By Kris Jepson
Newcastle City Council's Licensing Authority has conducted a series of operations to target private hire and non-Newcastle licensed drivers who pick up illegally on the street.
The council says the problem gets worse at Christmas as more and more people visit the city.
Eight drivers were recently prosecuted, fined and ordered to pay legal costs after being caught during test purchase operations.
Watch @krisjepson's report here:
Anyone caught plying for trade illegally face fines, legal costs, victim surcharges and points on their licence, which in some cases can lead to them being disqualified from driving.
During an operation last night, licensing officer, Jonathan Bryce, stopped a taxi driver who had a license to operate in an area outside of Newcastle. He was parked in a loading bay and had no booking in place.
He could have been approached by a member of the public, he could have picked them up without a hiring in place and that’s what we aim to identify through our test purchase basis - we approach vehicles, we ask if they’re free and we go to a pre-determined location and we take formal action against them for not only the invalid insurance aspect, but also the unlicensed activity that takes place.
More concerning for the police was that when they approached the driver they saw him viewing pornography on his phone.
PC Stu Dixon said this was concerning because it is "inappropriate" for a taxi driver to do this in a public place and "it's not the kind of behaviour we expect from a person who is taking our vulnerable people home from the city this evening".
City Centre Neighbourhood Inspector Steve Wykes explained incidents of this nature are the reason why the police are supporting the council in this operation. He said public safety is key.
It’s really important, of course, for the community to know they are getting into safe taxis, whether that be safety in respect of the standard of the vehicle that they’re getting into or safety in respect of the conduct of the driver and so this is really about confidence, its about protecting people, its about doing the right thing for the people here in the region.
In conjunction with Northumbria Police’s Neighbourhood Policing Teams and the Traffic Unit more than 900 drivers have additionally been stopped and had their vehicles checked as part of operations in 2017.
Newcastle has a vibrant night-time economy which is something we are really proud of, but we want to make sure that the city is safe and ensure that people aren’t put at risk by travelling in unsafe and potentially unlicensed vehicles. Our message is simple: taxi drivers who put people at risk by working illegally will be prosecuted and could ultimately lose their livelihoods.