Leading city councillors have called on Virgin Trains to think again about a pilot scheme that sees the rail firm form a partnership with app-based taxi company Uber.
The company announced the new link today, initially on trains between London Euston and Birmingham New Street. The plan is then to expand the service to other routes in the future depending on feedback.
The pilot will see Virgin Train customers combine their rail booking with an online Uber booking, but Cllr Jayne Innes has said she is disappointed by the move and believes it raises serious concerns about passenger safety.
The Council’s Cabinet Member for City Services is worried the new partnership, if extended to Coventry, could mean people are tempted away from potentially safer, Coventry-licensed black cabs in the city.
Cllr Innes said: “I have regularly called for a consistent standard for licensing laws for taxis and drivers to be implemented across the country as at the moment, standards vary widely.
“Some areas charge a small amount for a license, and checks are effectively a tick-box exercise. Ours are more rigorous as for us, ensuring passenger safety is paramount. Uber has never even applied for its taxis to be licensed by Coventry City Council, and I can only conclude this is because they are unwilling to meet the standards we expect.
“With no Uber drivers licensed in our city, this new move by Virgin would further undermine our work to protect standards and could put people at risk if it is adopted.
“Although it is encouraging that our lobbying of Virgin Trains has not seen Coventry included in the first part of this scheme, there is nothing to say we will not be in future.”
In Coventry, all taxi drivers are DBS and DVLA checked. All cab drivers have to be trained in helping people with disabilities and on how to spot signs of child sexual exploitation, as well as having to pass a road knowledge test.
Cllr Innes added: “I always advise anyone that when they get off a train at Coventry rail station and need a taxi, they should step into a black cab. It may not be as easy as this pilot of clicking on an app when you book your train ticket, but for the sake of those few seconds, you know you are getting into a safe vehicle with a trusted driver.
”And I would urge Virgin to reconsider this partnership. The black cabs of England – that, of course, have their home in Coventry – are famous and respected around the world and we believe they are the safest and best choice for travellers.”
At present, taxi and private hire drivers can work anywhere in England once they have their licence, just so long as the taxi is booked for each trip in advance. Uber's use of an app means would-be taxi drivers can apply to a license from areas where standards are believed to be lower and licences are easier to come by, even if they have no intention of working there.
Many of the Uber taxis operating in Coventry are licensed by Wolverhampton Council where a recent FOI showed that sales of licences rose from 852 in 2015 to more than 9,000 this year.
The loophole also means drivers could be granted licences in one area despite having been refused elsewhere.
Cllr Christine Thomas, Deputy Chair of the City Council’s Licensing Committee, added: “We believe passenger safety should be the main concern for everyone and it cannot be right that drivers can pick and choose where they get their licence and where they then ply their trade.
“We are proud of our very high standards in Coventry and we will continue to campaign for tough, consistent taxi regulations.”