PLANS to cut red tape for taxi drivers risk increasing incidents of people being raped after nights out, police chiefs across the region have warned.
Vera Baird, Ron Hogg and Barry Coppinger, police and crime commissioners (PCCs) for the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland forces respectively, have joined forces with those from other areas to make a stand on the issue.
The cross-party group of PCCs is lobbying to get what they see as dangerous measures removed from the Deregulation Bill, which is making its way through parliament.
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The name of North Yorkshire commissioner Julia Mulligan does not appear on a list of PCCs to have backed the campaign, which is being led by Greater Manchester PCC Tony Lloyd.
The concerns are backed by licensing officials, police, the taxi trade and organisations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault.
Currently, only licensed private hire drivers can drive a marked private hire vehicle, drivers have to be regularly re-licensed and there are restrictions on vehicles operating across local authority boundaries.
Under the Deregulation Bill, the rules are to be swept away, opening up the prospect of a private hire free-for-all, PCCs say, with anyone allowed to drive a private hire vehicle for their own use when the registered driver is not using the car.
The Government says this will free many families from the need to run a second car and save them money.
But critics say it means there will be no guarantees the driver of a vehicle is who they say they are.
Mr Hogg: “The system in County Durham and Darlington has controls in place to minimise the risk of harm caused to people using taxis.
"Removing the restriction would have the potential to expose the public to danger."
Mrs Baird added: "People should always be safe in taxis and measures in the bill could endanger this.
"Cutting red tape is to be encouraged, but not at the cost of risks to public safety."
Mr Coppinger said: "More time needs to be spent analysing these measures in greater detail.
"We need to look extremely carefully and not take risks."