by Claire Wilde
CABBIES in the Bradford district could face a tougher English language test under new rules being put forward to raise standards in the trade.
New drivers will be expected to be able to chat about things like the weather or the local area before they are given a licence, if Bradford Council’s proposals are approved.
There would also be new measures to clamp down on drivers exploiting a legal loophole so they can avoid Bradford’s spot safety checks.
But it would be cheaper and easier to put adverts on cabs, and a host of other licensing fees would be cut.
The measures, which look set to be approved at a meeting next week, have had a mixed reception from the district’s cabbies, with some saying the rules are too onerous on private hire firms, and others saying they don’t go far enough.
In the current English language test, would-be cabbies are asked to read a paragraph from a book and write a receipt for a theoretical journey.
But the new rules would see this replaced with a conversation test for all new drivers.
A Council report says possible questions could include: ‘What do you think of the weather recently?’, ‘Where did you take your last customer?’ or ‘How do you get from A to B?’.
It says: “The answers are not the focus, the focus is to ensure the applicant understands English and has contributed to a communication in English at a basic level.”
The authority is also planning to lower many of its fees, noting that the taxi and private hire licensing service made a £30,000 surplus in 2013/14.
Another proposal is an attempt to tighten up a legal loophole that allows drivers to get licenses from other councils, meaning they aren’t subject to stringent Bradford Council checks.
In November, the T&A highlighted the problem of dozens of drivers holding these out-of-district licenses, with many of them coming from Rossendale in rural Lancashire.
The practice is entirely legal – hackney carriages licensed for one area can lawfully operate as private hire cars anywhere else.
But it means Bradford’s licensing enforcement officers, who carry out spot safety checks on cabs, have no jurisdiction over these drivers.
Licensing officers also believe many of these drivers are not declaring to their insurance provider that they work in Bradford, to avoid paying the city’s high insurance premiums.
Now private hire firms taking on drivers with out-of-district plates will be expected to check they are up-to-date on all their safety tests, and properly insured to ply their trade in Bradford.
Khurram Shehzad, chairman of the Bradford Private Hire Liaison Service, said this placed too much responsibility on private hire operators, and not enough on drivers.
But he welcomed the idea of a tougher English test.
He said: “It is in the interests of the public, because some drivers may know how to drive but when they have a customer in the car they can’t have a conversation.
“The public do ask for certain drivers. They say, ‘We want a driver that can speak English’. You do get requests like that.”
Shabir Munir, committee member on the Hackney Carriage Owners’ and Drivers’ Association, welcomed efforts to clamp down on drivers getting licenses from elsewhere.
But he said the difficulty level of the English test would have to be set very carefully.
He said: “It’s a very fine line. If they make it too hard, then people will go to Rossendale and get licenses from there, and if they make it too easy, they lose customer service.”
Stuart Hastings, chairman of the Keighley Private Hire Association, said: “It’s not enough. What they are doing there is nothing.”
Mr Hastings called for a much wider tightening of the rules, such as a higher minimum age for drivers and a lower maximum age for cars.
He said he would also like to see the Council employ more enforcement officers rather than lower their fees.
He said: “We are licensed by the Council to be public service vehicles, like buses or trains. They should actually look at us more, because there are a lot of times where we are one-to-one with a customer.”
The proposals will go before councillors on Bradford Council’s regulatory and appeals committee on Thursday, where they are recommended for approval.