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TAXI COP: Talking taxi enforcement with PC Patrick Quinton

Policing the taxi industry is never an easy task given the differing work patterns enjoyed by each cabbie. There’s also a plethora of rules and regulations to understand and follow. However, in two regions in England, licensing authorities have an ace card up their sleeves in the form of a ‘Taxi Cop’.

We speak to PC Patrick Quinton, a Taxi Compliance Officer for Avon & Somerset Constabulary, to see how his role helps the south-west community and industry.

How do you go about building a good working relationship with licensed taxi and private hire drivers in your region?

When I started as the “Taxi Cop” 6 years ago it quickly became clear to me that the best way of supporting the trade and carrying out effective law and licensing enforcement would be to use a “Neighbourhood Policing” approach.

It means I need to be highly visible on the streets, easily contactable, and have good lines of communication with the community. A listening approach means I better understand what drivers have to cope with, the challenges they face and what is important to them. I’ve grown increasingly sympathetic to drivers having listened to what they say.

It’s important to me to build relationships with key contacts, whether that’s the local Taxi Association, the Private Hire Operators or influential drivers. One of the best ways to communicate is the WhatsApp groups I run for drivers. It allows them to privately ask me questions and give information by video and text, and it allows me to share information with them.

How important is it to have resources available to taxi drivers to better understand the rules and regulations they must follow, and how do you help deliver that?

Have you seen how detailed and technical Licencing Policy and Conditions often are? It’s a lot for many drivers to understand and follow, so I’ve written a series of Information Sheets for our drivers on many topics such as CCTV, signage on vehicles, runners, and parking in an easy to understand format.

I also use our WhatsApp group to give reminders of what is needed, warnings following Court & Committee decisions and information about offences I deal with. One of the things I’d love to see in the future for the trade is nationally unified Licence Conditions with an easy-to-understand version for drivers – although I suspect that’s as likely as a new law to replace the 1847 and 1976 Acts!

What taxi issues are most common in the Avon and Somerset area?

The Avon and Somerset Police area is a real mix of rural, town and city with the biggest being Bristol. Issues such as runners, illegal plying for hire and offences against drivers are common. I suspect that racial abuse of drivers is very common too, but regrettably it doesn’t often get reported to us. The wider Bristol area is covered by two different Licensing Authorities which can lead to some challenges when their standards differ. Cross border hiring (“out of towners”) is an issue for the trade and causes conflict between drivers, but it’s not so much an enforcement issue, especially since the new law earlier this year and that my police powers allow me to deal with drivers and vehicles immediately whoever they are licensed by. Our crime figures suggest that drivers are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators, but when they are accused of crime it tends to be the more serious offences such as sexual assault. As you’d expect, I also work to keep the peace between drivers!

Do you work closely with taxi driver associations and representative groups in the industry?

I work closely with the Bristol Blue Licensed Taxi Association, and I often approach them for their advice on specific matters or to let them know changes which will affect their members. I’d love to work more closely with the Private Hire drivers who massively outnumber Hackney Carriage drivers, but sadly there is no formal local group to represent them in my area.

Not all police forces have a dedicated officer for Taxi and private hire. What prompted Somerset and Avon Police to create the role and how importance has it become in the region?

Outside of London, it’s just West Midlands and A&S who have full time Taxi Officers. The drivers literally pay my wages: my post is fully funded from their licence fees which is why I tell people I have four bosses – the police, two Councils and the drivers.

It can be difficult to keep everyone happy, but I work hard to try. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why more Councils don’t fund a police Taxi Officer from their licensing enforcement budgets – the added value to all parties is enormous, if sometimes difficult to quantify.

Avon and Somerset Police worked with SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality), Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council to create a post to support and protect the drivers and the public following concerns from the trade about what was happening. Our other local Licensing Authorities also benefit from having me in post and we often share information.

One of the things I am most proud of is the support I have from our local drivers, and many of them have relied on me for help and assistance both with law and licensing matters.

What would be on your ‘wish list’ as a Taxi Cop moving forwards?

In no particular order:

  • A new Taxi Act to replace the 1847 and 1976 Acts (I’m available to write it!).

  • National (not minimum) Standards, Policy and Licence Conditions

  • Private Hire Drivers parking legally and considerately (and not on ranks!)

  • A safe shift - every shift - for our hardworking, honest and helpful Hackney Carriage and Private Hire drivers.


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