Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

346 sex offenders ruled 'unfit' to drive a taxi

The agency received 119 complaints of all types against taxi drivers and companies in the year to June 30, 2015. Photo / Getty Images
The agency received 119 complaints of all types against taxi drivers and companies in the year to June 30, 2015. Photo / Getty Images

More than one person a month is being barred from driving taxis or buses because of sexual offending.

Figures released by the New Zealand Transport Agency show 346 passenger licences have been declined, revoked or expired due to sex convictions between January 2006 and December 2015.

That includes an increase of 11 - or an average of more than one a month - since the previous figures were released in March last year.

The Transport Agency said most of the 346 barred drivers would have been new applicants seeking a passenger endorsement, which is required by anyone who drives a taxi, shuttle or bus.

The agency can deny an endorsement to anyone deemed not to be a "fit and proper person", with criminal and traffic offending among the criteria considered. It can also revoke existing endorsements while carrying out routine checks.

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Each year, the agency assesses about 24,000 existing endorsements and 2800 new applications.

Debbi Tohill of Rape Prevention Education said it was great to hear the agency was taking the issue seriously. "It is a real concern that people can't travel home safely in taxis and we would hope that the appropriate investigation or police clearances are done before people can become taxi drivers," she said.

"People need to make sure they have safe ways of getting home if they've been out, and we need to do all we can to make sure that people are able to take a taxi safely."

Taxi Federation executive director Roger Heale said the industry had a zero-tolerance policy on sexual offending.

He knew of only two federation members whose endorsements had been revoked due to sexual allegations, and one of those had been acquitted by a jury.

Mr Heale said the taxi industry was becoming more professional, and the Transport Agency was becoming more aggressive in pursuing its "fit and proper" policy.

Mandatory cameras in taxis had played an "absolutely significant" role in reducing offending, as well as false allegations of misconduct.

A Transport Agency spokesman said most taxi drivers provided a safe and reliable service, and it was "very disappointing any time a taxi driver is convicted of a serious offence".

"Everyone should have confidence [they] can hire a taxi so that they can get to their destination safely.

"The Transport Agency [urges] people to bring any issues or safety concerns to our attention so we can ... take the appropriate action."

The agency received 119 complaints of all types against taxi drivers and companies in the year to June 30, 2015, down from 199 in 2014.

Staying safe

Mandatory cameras in taxis had played an "absolutely significant" role in reducing offending, as well as false allegations of misconduct. Photo / Getty Images
Mandatory cameras in taxis had played an "absolutely significant" role in reducing offending, as well as false allegations of misconduct. Photo / Getty Images

• Choose a reputable taxi company
• Check the taxi is properly registered, and note down the driver number
• Ensure the taxi has a camera installed
• Stick with friends when going out, and plan your ride home in advance

(Source: Rape Prevention Education)

Taxi driver assaults September 2015: Auckland driver Dennis James Dredge is sentenced to two years and one month in prison for assaulting a special needs woman, then aged 17, with the mental age of a child.

July 2015: Christchurch driver Mohammed Daradkeh is sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually violating a drunk 19-year-old woman who passed out in his taxi.

February 2015: Hamilton driver Abdirahim Guled is sentenced to 10 years in prison for indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl, and abducting and raping a 19-year-old woman. He had covered up his in-car camera on at least one occasion.

- NZ Herald

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