Birmingham could be ground to a halt by a taxi go-slow protest due to a controversial new crackdown on licence breaches.

The city council yesterday (Wednesday, September 19) approved a new penalty point system to punish all sorts of infringements - including smoking in vehicles, using mobiles phones while driving and even an 'unsatisfactory' appearance.

But concerns were raised it could be the 'final nail in the coffin' for drivers licensed in Birmingham who are already having to compete with others operating in the city who have been licensed by neighbouring councils, particularly Wolverhampton where it is cheaper, quicker and arguably easier.

However council chiefs have hit back saying standards need to be upheld in Birmingham for the sake of public safety.

Officials warned there is a high level of non-compliance with licence conditions.

An example given was one driver watching a football match on a tablet attached to the dashboard whilst driving.

Stock image of taxis queuing up outside Birmingham New Street station
Stock image of taxis queuing up outside Birmingham New Street station

A similar scheme was introduced in Leicester in 2015 which prompted Hackney Carriage drivers to hold 'go-slow' demonstrations around the city.

The RMT transport union, which heavily criticised that system, has declared it 'categorically rejects' the proposals in Birmingham where it represents hundreds of taxi drivers.

They argued the system was 'double jeopardy' for drivers and hit out at the level of enforcement in the city.

Raja Amin, secretary of the Birmingham Rail branch, also pointed to the situation in Leicester and said: "It would be foolhardy to introduce a change with potential to be the source of unrest in the city."

He added: "Birmingham City Council has continued to introduce measures that make drivers' lives difficult, despite the council's failure to introduce corresponding goodwill changes to protect the trade.

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"Pirating is rampant in the city. Enforcement has failed dismally to keep up with the growing brazen disregard for the city by-laws by taxi drivers from outside the borough and even local drivers.

"This is great hypocrisy as the demand for professionalism seems to flow one way.

"Drivers are penalised willy-nilly but the city council's failure to keep their end of the bargain is not put under scrutiny."

Shawn Woodcock, acting licensing operations manager, said he had 'sympathy' with drivers due to the out of town operators but declared it was 'no reason to say our standards can be lowered'.

He also admitted the council would be powerless to stop any go-slow protest and said: "If Hackney Carriages or private hire drivers decide to drive around the city slowly there is very little we can do to prevent that.

Birmingham City Council house
Birmingham City Council house

"But I think if you are trying to improve public safety, standards of vehicles, standards of drivers and the only response from the trade is 'we are going to object and take some sort of action', to my mind it gives a reason to do it.

"If there is no problem with your vehicles, you aren't allowing people to smoke, you don't ply for hire this will have absolutely no effect.

"If people are prepared to carry out some sort of industrial action it would suggest there is a reason to introduce it."

If a driver accrues 12 points in 12 months they will be hauled before officers and could be suspended for a week.

If they get another 12 points in a subsequent 12-month period they could face a two-week suspension.

If 24 points are obtained in 12 months they will be brought before a licensing sub-committee which will be minded to suspend their licence for an entire month.

More than 40 different breaches have been listed ranging from two points for faulty lights to 12 for carrying an offensive weapon.

Other notable breaches include unsatisfactory appearance (three points), smoking inside the car (four points), defective tyres (four points per tyre), overcharging (six points), plying for hire (nine points) and using a mobile phone whilst driving (nine points).

Committee members expressed mixed views but ultimately approved it.

Chairman Barbara Dring (Lab, Oscott) and Cllr Bob Beauchamp (Cons, Perry Common) did not like the fact the scheme would mainly be administered by officers and not a sub-committee.

Cllr Mike Leddy (Lab, Brandwood, King's Heath) said it 'missed a golden opportunity' to make taxi operating companies more responsible.

Cllr Simon Morrall (Cons, Frankley Great Park) said it acted as a deterrent for poor standards but questioned whether it would make Birmingham 'less competitive' in light of the Wolverhampton issue.

In response Mr Woodcock said: "It was one of the main arguments in the response to the consultation for not introducing it that it could be the final nail in the coffin for drivers licensed by Birmingham, because rather than have to comply with it and show they are up to standard they will go an get a licence somewhere else."