Complaints against Edinburgh taxis and private hire on the rise as one quarter fail safety checks

Complaints against taxis and private hire vehicle drivers have increased for each of the last four years - amid calls for routine safety checks to be carried out.

Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 6:00 am
Complaints have increased against taxi and private hire drivers while a controversial incident last year tallied up 75 complaints

Complaints lodged with council chiefs over taxi and private hire drivers have increased every year since 2015 – while 25 per cent of vehicles failed to meet standards in roadside checks last year.

Edinburgh City Council was inundated with 1,231 complaints in 2019 up to the end of November – 694 against private hire vehicles and 523 relating to taxis. In 2019, for the first time, there were more private hire drivers licensed in Edinburgh than taxi drivers – 3,153 compared to 2,934. Late last year, councillors called for an investigation into capping the number of private hire drivers operating in the Capital.

A crackdown by council officials and Police Scotland investigating the safety of licensed vehicles between February and October 2019 saw 172 out of 681 vehicles stopped having a defect or fault, resulting in a compliance rate of 75 per cent – with one quarter of licensed vehicles not meeting the correct standards.

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Complaints to the city council for 2019 up to November

In a report, to be considered by the council’s regulatory committee on Thursday, new figures have revealed that complaints over seagulling, where drivers pick up passengers illegally, have rocketed from 39 in 2018 to 152 in 2019.

When seagulling takes place, primarily but not exclusively by private hire drivers, passengers are not insured for the journey. Calls are being made for the council to make the public aware of the risks of getting inside a private hire vehicle which has not been pre-booked.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Neil Ross said: “Given that taxi and private hire car regulation is funded entirely by licence fees, there should be capacity to carry out roadside vehicle inspections to enforce regulations and licence conditions on a structured, systematic basis rather than only when resources permit. Based on the inspections carried out recently, the 25 per cent vehicle fault rate shows there is a need for this.

“Most customers of private hire cars realise that they must pre-book their journey. However, what most customers may not be aware of is that taking a ride in a private hire car without pre-booking it means the driver is breaking his licence conditions and driving without insurance. The council has a moral responsibility to highlight this to potential customers.”

A private hire driver lay down in front of a taxi charity parade last summer

In June last year, a private hire driver protested against being splattered with water during the annual Taxi Trades Children’s Outing to the seaside organised by the city’s cab drivers – lying down in front of the procession on the Royal Mile. The incident resulted in the council receiving 75 separate complaints.

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Last year, licensing chiefs received 147 complaints of aggressive behaviour by drivers, 152 of seagulling, 12 sexual complaints, 158 of inappropriate parking and ten relating to the driver getting lost or being unaware of the route or destination of the journey.

But council officials warned that of 2,166 complaints received in the 21-month period between January 2018 and September 2019, only 302 “were found to be substantiated with sufficient evidence and therefore requiring formal action”.

Cllr Catherine Fullerton, the council’s licensing convener, said: “The council treats complaints seriously and procedures in place are extremely thorough with individual complaints recorded, investigated robustly and appropriate action taken as required. We also regularly review complaints to see if we can identify any particular areas of concern or if a particular issue requires additional attention.

“Our licensing team proactively encourages feedback and this can result in increased complaints being received. The council regularly receive multiple complaints relating to just a single incident as happened last summer during the ‘taxi outing’ when 75 were recorded following a widely-publicised incident on social media.

“Whilst there are increased levels of complaints about illegal pick ups when investigated the vast majority find that the vehicle was pre-booked and therefore no illegal activity has taken place. We continue to encourage the public to report concerns so they can be fully investigated.”

Conservative Cllr Cameron Rose added: “The increasing availability of competitive options for members of the public to get around is welcome. I know many people love the improved availability, convenience and the lower fares which have come from the explosion of use of Uber and other apps.

“When you consider the large increase in the number of private hire cars on the streets, the proportion of complaints seems to be falling. Nonetheless the regulatory committee needs to deal robustly with cases where standards have fallen short of the rules.”

'Away and get skooshed!'

In June last year, a private hire driver stunned onlookers enjoying a 72-year-old Edinburgh institution as he brought the annual Taxi Trades Children's Outing to the seaside to a halt.

For decades water pistols and water bombs have been a key part of the fun at the event, organised by the city's cab drivers.But when one private hire driver took a direct hit in the Canongate, he took exception and made sure that his displeasure would not go unnoticed by lying down in the middle of the Royal Mile, blocking the parade.

It was only when a taxi driver - all of whom give up their time each year to treat dozens of children with special needs - intervened that he was persuaded to let the parade of dressed-up cabs carrying the youngsters continue on their way after halting its progress.

The hold-up was short lived and finally ended when a Police Scotland motorcycle officer ordered the private hire driver to behave himself. The one-man protest has left many unimpressed, and the organisers feeling that they have no choice but to review arrangements for this year's outing. The incident led Tory Cllr Mark Brown to tell the soggy driver "Away and get skooshed!"

Licensing statistics released by Edinburgh City Council have nw shown that the one incident, which went viral on social media, resulted in the authority tallying up 75 separate complaints from members of the public and taxi drivers.The complaints, classed as "miscellaneous" by licensing officials, made up part of the 1,231 grumbles received from January to November in 2019.

The council's regulatory and licensing convener, Cllr Catherine Fullerton, said: "The council regularly receive multiple complaints relating to just a single incident as happened last summer during the ‘taxi outing’ when 75 were recorded following a widely-publicised incident on social media."