Report by Public Protection Manager (attached).
The Committee considered a report on the allegation surrounding a shortage of Licensed Drivers (circulated previously), by the Public Protection Manager.
The Public Protection Manager gave the Committee the following highlights from her findings:
· An investigation was carried out into whether the application process could be streamlined, however, there were no areas of the current process which were highlighted as having the potential for reducing associated time periods of becoming a licensed driver without creating unintended impacts on public safety, or risks associated with the imposition of conditions on a licence
· Moreover it may well be the case of the application process it may well be the case that the process would become more involved to ensure the Council’s Policy was compliant with the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards. The Public Protection Manager detailed that a report would be circulated to Members on this in the New Year.
· A night time visit to Barnstaple town centre to ascertain whether there was any evidence of the alleged shortage of taxis/queues of passengers waiting had been undertaken. The Public Protection Manager had witnessed a healthy supply at the time of her visit. As such, a request had been made of the Town Centre Manager to furnish information on the supply of taxi vehicles at other times. The response which had been provided from the CCTV operative had been that there were no concerns of a shortage
· It was apparent that the night-time buses that had previously run were not currently operational, and therefore the Public Protection Manager had made enquiries with Stage Coach to ascertain if there were any proposals to put on this service again, however, no response had been received. If this bus no longer ran then this could be a contributing factor to the higher demand for taxis
· In terms of the fee charged the Council was not allowed to make a profit but only to cover its costs
· In relation to help provided by the council to drivers who had suffered a loss of income due to lack of trade. The Head of Resources had confirmed that dependent upon their situation and whether they had a Premises, drivers may have been able to apply for Council Tax reduction and a reduction of Business rates. Self-employed drivers may have also been eligible for grants based on their tax through HMRC
· The Communications team had confirmed they would be able to run a campaign to promote driver uptake on the Council’s social media platforms
The Chair introduced Mr Mohammed Zachariah and invited him to address the Committee on the issues he had raised.
Mr Zachariah ran a taxi service in Barnstaple and had growing concerns over the number of licensed drivers no longer working in the trade not just in his business but also across the industry as a whole. He explained that on a normal evening shift there used to be about 10 to 15 drivers available whereas now there were only one to two. Recruiting new drivers was hindered by the Council’s application process which he felt could be streamlined without compromise to the fit and proper person test. He agreed that it was in a driver’s best interest to have geographical knowledge of the area but felt this could be obtained/completed over time whilst working on the job. The number of drivers who could take the knowledge test provided by the Council was limited to four.
The Public Protection Manager provided detail that the Council could solely allow four persons to take their test within one of the training rooms due to Covid-19 safety measures in place; however, this did not preclude the Council from allowing more than four drivers to take their test over any period of time.