We spent about eight years living in Brum City Centre, first near the top of Beetham Tower (that’s the top of the Radisson hotel building on Holloway Circus Roundabout aka “Pagoda Island”), and then near the top of the Orion Building tower opposite The Mailbox. While our reasons for moving out to leafy Harborne were numerous, part of the push was the unbearable amount of queuing traffic on the roads around our apartment, largely due to the rebuild of New Street Train Station. Worst of all though, when trying to get our cars in and out of the building, were the bloody taxis. It was through our despair at being told by at least one cab driver to “report me mate, we’re untouchable” that we started to chat to Birmingham Taxi Cop on Twitter, aka PC Dave Humpherson.
PC Humpherson has been policing the streets of Brum for the past 14 years trying to enforce the various Taxi laws to make sure both drivers and punters are safe. He’s on secondment to Birmingham City Council licence enforcement team which deals with all kinds of licensing, not just taxis.
Illegally operating as a taxi isn’t a safe occupation, and quite apart from the legal pitfalls and fines that can be meted out, drivers who’ve failed to follow the regulations have been beaten up and robbed by their punters. Neither is it safe for passengers to take cars that are breaking the rules, many have ended up paying over the odds, and worse still have been sexually assaulted. If you have an issue with a car that you haven’t booked and you don’t get the registration plate it’s very hard to do anything about it, booking a car gives you and drivers security that you know you’re getting a bona fide car, and that if anything goes wrong there’s a record of the journey. Sadly there are lots of examples of unscrupulous people willing to break the law to make a fast buck, and worse still using cars to lure in unsuspecting tipsy people. There’s an interesting BBC Inside Out article about it here.
The laws and regulations concerning taxis are a complete hodgepodge with both national and regional components. Mostly it’s regional rules by local councils that controls what taxis are and are not allowed to do, but neighbouring towns like Wolverhampton and Birmingham can have greatly different rules. What with the advent of smart phone application booking of cars it’s about time central government harmonised how licensing worked across the sector, but as yet there seems to be no appetite for change, so PC Humpherson is getting on trying to ensure that drivers and punters in Brum are safe. This includes mass operations to check insurance and vehicle issues and also spot checks of cars.
Different types of cars are allowed to operate in different ways. Private hire cars, let’s call them mini-cabs, can work in any region for which their operator has a licence. With the advent of Uber and such like that means many cars can pretty much work nationally, but only needs to obey the regulations imposed by their authority. You’ll note in Birmingham there are a lot of cars registered in other authorities.
Mini-cabs, dependent on size of vehicle can carry up to eight passengers, cannot ply for trade nor pick up anyone unless they’ve been booked by phone or smart phone app. Bookings must be made by the operator, not by the driver. If someone on the street is offering to call you a mini-cab, touting, that’s against the rules. In Birmingham on Broad Street and near Hurst Street there are some taxi marshals but they’re only there to organise the queue of taxis and punters. Mini-cabs with more than eight seats, for instance minibuses that try to round up groups of students going back to halls, are regulated by the DVSA rather than local council but they must still be pre-booked. Hackney Carriages, also known as Black Cabs or simply Taxis, dependent on size of vehicle can carry up to 8 passengers, and can ply for trade in the area they’re registered in. Outside that area they can pick up only booked passengers. Both mini-cabs and Taxis must be able to provide a price list or tariff.
Legitimate taxis and mini-cabs have to undergo a normal MOT plus a supplementary MOT, and all legitimate drivers are DBS checked to ensure they’re not likely to assault their passengers. You should be able to tell whether your taxi is legitimate by looking at the license plates or stickers (it depends on the registering authority whether it’s in the window or fixed to the license plate).
Here are some top tips for staying safe when ending your night out:
- Only get in to a private hire car (mini-cab) you’ve booked, or a legitimate Taxi;
- Do not approach private hire cars (mini cabs) parked at the side of the road asking them to take you unless you have booked it;
- Wear your seatbelt – you are required to by law.
If you’ve a complaint about a taxi or mini-cab, ideally you should report it to the licensing authority on the taxi license plate or sticker – try and get the badge number or the license plate number. PC Humpherson is usually around on Twitter if you have concerns or questions. You can follow Birmingham Taxi Cop on twitter here.