’s recent campaign for TfL and the Mayor of London to water down the overdue and much-needed update to PHV [private hire vehicle] regulations shows how out of touch they are with public opinion.”
Mr McNamara added: “The regulator must not only follow through on its proposed changes, but must take further action to raise standards across the industry, if it is to fully address passengers’ concerns and offer them, and other road users in the capital, proper protection.”
But Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber London, said: “Uber is not a traditional minicab firm so it is interesting to note that Uber was not mentioned in this poll. More than two million Londoners use Uber on a regular basis and because of the convenience and safety the app has brought to the industry.
“Uber keeps a record of all drivers’ insurance documents and drivers cant access the app unless they are in place. We have helped raise standards in the private hire industry by using technology to give people more information than ever before, from their driver’s details to being able to share a live map of their journey and an electronic receipt showing the route taken.”
Just to interject, all legitimate private hire firms would insist on regular updated insurance records, not just Uber. Also, even before Uber carried its first passenger large firms had implemented technology to track vehicles and drivers, with some making apps available to passengers or a text facility where the driver and vehicle details are texted to the passenger prior to arrival.
Speaking to both passengers and their parents there seems to be a situation where the children embrace the technology, but parents continue to worry because of the press associated with Uber and the minicab trade. Standards in the industry have improved over the past 20 years, but that is only when you consider that standards were so low in the first place.
I say standards were low, but the truth is that regulators took a light touch approach to the minicab/private hire trade with new rules coming into force over the years following cases or situations where the public had been put at risk. Councils across the UK who take a proactive approach – Birmingham springs to mind – have tough standards, but others, Rossendale, TfL and Solihull for example are left behind because they fail to enforce the law across the industry.
Companies such as Uber, along with big operators have helped drive down prices as they create a price war between the trade, which in turn results in standards being driven down. Why? Because compared to 20 years ago drivers are struggling to make a living and can end up working for just a few pounds an hour, which in turn means something has to give.
Research from LicensedTransportUncovered.com shows that vehicle maintenance standards are continuing to drop across the industry, with vehicles turning up for private hire vehicle inspections failing with shocking faults. Finally, consider the fact that most councils and TfL don’t even require a driving standards test before you can drive members of the public about it shows just have low the entry level is to enter the trade.
This means you could have never driven on a UK road, but can be set free to drive members of the public as a minicab driver. Add into the equation the fact you might not have had a background check and you don’t have to be in the trade to see that there is still massive room for improvement within the trade.
Uber are currently fighting new rules implemented by TfL to raise standards and are the only London minicab firm to oppose them. Uber also tried to fight against new rules that hire and reward insurance should be in place at all times, but a court threw out this part of their appeal.
The survey of 1,037 adults was carried out last week. Police figures show that 214 women were sexually assaulted in the capital last year after getting into illegal minicabs and 54 raped.