Private hire drivers in Leeds staged a 24-hour strike on Monday in protest against stringent new rules proposed by Leeds City Council.
The council’s new suitability rules are currently under consultation. They include new rules on which past offences can be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to grant taxi licences to drivers.
Zahir Mahmood, vice-chairman of the Leeds Private Hire Drivers Association, has claimed some of the proposed rules unfairly target black, Asian and minority ethnic drivers, saying the rules “treat us like criminals”. LPHDO members went on strike from 6AM on Monday, January 17 to 6AM the following day.
Under current rules, drivers who had previously faced charges which did not result in a criminal conviction, or any conviction that was overturned, could still be taken into account by the council when issuing a taxi licence. However, the proposed new rules add the line: “In addition, complaints where there was no police involvement may also be considered.”
Mahmood said the plans would make it “very, very hard” to get a licence in Leeds. “They’re already 700 drivers short in Leeds at the moment,” he said.
“With this policy coming in you’re going to have more and more drivers being suspended, so when demand increases and life goes back to normal the demand will be there but there won’t be any private hire drivers left.”
“I have been doing this job for 20-odd years now, and public safety has always been a priority. This feels like a slap in the face. Any argument you ever had with someone, you could be held to account for.”
Section 27 of the proposed new terms states a driver’s “character”, including their “attitude and temperament”, can be taken into account when assessing their suitability for the job.
In addition, Section 28 of the new rules states that drivers living out of the country for at least six months must produce some kind of certificate of good behaviour from the authorities of that country.
Mahmood said this unfairly targets non-white drivers, adding: “Many of us have family abroad. We might go every three or four years, but when we do we like to spend more time with them. This is an insult to the BAME community.”
He also believes there should also be rules on safeguarding drivers from passengers, adding: “Many of us are able to do this job late at night because we don’t drink. We don’t know what the passenger is like and how they will behave.”
Leeds City Council deputy leader Debra Coupar said: “We would ask the LPHDO to continue their dialogue with us over the proposed accumulation of minor motoring convictions criterion of the suitability policy in order to achieve a positive outcome for all parties.”