LICENSING bosses at Bolton Council are tightening their guidelines to make sure private hire drivers are “fit and proper” people before they get behind the wheel.
As well as looking into complaints of inappropriate or indecent behaviour by private hire drivers passed on by the police, councillors will also listen to child safeguarding agencies, licensing bodies and passengers.
The recommendations come from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities in the wake of the Rochdale child exploitation ring scandal, which saw young girls groomed and sexually assaulted by employees of local taxi firms.
The licensing board has heard several cases involving allegations of indecent behaviour from Bolton taxi drivers over the past year, including a case in October where a driver tricked a 13-year-old into giving him her phone number.
Cllr Nick Peel, Bolton council’s executive cabinet member for environmental services, said the regulations were about protecting vulnerable people using taxi services.
He added: “There’s a great deal of responsibility on private hire drivers. This is about tightening up the regulations with particular regard to vulnerable people and actions around inappropriate behaviour.”
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In the case of a complaint, drivers would be immediately suspended pending an investigation.
Possible scenarios that might lead to suspension include asking inappropriate or personal questions, asking a passenger for their mobile phone number or making sexually explicit statements.
Asif Vali, chairman of Bolton Private Hire Operators Association and owner of Rapid Private Hire, said he was delighted the council was leading the way with these proposals.
He added: “It’s a great idea for the council to make these changes, to make sure that the Bolton public is looked after as best as possible and we have the best drivers in the borough.
“People’s lives are in our hands and it’s easy to complain, but the truth always prevails. As long as the local authority deals with complaints quickly, none of our drivers will mind waiting.”
The policy will come into force on April 1.