Nus Ghani is a Transport minister and Member of Parliament for Wealden.
Taxi and minicab drivers do a vital public service – whether that’s helping the elderly to visit the supermarket, transporting children to school, or ensuring a safe journey home after an evening out.
But it’s crucial that everyone, including the most vulnerable, know that when they take a taxi ride they will be safe.
Sadly the recent child sexual exploitation scandals in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, and Newcastle, in which some rogue drivers used their vehicles to facilitate assaults on young girls, have highlighted that this is not always the case.
Since I became a Minister at the Department for Transport last year I have made it my goal to ensure that everyone can use a taxi or minicab safely. I know first-hand how entirely women and girls in particular must place their trust in their driver.
Of course there are already many rules in place to ensure drivers are fit to carry out their jobs. In the vast majority of cases these regulations work well. However the Jay and Casey reports into the circumstances surrounding the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal, along with work by the Times, Daily Mail, and other newspapers, have highlighted how these rules could be strengthened and tightened.
For instance, while under current system taxi and minicab drivers must apply for a licence from a local authority, the standards they must meet to obtain one varies across the country. It means that drivers can get a licence in areas where the rules are applied less stringently – but they can then offer their services in places where they may have been refused a permit.
Last year an independent review commissioned by my Department laid out a series of recommendations as to how the current system might be improved. We have given the findings of the review, carried out by Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq of the University of Bolton, great consideration, and today I am unveiling a package of comprehensive and tough measures – including new laws – that will ensure taxis and minicabs are safe for all.
These reforms will also ensure that reputations of honest drivers, who are overwhelmingly in the majority, are left untarnished by the criminal few. We plan to:
- Introduce legislation that will set out minimum standards all drivers must meet before they can be issued with a licence;
- Create a national database of all operators, vehicles and drivers, including those who have lost or been refused licences because of safety issues;
- Bring in new powers which will enable authorities to take action against drivers found flouting regulations, regardless of where they are licensed;
- Consider laws to prevent drivers from working anywhere in the country without restriction.
As part of new national minimum standards, the department will consider whether vehicles should be fitted with CCTV, using encrypted systems that mean footage can only be accessed if there is a crime reported.
In addition we are consulting on tough new guidance to licensing authorities that will improve safety of passengers. This includes; increasing the regularity of criminal record and background checks for drivers and new checks for taxi firm staff; tests to ensure drivers are proficient in English; and improved handling of customer complaints about rogue drivers.
I’m of course very aware that the vast majority of taxi and minicab drivers are pillars of the community who would never dream of harming to a passenger or exploiting the rules. So we have taken great care to ensure that these measures do not make honest drivers’ vital and challenging work any harder.
Nor will these reforms will not stifle consumer choice or stunt the innovation in this sector – something the Government is keen to support through its ‘Future of Mobility Grand Challenge’, which aims to make Britain world leaders in the movement of goods, services and people. Already firms are creating some great developments, such as Citymapper’s Smartride system that harnesses technology to enable people to share rides.
So it’s clear: the future is exciting one for both passengers and drivers, and the measures I am outlining today will play a vital part in creating a world where taxis and minicabs are safe for all.