Taxis in Erewash are being used to transport children to places where they are being abused, it has been claimed.
Derbyshire police made the allegation in a report published by Erewash Borough Council which sought views on potential changes to the authority’s tinted taxi window policy.
Last year, 48 Erewash cabbies signed a petition calling on the council to drop its existing tinted window policy.
This requires all Hackney and private hire vehicles to have a windscreen that allow at least 75 per cent of light to pass through and 70 per cent through all other windows.
The cabbies who signed the petition stated that they had “concerns and discontent” about the policy, claiming that it leaves drivers thousands of pounds out of pocket.
They stated that many cars, of those which can be used as taxis, come with tinted windows fitted by the manufacturer.
This then requires drivers to pay more money to have different windows fitted.
The borough council says that the policy is in place to maintain the safety and welfare of passengers – specifically to minimise the risk to vulnerable children and adults.
Drivers stated in the petition that they all have enhanced DBS checks – criminal record background checks – carried out, which they say is “essential” for their duties carrying often vulnerable passengers.
They asked the council whether they had ever been an incident or accident caused by a taxi having tinted windows.
Now, ahead of a meeting on Thursday, February 14, the council and police have responded.
The council stated: “Although the council does not hold this type of specific information there have been allegations by members of the public concerning the inappropriate conduct of taxi drivers licensed by the council.
“In one case a driver was investigated by the police for making lewd and suggestive comments about young girls.
“In another case a driver received a suspended prison sentence, was placed on the sex offenders register and ordered by the court to refrain from driving taxis following conviction for an offence involving a 20 year old woman.
“In another case a driver made a lone female passenger feel uncomfortable due to lewd comments and physical contact.
“Whilst it is not known if any of these incidents occurred in taxis fitted with or without tinted windows they demonstrate the need for the council to remain vigilant and to take all reasonable steps to minimise perceived risks to passenger safety and welfare.”
Meanwhile, the police’s community safeguarding team for the south division, which covers Erewash, commented: “There is a clear risk in allowing tinted windows in the rear of taxis in relation to children at risk of exploitation, sexually or drug related, as well as addressing the safety of the drivers and passengers by ensuring those within the vehicles are clearly visible.
“There are concerns that in the reports we see across the division, there are mention of taxis being used for the transportation of children at risk of exploitation to the locations where they are abused.”
Officers from Derbyshire County Council also addressed the risk posed by taxis having tinted windows.
A member of the specialist transport services team said: “There is no reason why a licenced vehicle should require tinted glass and given that some vulnerable service users are transported without a passenger assistant on board, it is essential that parents/carers, the public, other road users and the schools/day centres can clearly see into the rear of the licenced vehicle where passengers are sat.
“There is also the safety aspect of people being able to see that service users are secured in the vehicle either with a seat belt, child seat (if they are small or have a disability), or in a wheelchair.”
Neither the county council or police support withdrawing the policy of not allowaing heavily tinted windows, while the borough council says that if it were to be changed, it may face “reputational damage” and a surge in challenges from drivers who have already paid out for compliant windows.
Last year, the petitioning cabbies claimed that many drivers were granted licenses for their vehicles and were then retrospectively told that their vehicles’ windows are not up to code.
The council had become aware of one of these incidents in October 2017.
It then made the alarming discovery that, in total, 29 Hackney cabs and seven private hire vehicles (15 per cent of the borough’s fleet) had been licensed with “non-compliant” windows.
To combat the issue, the council has now purchased a tintometer to provide accurate light transmission measurements through windows.
The lobbying drivers also felt it was unfair that taxis from other local authorities, which do not have the same restrictions on tinted windows, are able to operate in Erewash.
In response, the borough council said that this was due to a lack of national standards to restrict the policy.
Borough council officers also queried the added cost drivers say they face due to changing tinted windows pre-fitted by manufacturers.
The authority consulted the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and found that tinted glass was usually an optional extra fitted a cost of £200-300 per window.
Petitioning drivers said that the policy can see cabbies forking out £4,000 for replacing non-compliant windows.
However other drivers who contacted the council said that this cost was between £200 and £1,000.
In October, the borough council stated that because the number of drivers who signed the petition was not a large enough proportion of the overall number of licensed drivers (19 per cent), it could not consider a policy change without more signatories.
It reconsulted and found that, of those who responded and including those that had signed the petition, 69 out of 257 drivers (27 per cent) supported a move to drop the tinted window policy.
Next week’s licensing and public protection committee meeting will decide whether to continue with the current policy or to drop it entirely – as requested by the petition.
What is the tinted window policy in other Derbyshire council areas?
Amber Valley – the nationally-set standard for 75 per cent of light through the windscreen, but no other restrictions on other windows
Bolsover and North East Derbyshire – No restrictions if the vehicle is private hire only or a limousine. If darkened glass is fitted it is not permitted for the vehicle to be used to carry children/young people under 18, unless accompanied by an adult.
Chesterfield – the nationally-set standard for 75 per cent of light through the windscreen, but no other restrictions on other windows
Derby City – only manufacturer fitted tints are permitted. The operator is required to notify the customer if a vehicle with darkened glass is being provided.
Derbyshire Dales – minimum visible light transmission value for all windows, other than the windscreen, of 50 per cent is permitted.
South Derbyshire – the nationally-set standard for 75 per cent of light through the windscreen, but no other restrictions on other windows.