OUT IN THE FIELD: Old school drivers knew their stuff

The council licenses all private hire and taxi drivers in Eastbourne
The council licenses all private hire and taxi drivers in Eastbourne
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The news that 34 complaints have been made against licensed drivers in Eastbourne will come as no surprise to most people. I am gobsmacked though that there haven’t been more as a lot of people lately appear to have some sort of horror story or complaint when they have jumped in a taxi, Hackney Carriage or private hire vehicle. One family I know of had to give the driver directions to Motcombe when they jumped in a taxi outside the railway station. Other drivers frequently put their sat nav on for journeys around Eastbourne or take the oddest routes to get from A to B. My biggest grumble is them not knowing where they are going and they have no idea where local landmarks are. Talk to any ‘old school’ driver and they will regale you with tales of how back in the day the basic knowledge test they had to take to get their licence was tough. An examiner would hop in their vehicle and ask to be driven to a doctors’ surgery in Old Town, a certain pub in Langney, a bookmakers in Hampden Park all via a number of “off the beaten track” roads. If drivers didn’t get more than 90 per cent, they would fail and have to start all over again. These days taxi and private hire drivers still have to take a test but it’s done on paper and an 80 per cent pass mark is required. The council says the test covers legislation relating to the use of a taxi or private hire vehicle, locations of various local landmarks, such as pubs, churches and schools, and the shortest route between two given locations. But suspicion is rife that people are taking photos of the test papers and sharing the answers. Or people are taking the test for others. There are also fears that taxis and private hire vehicles are being shared with unlicensed drivers which is particularly worrying as it presents all sorts of risks to passengers as background checks obviously can’t be made. I’ll leave the final word to one reader who wrote in this week after their daughter had a friend from Oxford come to stay and took a taxi from the railway station and asked to be taken to the Buccaneer Pub. The driver didn’t know where the pub or the Winter Garden were and had to ask a member of the public who also didn’t know. Eventually, he dropped off the young woman at Wetherspoon’s in Cornfield Road, telling her ‘here it is’ and charging her £4. She went into the pub and was eventually directed by foot to the Buccaneer. I appreciate the council, like other authorities and businesses, has had to make cuts and doesn’t have the staff or resources they had back in the day but as well as ensuring that licensed vehicles are safe and suitable for the purpose, the council has an over-riding duty to protect the safety and welfare of the public. And if that means spot checks on vehicles and drivers, then so be it.

The Winter Garden shuts its doors soon ahead of a multi-million pound facelift but as one door closes, another opens and it’s good to see Printers Playhouse has reopened in Little Chelsea with a packed programme of theatre, comedy and music in the months ahead.

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