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DRAFT FALKIRK COUNCIL MINUTE of MEETING of the TAXI AND PRIVATE HIRE CAR FORUM held in the MUNICIPAL BUILDINGS, FALKIRK on TUESDAY 21 MAY 2013 at 2.00 p.m. FORUM MEMBERS PRESENT: CONVENER: Councillor Jim Blackwood; Dennis Shovlin (Falkirk Area Disability Access Panel); Emma Bruce (representing private hire car operators); Laura McNelly (Bruce/Blue Star Taxis); Charles Fullerton (Independent Taxi Operator); Allan Dickie (Tartan); Alan McFadzean (McFadzean Taxis); Roy Kerr (Grange Radio Taxis); and James Buchanan (Flemings Taxis). Councillor Blackwood. COUNCIL OFFICERS PRESENT: Colin Moodie, Depute Chief Governance Officer (agenda items 1 to 4); Bryan Douglas, Licensing Co-ordinator; Kay Minto, Licensing Assistant; Brian Samson, Licensing Enforcement Officer; Patrick Taggart, Interim Fleet Services Manager; and Antonia Sobieraj, Committee Services Officer. ALSO IN ATTENDANCE: Inspector P Rollo, Police Scotland. 1. APOLOGIES Apologies were intimated on behalf of Lennox Ainslie (Bo ness Community Council); Alex Stewart (representing private hire car operators); Alex Sinclair (Stenhouse TOA); and Alistair Mitchell (Falkirk BID Manager). 2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST No declarations were made. 3. MINUTE The minute of the meeting of the Taxi and Private Hire Car Forum on 22 February 2013 was approved. 4. REVIEW OF THE TAXI/PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLE LICENSING ARRANGEMENTS The Licensing Co-ordinator reported on the meeting of the Council s Environment and Community Safety Committee held on 19 March 2013 which (a) advised of the taxi review undertaken and the outstanding issues to be considered; and (b) detailed the key outstanding issues, namely, taxi numbers, licence conditions, vehicle types, drivers standards and advertising. This report took into account the feedback from the Forum at its meeting on 22 February 2013 where detailed discussion on the proposed revised licence conditions for taxis and private hire cars. Following consideration by the above Committee, the Council s Executive on 18 June 2013 (as minuted) had agreed as follows:- (1) that with regard to taxi numbers that the current approach continues and that no numerical cap is introduced for taxi operator licences; (2) that the Licence conditions detailed in the volume of appendices are approved (subject to allowing operators to continue to display their company name on the sign on top of the taxi) and that the conditions come into effect on renewal of the relevant licence; (3) that the current policy on the age of vehicles is changed to reduce the age at which a vehicle can first enter the fleet from 6 years to 3 years but that this is done progressively by a reduction of 1 year each year starting on 1 April 2014 and that the current policy requiring that each new operator licence is in respect of a wheelchair accessible vehicle be modified to the requirement being for a wheelchair accessible vehicle or for a hybrid or electric vehicle; (4) that a training requirement is introduced in regard to drivers standards for new taxi and private hire drivers only (with the option for the Civic Licensing Committee to attach the condition in other cases where it considers it necessary) and that officers are instructed to bring proposals on the content of the training requirement following discussion with training providers to a future Committee; (5) that advertising is allowed on all taxis (but not private hire vehicles) subject to the restrictions set out in paragraph 6.4 of the report and in accordance with a procedure to be determined by the Chief Governance Officer which would include a fee of 35.00, and (6) that the changes to the licensing conditions (other than the training requirement) and to the policy have effect from 1 June Detailed discussion thereafter ensued and Forum members raised concerns in relation to the decisions taken and considered that their views given at the Forum meeting on 22 February 2013 had not been adequately taken into account by the Council s decision makers. In clarification, the Licensing Co-ordinator indicated that the views of Forum members were presented to elected members and were duly considered. The ultimate decision rested with the elected members as decision makers of the Council. The decision taken by the Executive in terms of the above maters was thereafter noted. 5. SAFE TAXI SCHEME The Licensing Co-ordinator provided information on the newly established Safe Taxi Scheme by the University of Stirling which became operational on Monday 29 April The aim of the scheme was to provide support to students who had difficulty returning home safely in the evening having insufficient funds for the taxi fare. The scheme operated from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. 7 days per week. To date 13 local taxi firms had signed up to the scheme. In an emergency situation a student could sign for the cost of the journey on production of their student card. The University had established an account with participating taxi firms which thereafter collected the taxi fare from the University. Students settled the full fare with the University within an agreed timeframe. The Licensing Co-ordinator, in recognition of the possible benefits to vulnerable students, sought observations from Forum members on the feasibility of a similar service operating serving students of Forth Valley College within the Falkirk Council area Discussion included the following issues raised by Forum members:- The commercial nature of the taxi trade and it not being its responsibility to take people home without advance payment; That 50% of the taxi fleet already currently offered chip and pin facilities within the Falkirk Council area; The various issues associated with the driver recouping the 3% chip and pin charge should this be used by a student; The principal reasons for the scheme s success within Stirling being due to the lower number of taxis operating in the area; and The achievability of a commercial arrangement with taxi companies being dependant on the underwriting of the cost of the taxi fare by the Council or the College. The Licensing Coordinator would discuss the possibility of a similar scheme in Falkirk with Forth Valley College and report back to the Forum on whether the scheme would be appropriate for the College s students. 6. WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE VEHICLE AVAILABILITY The Licensing Co-ordinator referred to the importance of wheelchair accessible vehicles being available. He advised that the Licensing section had recently received two complaints from wheelchair users indicating when requesting wheelchair accessible vehicles from local taxi companies they were advised that no vehicle was available. The Licensing section then forwarded these complaints to the companies concerned for investigation. A representative from one of the taxi companies, to which a complaint related, indicated that the complainant had been advised in advance that she could not be accommodated at the specifically requested time as the company had a commitment to a school contract. The complainant was however advised that a wheelchair accessible vehicle would be available after 4 p.m. that day. Detailed discussion thereafter took place on the availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles and the undernoted observations were made by Forum members:- That taxi operators should not be held responsible for a minority of instances where vehicles were reported not to be available at a given time; That the vaste majority of requests for wheelchair accessible vehicles were accommodated; That the number of local residents unable to hire an accessible vehicle was very low; That accessible vehicles were expensive to purchase and therefore drivers sought various sources of income including school contacts which limited their availability for hire at specific times of the day; That 98% of wheelchair accessible vehicles were provided for contract work; and That up to approximately 6 wheelchair accessible vehicles were available for hire at any time at the Howgate Centre within Falkirk. That the availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles would continue to be monitored by the Licensing section and any further complaints would be (a) forwarded to the relevant taxi company concerned; and (b) reported to the Forum. 7. CALENDAR METER SEALS The Licensing Enforcement Officer (B Samson) reported on the recent random inspections undertaken of taxi and private hire cars in relation to calendar meter seals. 4 vehicles had missing seals. 8 vehicles demonstrated that the meters were either running slow or significantly fast. The Licensing Co-ordinator indicated that all taxi and private hire cars required to adhere to the licensing conditions set by the licensing authority. This included ensuring that vehicles were appropriately equipped and all areas of the vehicle were in full working order. Members of the Council s Civic Licensing Committee received monthly reports throughout the year which provided an overview of enforcement action taken with regard to Civic Licensing activities. Discussion included the following issues:- That a significant number of calendar meter seals being tampered with; The charge of 14 by the Taxi Testing Station to reseal a calendar meter; and The options for non visible GPS taxi meters. That the Licensing Co-ordinator would investigate the alternative GPS meter system and provide an update to a future meeting. 8. ANY OTHER COMPETENT BUSINESS Appointment of Interim Fleet Services Manager, Taxi Testing Station The Licensing Co-ordinator introduced the newly appointed Interim Fleet Services Manager to Forum members. Forum members, although welcoming the new manager, raised wideranging issues associated with the operation and management of the Testing Station including as undernoted:- The poor service standards and the negative attitude and unhelpfulness of staff; That no information had been forthcoming in relation to the extra charges to drivers and operators; The urgent need for clear guidelines detailing charging structures and booking in arrangements; The lack of differentiation between the MOT charging levels for Hackney and other vehicles; The concerns at the high cost of an MOT and the reasons given for failing vehicles; The lack of a consistent approach to the booking in arrangements; The significant amount of time taken to check a vehicle; The poor service during winter and the perception of being put to the back of the queue; The need for flexibility in terms of testing times, for example, during evenings to accommodate the working hours of taxi and private hire car drivers; The lack of consistency of standard being applied, testing charges and the availability of tests compared to other later opening test centres; The current monopoly and that drivers were unable to obtain an MOT at an alternative station which could be cheaper; and The need for an additional independent testing station to give more choice, create competition and with at least one undertaking vehicle repairs. The Interim Fleet Services Manager thereafter provided clarification including:- That in relation to service standards and staffing matters any future concerns be directed to himself immediately; That information on charges had been made available on the Council website and displayed within the main reception area at the Dalgrain depot; That recent increases in testing charges had been agreed prior to the new manager post being filled; That staff advised drivers of the relevant charges being applied at the time of the MOT and any other servicing; That clarification will be provided in due course on the MOT charging levels for Hackney and other vehicles; The MOT costs were considered to be appropriate in comparison with other Council areas and failed vehicles were considered appropriate; That a consistent approach operated in terms of booking in arrangements with 10 spaces being available per day for taxi and private hire car MOTs; That the level of service and the availability of MOT time slots remained the same throughout the year with no change during winter; That there were no current plans to alter working patterns which were considered appropriate; and That the decision to carry out tests exclusively in-house was taken by Elected Members and accordingly any change would be taken by Members. That an update on the Testing Station arrangements would be provided at the next meeting. 9. DATE OF NEXT MEETING NOTED that the next meeting would take place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday 20 August 2013.
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