A LOCAL authority has become one of England’s first to enforce the wearing of face coverings by drivers and passengers in taxis.

Darlington Borough Council’s licensing committee showed strong support for the move, after hearing many passengers and taxi drivers wanted face masks to be made mandatory.

A meeting of the committee heard Department for Transport guidance was unclear, as it stated passengers “should” wear a face covering when making a journey, but that those who did not would not be punished.

Councillor Cyndi Hughes, whose Park East ward includes the town centre, said there was mounting concerns that while the government had made the wearing of face masks mandatory on other forms of public transport, it had not done so for taxis, despite such laws having been passed in Wales and Scotland. She told the committee the Office for National Statistics had found taxi drivers and security guards were the jobs with the highest death rate due to Covid-19.

Cllr Hughes said taxi drivers were being put at higher risk because they could not keep the specified social distance from their passengers. She said guidance that taxi drivers could refuse a fare to passengers without a mask was difficult for taxi drivers due to the financial consequences.

The meeting heard taxi drivers also feared facing disciplinary action for refusing fares, but leading licensing lawyers had stated that refusing fares on the grounds of no face masks was a legitimate reason.

Council officers advised the meeting that passengers getting into taxis could not force taxi drivers to wear a face mask, but could choose to use a taxi driver wearing one. They said other areas of the region had seen many larger taxi firms making it policy for passengers to wear face coverings.

Councillor Gerald Lee questioned whether drivers’ security could be compromised by people wearing masks and whether passengers should have to show proof of identity when entering taxis. Officers replied while passengers would be able to check drivers identity before entering the vehicle it would be impossible for drivers to do the same after passengers got in.

Licensing manager Colin Dobson said: “It’s the same issue with potential shoplifters. It’s been a perfect opportunity for people to take advantage of it for unlawful means.”