Merseyside taxi drivers face five year ban if caught using mobile phones

New rules and punishments for a trio of offences have been passed as Liverpool City Region councils work to standardise conditions to taxi drivers.
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Taxi drivers in Sefton could lose their license for five years if convicted of driving while using a mobile phone and will be banned for good if found guilty of discrimination or exploitation. Under rules introduced at Sefton Council Licensing and Regulatory Committee on Monday, licensed taxi drivers face new and updated sanctions as the local authority approved changes to the Licensed Driver Convictions Policy.

Three new offences were added to the policy and included guidance on what sanctions licensed drivers would face if they were convicted of using a hand held device while driving, convicted of discrimination or convicted of exploitation. For the offences of discrimination and exploitation, any driver convicted would have their license permanently revoked and prevented from ever working as a taxi driver.

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Local authorities across the Liverpool City Region have been working to ‘standardise conditions’ in relation to the convictions policy and all changes have been passed by Wirral, Knowsley and Liverpool.

There was some debate around the clarity and justification for the new guidance on the offence of using a hand held device while driving. The revised policy stipulated an immediate five year ban would be imposed on licensed drivers if they were convicted of such an offence

Petitions were submitted by Frank West and Joseph Johnson from H&PH Trade Representative on behalf of licensed taxi drivers and asked for a revision of the wording in the policy. It said: “The petitioner will request on behalf of the Hackney and Private Hire trade that members amend the driver convictions policy in relation to the disqualification period for the use of a handheld device.”

The trade representatives wanted the policy to reflect the modern working environment of taxi drivers who rely on mobile phone devices to confirm, amend or cancel jobs through associated booking APPs. The reps said an immediate five year ban was unnecessarily harsh and unclear as some drivers may be punished for tapping their phone whilst managing booking APPs.

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The reps were clear a ban is understandable for drivers accepting calls with a phone in their hand. However, they said any instant ban should not be imposed on drivers who may have been using a device (mounted on the dashboard) to accept jobs. Instead, the reps requested a change to the wording of the policy which would mean drivers would go straight to mediation (were a ban would be considered) rather than the imposing of an immediate ban.

The Department for Transport (DfT)  published the Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards in 2020 and have informed local authorities that any exception to the guidelines at local level must be predicated on ‘compelling local reason’.

The committee at Southport Town Hall did consider the petition put forward by the H&PH Trade Representative but did not believe the reasons reached the threshold as laid out in Government policy. The committee also stated there were caveats to the convictions policy that did include options for mediation.

The report by Sefton Council said:  ”The recommendations to be implemented unless there is a compelling local reason not to and there is a risk that the Council could be open to challenge if the new statutory guidance is not followed without sufficient justification. Adhering to the new statutory guidance will mitigate against any challenge to the Council’s licensing regime.”