Since the taxi industry review and the announcement of a host of reforms and new regulations, a number of problems have arisen for drivers trying to make a living and operate within the law. Some of these problems were not obviously going to arise but some were fairly clearly going to come up and taxi drivers were telling us this from the word go. Some of these issues have again been brought to my attention by taxi drivers who feel they are getting nowhere with the regulatory authority, the NTA, and the taxi advisory committee.
One issue which is raised across the board is the taxi decals, which were brought in for the sides of cars. These were hailed as a security measure to stamp out rogue taxis operating without a proper licence and to give confidence to passengers, but they have done neither. It is important that prospective customers can tell that a car driving by is a taxi for hire, but a taxi driver cannot now use their car in any private circumstance without people assuming that they are plying for hire. In the past, taxi drivers were able to remove their signage and place it in the boot or elsewhere and drive their car on their day off or on holidays as a private car. They were able to park up in towns or at their home and not be seen from a distance to be a taxi. To some, this might not seem important but for those who make their living as a taxi driver it is crucial for safety and comfort.
With these decals a taxi is never not a taxi and this puts taxi drivers at risk for a number of reasons. I will illustrate the scenarios in which this becomes a problem. A car parked outside a home, advertising to the world that it is a taxi due to its decals, is a beacon to criminals who can expect the car or the home to have cash in higher sums than normal. This is especially the case when parked on the streets as taxis are more likely to have a stash of cash, expensive equipment or other things. It also provides information to anyone who might wish to clone the driver's licence as one can now quite easily find out a person's address from these decals. One may be a customer or just passing down a street. One driver showed me how it was possible to change the name of the driver attached to a certain car with use of the app and details from the decal and plate. Some people's details have been available even after they have passed away.
One driver to whom I spoke had refused to use the decals on his brand new luxury car, which he invested in for his business, because he was worried that it would be damaged by sticking the decals to it, thus losing him money when it came to resale. The decals also cause problems when the car is used in a foreign country or even across the Border, drawing attention from potential undesirables or the police, who may be confused. One driver told me of driving to a town on a weekend night with his family and having people attempt to enter his car or flag him down in the street. Fortunately nothing more happened but it is not unusual for drunken people to cause problems for taxi drivers when they refuse to pick them up. One only has to read the paper to see that taxi drivers are often victims of violent crime.
We need our taxis to be identifiable and to carry relevant information for customers and for security, but it seems we cannot allow them to be safe in their jobs and in their private life. There are also issues with insurance because of these decals and taxi drivers are finding it incredibly difficult to find information on the regulations affecting them from the NTA or the advisory committee. They do not know whom to ask and they get very little response when they do ask questions. Drivers need more supports to access grants needed to increase wheelchair accessible vehicles and to stay within regulations. One driver with whom I am dealing was awarded a wheelchair access grant but was unable to take it up until he had raised the money he needed. When he did raise the money he could not find out if the grant was still available to him. There is a major communication problem and it is causing serious morale problems with drivers, who are feeling increasing frustration. This is seen in the lack of knowledge among drivers about what can be done with a licence when a driver is deceased and a family member might want to keep it on.