A taxi driver has been found guilty in court of “over ranking” as the city council’s licensing manager is accused of “altering the status quo”.
Keith Raby, 58, from Nether Kellet, pleaded not guilty to four charges of the offence, but was found guilty at Lancaster Magistrates Court last Friday.
The charges were brought by Lancaster City Council, whose solicitor Luke Gorst showed CCTV footage to the court of Mr Raby, a Hackney Carriage driver in the city for 38 years, parked outside a designated rank in North Road on four seperate occasions in May and June.
Wendy Peck, the city council’s licensing manager, said that there had been complaints from police about taxis causing obstructions, and that in the past enforcement by the council had not been very good.
But Mr Raby’s solicitor Anthony Schiller told the court that a Freedom Of Information request sent to the city council asking for proof of correspondence with the police revealed that no official complaints had been made.
Mr Raby said that the city council’s licensing committee had relaxed some rules in 2000, to help move people quickly out of the city centre at night.
He added: “We’ve always had a good rapport with police and takeaways, as long as the town keeps moving.”
But the city council maintained that Mr Raby had been in breach of the byelaw on each occassion.
Mr Gorst also told the court that the informal relaxation of rules in 2000 was only to deal with a particular issue in a particular place, and could not be used as a defence.
In cross-examining Mrs Peck, Mr Schiller said: “You’ve made life very difficult for drivers by altering the status quo that has been in place for 13 years. You’re enforcing this personally without telling the trade what you are doing.”
Mrs Peck, who has been the city council’s licensing manager since February 2010, said that she warned Mr Raby following the first offence, and invited him to an interview under caution.
Mr Raby said he asked to have his case heard in front of city councillors from the licensing act sub committee, but the court heard that Mrs Peck refused this.
Questions were also raised about what Hackney Carriage drivers should do if ranks were full, as rules stated that after taking a fare, they should proceed to a rank, and if it’s full, they should go to the next available one.
Mr Schiller said: “Do you expect drivers to just drive round the city centre looking for a space, and if they can’t find one, they just go home? The council has in the past given some leeway on this in the interest of public safety. There was a resolution to preserve the status quo.
“There’s been no discussion about toughening up the policy in 118 meetings of the licensing committee.”
Mrs Peck said that drivers were picking prime locations, which was causing problems.
She added: “They can always proceed to Morecambe if there’s nothing in Lancaster.”
Mr Schiller said: “The council has not provided additional facilities. There were other vehicles in those pictures as well.
“Where are those vehicles? They’re not here today. It’s just Mr Raby.”
Mr Raby was backed in court by the National Private Hire Association, which described the situation in Lancaster as “madness”.
After three hours of deliberations, magistrates found Mr Raby guilty of breaching the byelaw, and gave him a £115 fine, with £270 costs.
Afterwards, Jonathan Dixon, chair of the licensing committee, said there were enough ranks available within the district and the trade was formally made aware as far back as 2010 that the byelaws would be enforced.