LAST year Bolton Council suspended 34 taxi licences, revoked 19, and refused to renew eight. Local democracy reporter NICK STATHAM finds out why and what measures are being taken to tighten up private hire and hackney carriage licensing.

THERE are currently more than 1,800 licensed taxi drivers in Bolton and while the majority of journeys are completed safely and professionally, there are also cases of overcharging, sexually inappropriate behaviour and violence from those behind the wheel.

When these are reported the question of whether the driver remains “a fit and proper person” to hold either a private hire or hackney carriage licence goes before Bolton Council’s licensing and environmental regulation committee — or the traffic offences sub-committee for less serious matters.

The hearings are held behind closed doors, but the minutes which later appear on the council’s website reveal how far some drivers stray from the standards expected of them.

Earlier this month a taxi driver was stripped of his private hire licence after licensing chiefs heard he had threatened a member of the public with a screwdriver. He also had an undeclared conviction for common assault.

Back in July another driver had his licence revoked after taking a lone female passenger home “via a long route through dark streets” during which he asked her personal questions the left her feeling “scared, uncomfortable and panicked”. He later tried to contact the woman via her Instagram account.

And in June Perez Sajid was suspended for five weeks by council licensing chiefs after being found guilty of overcharging a disabled passenger at Bolton Magistrates Court.

Figures provided by Bolton Council make clear the measures the licensing committee is taking to ensure people can be confident of their own safety when they get into a taxi or private hire vehicle.

Last year the authority suspended 34, revoked 19, and refused to renew eight licences. It also issued one warning. The number of licensed drivers fluctuates throughout the year, but the current number is 1,850, which gives an indication of the proportion who are breaching the trust placed in them by passengers.

And of the 212 applications for new licences it refused 12 – just under six per cent of those received.

When taxi drivers first apply for a private hire or hackney carriage licence a check is made to see if they have a criminal record through the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

This is repeated when they are renewed every 12 months and police also inform licensing chiefs of relevant intelligence throughout the year.

But Cllr Nick Peel, the council’s environmental services chief who sits on the licensing panel, said he was happy that the authority had a “fair but robust system”.

He added: “In any profession there’s always going to be a minority of bad eggs, but the main thing is taxi drivers are in a very, very privileged position of trust.

“That’s why it’s so important that the drivers are “fit and proper” to carry out what I would describe as a unique privilege.

“Where else would you get a stranger alone with a vulnerable person, or a child? It would be hard to find another example so, for that reason, we don’t tolerate anything that looks like inappropriate behaviour.”

Cllr Peel added that council figures show there are no issues with the “overwhelming majority” of drivers but licensing chiefs were willing to take strong action where required.

He said: “We will refuse applications if standards are not met and we will also revoke or suspend licences of drivers found to be breaking the law or breaching licensing requirements.

"The safety of the public is of paramount importance to us and this is at the heart of our licensing duties.”

Taxi drivers staged a protest this year over what they described as “unfair” licensing rulings, which took cabbies off the road for minor or historical offences.

But Cllr Peel said the panel looked at patterns and frequencies of offences, as well as their seriousness when reaching a decision.

He said: “We would like to reassure the public we will continue to take action and if they have concerns about drivers they can report these to us.

“Similarly if a driver is unhappy with any decision they have the right of appeal to both Bolton Magistrates and Crown Courts.”