Taxi driving is a profession that is based solely on trust. A customer trusts a driver to take them safely from A to B, and the driver trusts that the customer will pay at the end of the journey. Both party's are at the mercy of each other, but what happens when that trust breaks down?
The industry is acutely aware of its responsibilities towards the customer, but what can a driver do when a customer breaches that trust bestowed upon them and refuses to pay or bilks the driver.
The taxi industry has seen and heard of instances where, when the police have been in attendance, they have failed in their duty in upholding the law in relation to the offence of bilking.
The industry must cut the police some slack here as not every officer would necessarily know the finer points of the law pertaining to bilking a cabbie, there have been many occasions where a police officer has wrongly informed the taxi driver that bilking is a civil matter. However, when corrected by a cabby, the police officer should seek clarification if they are unsure of the law or have been challenged on their interpretation of the law. It takes nothing more than the officer in question simply radioing in or even doing a simple Google search.
The law itself is quite straightforward, if a passenger refuses to pay the fare or runs off without paying, this is considered to be a criminal offence.
If a passenger makes off without paying then this is considered an act of theft under Section 3 of the Theft Act 1978 – Making off without payment.
If a passenger knowingly takes a journey in a taxi without having the money to pay and does not inform the driver of this until the final destination is reached then this is an offence under Section 11 of the Fraud Act 2006 – Obtaining services dishonestly.
Finally if the passenger refuses to pay at the final destination, this would also considered an offence under Section 11 of the Fraud Act.
There is absolutely no ambiguity in the two pieces of legislation stated above. The offences are a police matter and not a civil matter.
Now comes the difficult part, how do you deal with the offence?
As tempting as it seems, NEVER hold the perpetrator by locking them inside the vehicle, you run the very real risk of being charged with false imprisonment as well as an action under civil law.
It needs to be stressed that no offence has taken place until the passenger has left the vehicle.
The moment the passenger has left the vehicle you can make a citizens arrest, which requires you to inform the passenger that you are making a citizens arrest and then inform them of the offence that they have committed. You can then use reasonable force to hold the person before handing them over to the police.
Be aware, this action is frought with danger because it isn't inconceivable that you may find yourself open to charges of false imprisonment or assault.
Curiously, if the passenger offers part payment for the fare, this then becomes a civil matter and not a criminal one. This only applies if the perpetrator also provides their name and address.
It is always wise to switch on the record function on your phone and record the incident in its entirety, so that the police or any other authority can see that you have acted legally.
Regardless as to whether you are able to hold the person or have to let them leave, always report the incident to the police. If you feel that the police are not carrying out their duty then always take the officers name and number and make an official complaint or inform your org or union of the situation.
Be smart and be safe.