TAXI regulation reforms could lead to sex attacks after nights out due to a private hire “free for all”, Wigan’s police commissioner has said.
A cross party group of commissioners – led by Greater Manchester’s Tony Lloyd - has warned the changes could increase the likelihood of attacks by bogus drivers.
The plans to cut red tape for taxi and private hire drivers, which are part of the Deregulation Bill currently going through parliament, need an urgent re-think, the group has urged.
Mr Lloyd said: “Taxi regulation reform is long overdue, but this is not the way to go about it.
“The current system is far from perfect, but at least there are safeguards there which mean people can have confidence that when they get into a marked private hire vehicle it is genuine and being driven by a licensed operator.
“Taking these safeguards away opens the prospect of a private hire free-for-all.
“There will be no guarantee that a driver is who he says he is, and the inevitable consequence is that there will be an increase in people being attacked after a night out.”
Currently, only licensed private hire drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle, drivers have to be regularly re-licensed and there are restrictions on vehicles operating across local authority boundaries.
But under the Deregulation Bill, these safeguards will go, meaning there would be no guarantees that the drivers of a vehicle are who they say they are.
Wigan Hackney cab driver Ronnie Melling said: “As I understand it, these new measures are for private hire vehicles and the changes are so that other drivers, apart from the badge holder driver, can use the car, possibly for personal use.
“It remains to be seen whether this will be taken advantage of, there is a danger but we will have to wait and see. The vehicles and the registered drivers will still have to be subject to checks by the council.”
Earlier this year a fake cabbie was sentenced to four years in prison after attacking a 29-year-old woman he had picked up after a night out. Barry Smith, 49, of Bengairn Close, Whelley, was also ordered to sign on the Sex Offenders’ Register for life.
Mr Lloyd added: “We know that the Bill intends to support measures to make life easier for small businesses and self-employed people, but there’s a real danger it will have serious consequences.”
The Government had asked the Law Commission to draw up measures for taxi reforms but these are not part of the current Bill, an occurrence criticised by the commissioner group.