A plan by Wellingborough Council to introduce maths and English tests for taxi drivers has been welcomed by the town’s cabbies.
The announcement comes after an extensive six-week consultation about a number of proposed changes to the council's taxi licensing policy.
The majority of the proposals were welcomed by drivers, who agreed that the public were likely to feel safer and more confident about using taxis if the changes were introduced. These included requiring new drivers to take a knowledge test that covered specific routes and checked their understanding of English, as well as a basic maths test to show they were confident in taking payment and giving change. Other changes that were encouraged included all vehicles over one year old needing a valid MOT certificate before a licence could be granted, and allowing the council to license stretch limousines and other special vehicles.
For the few proposals that drivers were unhappy about, such as the council's suggestion to remove age limits on cars that are used as taxis, a compromise has been reached. Whilst Department of Transport guidance stated that it was perfectly possible that old cars could be roadworthy and in good condition, most taxi drivers believed that emissions from old cars would be too high and that newer cars would also benefit from better safety measures such as crumple zones. The drivers felt that in order for the public to feel safe when travelling by taxi, and for current high standards to be maintained, the age limit should remain. The council has suggested that the requirement that a car is no older than five years when it is first registered could be reinstated, but that an exception should be made for special occasion cars that aren't used very often.
Further compromise was reached over the requirement to take an advanced driving test if a driver attracted complaints about their driving or was involved in a blame-worthy collision. The authority to demand the test would now be given to a licensing sub-committee hearing - and only in circumstances where there was sufficient evidence to give rise to concerns - to protect drivers from malicious complaints and give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story.
Councillor Peter Morrall, chairman of the council's community committee said: "We wanted to introduce changes to our licensing policy, to bring us more in line with other councils and to make sure our standards are as high as they can be. Having said that, the taxi drivers and operators know their trade and their customers best of all and we value their opinions, which is why we asked them what they thought and why we're willing to compromise on the points they've raised. The most important thing is the safety and protection of the public and we believe this new policy has that as a priority, whilst also giving taxi businesses the chance to develop and thrive."
The new taxi licensing policy, which incorporates results from the public consultation, will be discussed by the council's community committee on Monday 20 February. If approved, it will be implemented from 1 April 2012.