Research on the personal security issues for taxi and PHV drivers - Executive summary
|Publisher:||Department for Transport|
|Published date:||15 October 2008|
|Mode/topic:||Roads, Public transport|
This research study was commissioned in 2007 by the Department for Transport’s Accessibility and Equalities Unit to identify and explore the nature of personal security problems affecting taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) drivers and what measures would improve their actual and perceived security.
The research adopted a case study approach, with seven selected areas chosen to reflect the range and diversity of the taxi and private hire trade and provide nationally applicable research findings. The areas included a number where either the taxi or private hire trades or both are comprised predominantly of minority ethnic drivers. It was conducted through:
- a literature review;
- interviews with national driver associations and unions;
- interviews with licensing authorities, both in the case study areas and elsewhere to identify good practice;
- interviews with driver associations (where there was one), licensing authorities, police and community safety managers in the case study areas;
- observation late at night at weekends and interviews with 82 taxi and private hire drivers across the seven case study areas.
Most of the information on the prevalence of crime and anti social behaviour against taxi and PHV drivers in England and Wales comes from local press reports and the trade press.
The licensing authorities interviewed for this study are aware of the problems faced by drivers, often described as national or even global rather than affecting only a few areas. The local licensing authority’s awareness of the problems from crime and disorder is likely to be greater when there are local taxi and private hire forums which provide channels for information exchange on a range of issues affecting the trade.
For those licensing authorities where the taxis and private hire operate from town centres and serve a rural hinterland, there are said to be fewer problems. Both of the two study areas where incidents are said to be fewer in number have a comparatively low crime profile compared to the other five areas. Thus, the number of incidents that are experienced by the taxi and private hire trades is thought to reflect the crime profile in the wider environment. The problems with bilking, however, occur across all study areas irrespective of their crime profile.
The literature review identified that many incidents committed against taxi and private hire drivers go unreported to the police. Many of the police interviewees in this research were often unaware that personal security issues are a problem for taxi and private hire drivers in their force area. This is clearly linked to the low propensity to report incidents, but is also because reported incidents, for example of an assault against a taxi driver, will be recorded as an assault but not easily linked to the employment profile of the victim.
The interviews with drivers consistently reveal, across all seven study areas, that significant under-reporting of incidents is commonplace. Often it is only the most serious incidents requiring or involving police assistance and hospital attendance that are reported. Incidents of verbal abuse, bilking, threats of violence, assaults not requiring hospital treatment and criminal damage to the vehicle are not commonly reported to the police.
The scale and type of incidents faced by taxi and PHV drivers
- The drivers experience incidents that range from low-level verbal abuse, robbery, threats of violence and violence through to murder.
- It is the perception of drivers and their associations that the frequency of incidents is increasing and so is the severity of violence or aggression from the perpetrators.
- Problems could be caused by anyone, although given the high demand for taxis and PHV in town and city centres late at night, many of those causing the problems will be younger rather than older people. Increasing numbers of women are said to cause problems for the driver.
- Drivers are subjected to assaults and robbery. On average, three drivers a year are unlawfully killed.
- The emotional and physical impact of some incidents is so severe that the victim has stopped working as a taxi or private hire driver.
- The frequency of such incidents is much less than those of verbal abuse or threats, most drivers if they have not experienced such an incident personally will know of someone who has been attacked while working.
- Drivers are more at risk of attack or robbery in isolated locations. Some attacks on drivers are premeditated where perpetrators set out to rob the drivers and use violence to achieve their objective.
Bilking or non payment of fares
- If drivers take action to prevent passengers from running off without paying it can make them vulnerable to abuse, robbery or violence.
- Drivers often experience verbal abuse from customers ranging from casual or dismissive rudeness to severe abuse that can be threatening. Rudeness can be triggered by customer disagreement with the fare or their irritation at any difficulties or delays experienced in obtaining a cab.
- Asian and other minority ethnic drivers appear to be subject to higher levels of abuse and much of this is racist in content. Very few of these incidents are reported to the police.
When and where drivers are most at risk
- Night-time is the period when most of the problems occur, many associated with the late night economy.
- Some Asian drivers identify media attention on past events, such as the 11th of September 2001 and July 2005 terrorist attacks, as increasing levels of racist abuse and the likelihood of racially motivated violence.
- There is a consensus that problems can happen anywhere, but are most likely within major towns and cities. However, it is not in the busy city or town centres that problems are most likely to occur but on route to the destination or at the end of a journey, when a driver is very much on his or her own.
- There are neighbourhoods that are felt to be less safe for drivers, but the problems are said to be caused by only a small minority and usually at specific localities within those areas.
The causes of incidents
Profile of the job
- Drivers always work alone, they often work late into the night when the risks are usually higher and are known to carry cash.
- Plying for hire on the street may make a taxi driver more vulnerable because there is no information readily available to the driver about the person or persons that he or she is picking up.
- PHV drivers who illegally ply for hire on the street may be especially vulnerable because the driver will have little legal recourse following an incident.
Fares and tariffs
- Disputes about fares are often the trigger for arguments and can quickly escalate into more general (and racist) abuse, leading sometimes to violence against the driver and/or criminal damage to the vehicle.
- There appears to be a lack of awareness among the public about fare structures, changes in tariff and the boundaries beyond which the driver does not have to run on a meter.
- The problems faced by drivers are closely associated with alcohol misuse.
- The pressure is on the police and others to clear town and city centres as quickly as possible at the end of the night, and this can mean drivers are told to take customers that are very drunk and whom they would rather refuse to carry.
- Dealing with situations where customers have taken illegal drugs is far more difficult for drivers, although the use of illegal drugs is said to be increasing as a contributing factor to criminal and anti social incidents.
Lack of respect
- A strong belief held by many drivers, controllers and others representing the trade is that the root cause of many of the problems is a lack of respect from the public for taxi and private hire drivers.
- Drivers without a good command of English are thought to be especially vulnerable to abuse and attack because of the potential for misunderstanding triggering confrontation. Asian and other minority ethnic drivers themselves identified the absence of an ability to communicate easily to customers as a factor that can put drivers at greater risk.
- Another feature that is said by drivers and associations to raise the risk of confrontation, especially racist abuse, is for Asian or other minority ethnic drivers to wear traditional dress. This was said to draw attention to the differences between the driver and the customer.
Type of vehicle
- The drivers of saloon cars and other vehicles where drivers and passengers are within the same physical space are said to be most at risk, including from violence. Passengers can easily board saloon cars because the driver usually has no means of automatically locking rear doors.
Reporting incidents to the police
- Many incidents go unreported to the police and, as a consequence, the police are often not aware of the type or scale of the problems that drivers face. It is usually only the most serious incidents requiring or involving police assistance and hospital attendance that are reported.
- Key reasons given in the research for incidents not being reported are the loss of potential income while reporting; the fact that the police are unlikely to take it seriously, and absence of witnesses. Familiarity with the customers and their families may also deter reporting because of fear of loss of future trade or retaliation.
- The police do not routinely record the incident as involving a taxi or private hire driver as a victim.
- There are examples of police forces taking steps to actively encourage the reporting of racially motivated crime, including through good contacts with groups working with the black and minority ethnic communities and providing support packs to assist victims and prevent repeat victimisation.
- The West Yorkshire Police have established a system whereby people are able to report an incident by telephone and a member of staff will write up the report on their behalf.
- There is strong criticism from drivers and their associations about the level of police response and a widely held perception that the police did not take the problems faced by taxi and private hire drivers seriously.
- The response from the police in respect of bilking is said to vary widely between forces and undermines the trust between drivers and the police. There are also misunderstandings on the part of drivers about the role of the police in respect of such incidents.
Response of the courts
- Where a perpetrator has been charged and appeared in court, some drivers are disappointed by the outcome. It is felt that the courts do not appear to take incidents against taxi and private hire drivers as seriously as they should.
- The Sentencing Guidelines Council has set out a series of factors that specifically identify what is an aggravated assault and should result in greater sentences. These factors, which came into force in March 2008, include attacks on victims providing a service for the public and include transport workers of which taxi and private hire drivers are a part. Of particular relevance in the guidelines is that the ‘deliberate targeting of vulnerable victims and choosing isolated places for carrying out an attack’ will be a factor for an aggravated assault.
- Licensing officers have a role in raising awareness of the issues and concerns of taxi and private hire drivers with their licensing committees.
- Most drivers and associations feel that having forums that meet regularly is the most effective channel for communication and consultation.
- Standards for granting licences is said to vary greatly between licensing authorities.
Reducing the risks
Pre-payment of fares
- One practice that can minimise the risks of bilking and defuse problems triggered by fare disputes at the end of a journey is for the driver to ask for payment up-front. However, drivers have mixed views on pre-payment because of the potential for annoying the customer and triggering a confrontation.
- Some drivers supported the use of shields, but others argued that it could have a detrimental effect on the relationship with the passenger.
- Where drivers felt that the use of a shield would be effective in reducing the risk from violence, the cost remained a deterrent - as did doubts about the shield’s robustness and a belief that it could not be easily removed when the vehicle was in private use.
In-car CCTV camera surveillance
- A pilot project in Sheffield has found the installation of in-cab CCTV led to a significant reduction in incidents of abuse, threats and violence. However, progress for the wider take-up by the trade has been slow.
- Some associations and drivers feel that in-cab notices about the presence of CCTV cameras could be as effective as the equipment itself.
- Without resolution of the driver concerns about the police response, cameras are not felt by some to be effective, although their use in collecting evidence is acknowledged.
- The cost of installing and maintaining the cameras is the main barrier identified by many, but not all, drivers. However, there appears to be a widely varying understanding of the costs involved and little awareness that installation can have a beneficial effect on insurance premiums.
- Good radio communication between the taxi and PHV driver and a despatch or base can be a means of speedily requesting advice and assistance. Good communication between drivers can also help relay information about potential troublemakers in a locality.
- Small operations that are essentially one controller with a telephone and a manual system of recording jobs generally feel that there is little that they can do to enhance the personal security of the drivers.
- In some of the study areas, the private hire and taxi trades have a high volume of radio ordered work, with all jobs logged on a computerised system with GPS and details of the passenger’s name and contact details, the pick up address and destination. There is usually a facility for the driver to activate a silent in-cab button to alert the base of an emergency.
- Some controllers said that they try to obtain as much information as possible about the customer when the job is booked. This can mean that when the controller is called by a customer who has caused problems in the past, he or she will be refused the hire.
- ‘Taxi Watch’ schemes have been suggested with the objective that a customer that offends against one member will be barred by all.
Experience and responsive attitudes
- Driver attitude and their interaction with customers can play a key role in defusing potentially abusive or violent situations, even when the passengers are drunk or appear to be aggressive.
- The ability to assess the potential for confrontation is seen as a valuable skill, often learnt from many years in the trade.
- Training for taxi and private hire drivers, including that promoted by GoSkills (the Learning and Skills Council for transport), is said to empower drivers and raise professionalism and respect from the public.
- The cost of training and the loss of trade whilst attending is a major deterrent for individual drivers.
- There are examples of the licensing authorities, and occasionally the police, providing some training for new drivers and this usually includes an element on conflict avoidance.
- Drivers express mixed views on the potential and effectiveness of training, with experienced drivers feeling that it is unnecessary for them but with more general support for its delivery to those new to the trade.
Guidance for drivers
- Separate guidance is needed for taxi and PHV drivers, to ensure that it is applicable to their different experiences. To be practical, the advice offered needs to take account of the realities of the trade and be drafted in consultation with them.
- Guidance would be especially useful to new drivers, but not necessarily for those with experience in doing the job.
Radio link schemes
- Radio links schemes are in place to facilitate exchange of information between businesses in many city and town centres. There were suggestions for the inclusion of taxi and private hire controllers in such schemes.
- Many areas have taxi and PHV marshals to control ranks, especially late into the night. Whilst acknowledging their role for customer safety and reducing the potential for confrontation and violence between those waiting, many drivers also identified that rank marshals have a positive influence on their own safety.
Raising public awareness
- There are examples of initiatives in other environments that seek to raise awareness among the public of their anti social or dangerous activities and have introduced ‘zero tolerance’ campaigns to tackle violence against staff.
- One way of raising public awareness that is supported by drivers is to have a police poster displayed in taxi and private hire vehicles stating that anti social or racist behaviour will not be tolerated and there will be a police response.
- Understanding the trade
Police officers working at operational level should be provided with information that raises their awareness of the distinction between taxi and private hire regulations, in particular those relating to the right to ply for hire.
- Making other organisations aware of the issues
Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs), police and town centre managers should be made aware of the crime and personal security issues (most notably violence, criminal damage and bilking) facing taxi and private hire vehicle drivers.
The Department for Transport should accordingly publish the key findings of this research on the Home Office and Association of Town Centre Management websites.
Current guidance for CDRPS on crime and disorder on public transport should include issues facing the taxi and private hire trade, and provide pointers for making contact with them.
- Guidance for staying safe
Guidance should be prepared for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, with the aim of helping them to take appropriate precautions to prevent violence, and advising them of what they should do in the event of a threat or violent incident.
This should be produced in hard, durable format and disseminated through the licensing authorities, to be issued to all current license drivers and all new licensees.
It should also be published in the trade newspapers and journals.
While the guidance may refer to bilking, it should focus on incidents and threats of violence. Steps should be taken to ensure that all police forces fully understand the criminal law in relation to non-payment of fares and are consistent when dealing with such incidents. Bilking, where there is intention to avoid payment of a fare, is always a criminal offence under the Theft Act. It is only a civil matter if the passenger is unhappy with the quality of the service and wishes to dispute that the full fare is payable.
- Establishing and promoting effective practice
There are measures in place that appear to assist in offering protection to drivers, including the use of in-vehicle CCTV, robust plastic shields or screens that separate the driver from the passengers, CCTV at taxi ranks, taxi marshals and conflict management training.
Evaluations on these measures should be used to promote the features of effective practice in different circumstances.
- Public education
Consideration should be given to a public awareness poster campaign, utilising display boards at taxi ranks and in prominent city centre locations. These should highlight the view taken by the courts that an assault of a person performing a public service – including taxi and private hire vehicle drivers – should be treated particularly seriously when sentencing.
Well designed and accessible information should be made available to raise awareness among the public of the differences between taxi and private hire services, and how fares are calculated.
The Department for Transport will be issuing guidance to taxi and PHV drivers on how to stay safe, and issuing guidance to Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships on how they can work with the trades to reduce the security problems faced by drivers. The Department will also be working with the Association of Chief Police Officers on how to raise police awareness on the issue of bilking, and considering further ways to improve the security of drivers.
If you would like a copy of the full research report, please contact Pippa Brown on 020 7944 2278; firstname.lastname@example.org