POLICE are encouraging late-night revellers to put their safety at risk by getting into private hire taxis who are illegally touting for business in Solihull town centre.
That is the accusation from both frustrated councillors and angry hackney cab drivers, who pay large fees to the council to allow them to pick up customers without booking.
If people get into a private hire taxi, without booking it, the taxi loses its insurance.
At a council meeting on Wednesday night, Coun Hogarth (Con, Silhill) said that the police were “turning a blind-eye” to the problem, in order to get people off the streets in the early hours.
His comments were backed up by Irfaan Ahmed, the chairman of the Birmingham and Solihull Taxi Association, which represents Hackney cab drivers. “As far as the police are concerned they want to clear the streets, and get people in cars, whether they are legal or illegal.”
West Midlands Police say they are aware of the problem of private hire vehicles and Hackney cab drivers, but say the responsibility lies with Solihull Council, who licence the private hire taxis.
A police spokesman said: “We are aware of an ongoing issue between private hire and Hackney carriage drivers in Solihull town centre.
“Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has responsibility for the licensing of taxis in the town. They run a successful scheme where wardens are deployed into the town centre and call private hire taxis, where required, to help the many people looking to safely make their way home from the town centre of an evening.
“We support any scheme which helps to ensure public safety and ease congestion at busy periods.”
At the licensing meeting councillors were shown video footage of Poplar Road in the early hours of the morning. Coun Allen (Lib Dem, Shirley West) said the situation was “unacceptable”, and Coun Hogarth described it as a “free for all” with the town centre “looking more like Piccadily Circus”.