Topaz tackles match day taxi touts

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A LIVERPOOL cabbie who tried to con football fans into paying over the odds for a trip from Anfield back to their hotel has been hit with a hefty fine.

Hackney Carriage driver Girwel Singh, was caught as part of an ongoing city council crackdown called Operation Topaz, which aims to protect the public from match day taxi scams.

Magistrates in Liverpool heard that 36-year-old Singh was parked on Walton Breck Road, close to Anfield Stadium, for Liverpool’s home match against Burnley in March.

Undercover council licensing officers, who were patrolling as part of Operation Topaz, witnessed Singh talking with a group of passengers before letting them into his car. As Singh drove off the officers noticed that he had not switched his meter on.

They followed him to The Hilton Hotel in Liverpool City Centre and spoke to him as his passengers got out.

When asked why he had not switched his meter on, Singh claimed the group were his friends and he was not charging them for the trip. But a conversation with the passengers revealed that Singh had quoted them £20 for the journey, which would have cost just £7.50 with the meter on.

During the incident, the officers also noticed that Singh was not wearing his official badge, which is also an offence.

Singh, of Plummer Street, Liverpool, admitted the offences and was ordered to pay a total of £600 in fines and costs.

Operation Topaz has been specifically designed to protect football fans from being exploited by unscrupulous drivers on match days. Typical offences include private hire drivers accepting fares that have not been pre-booked and Hackney drivers not switching the meter on. In most cases, the passengers are charged excessive amounts for journeys into the city centre or to the airport.

Last season 17 hackney carriage drivers were reported for demanding higher fares than they would have received from a metered trip – an offence also known as cherry-picking. A further 18 private hire drivers were reported for ‘plying for hire’ – which means they agreed to take a fare that had not been booked in advance. In other recent cases under Operation Topaz, Wirral private hire driver Nasir Uddin was ordered to pay £475 in fines and costs and given six points for plying for hire and driving without insurance. Whilst private hire driver Mohammed Rafiqul Islam also from Wirral had to pay £525 in fines and costs and given six points for the same offences.

Chair of Liverpool City Council’s Licensing Committee, Cllr Christine Banks said: “What started as a quick chance to get a few extra pounds out of his passengers turned into a costly experience for this driver.

“The city council protects members of the public from being ripped off and visitors to our city don’t deserve to be treated as easy pickings by the small number of drivers who are willing to exploit them. Our officers will be patrolling matches throughout the season and anyone caught flouting the law will be prosecuted, so it is simply not worth the risk.” Cllr Banks added: “Our message to members of the public is clear if you are travelling by private hire, always book in advance and if you are travelling by black cab, make sure the driver switches the meter on.”

More information:

Hackney Carriage vehicles (often referred to as black cabs):

This form of transport can be hired off the street or by using a designated Hackney Carriage rank. If you are using a Hackney Carriage vehicle from areas within the city centre to get to and from Liverpool Football Club, then the cost of that journey should be in the region of between £7 and £9. A driver can only charge you what is on the taxi meter.

Private Hire vehicles

There are a number of private hire companies that operate within the Liverpool City boundary. If you are using private hire vehicles please note that they must be pre-booked via Phone/App technology. For more information about taxi issues in Liverpool, visit: www.liverpool.gov.uk and search for ‘taxi licensing’.

*photo shows Liverpool City Council Taxi Licensing Enforcement officers at work in the city centre.