Hartlepool licensing chiefs have welcomed a move by the Government to close a legal loophole allowing minibus drivers to operate without undergoing criminal record checks.
The Department of Transport said it is to take “immediate action” so the same rules that apply to taxi drivers are applied to minibus drivers.
Currently, taxi drivers have to undergo Enhanced Police Checks in order to get a licence from local councils as well as other vigorous checks to ensure they are ‘fit and proper’ to transport members of the public.
But the checks only apply to drivers of vehicles with eight or fewer passenger seats while drivers of larger vehicles, such as minibuses, are licensed by the DVLA and there are no criminal record checks at all.
Now the Department for Transport has said it is to take immediate action to provide the same level of protection for passengers in minibuses as they receive in taxis.
Councillor Brenda Loynes, chair of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Licensing Committee, said: “I welcome the move by the Department of Transport. Larger minibuses are regularly hired out by taxi companies and are often used to transport groups, or individuals, in exactly the same way as a taxi would.
“Even when transporting a group of passengers, it would be common for a lone individual to be picked up first or dropped off last. In many cases, this may be someone who has been part of a ‘night out’ and whose physical state may make them vulnerable.
“I am pleased to see that the Department for Transport has acted by promising immediate change in order to protect the public.”
It follows calls from local councils via the Local Government Association for there to be improved vetting of minibus drivers.
The Local Government Association has highlighted a number of cases, many in the North East, where taxi drivers have been refused, or had their licence revoked due to convictions or misconduct, but have continued to transport the public in minibuses.
Previous calls for improved vetting of mini bus drivers have come to nothing with the Government saying that as they carry multiple passengers any risk is reduced to an acceptable level.
Councillor George Morris, vice-chair of the Licensing Committee, added: “This is a victory for common sense and I welcome it. As a Council we have been have been pressing for change for some time as our residents need to feel protected at all times whether in a taxi or mini bus.
“We cannot have rules for one type of vehicle and not for another when, in reality, they are doing the same job.”