ILLEGAL taxi drivers who flout licensing laws and drive unsafe vehicles are being targeted in a clampdown.

Operation Lasso is being mounted jointly by North Wales Police and Wrexham Council.

It is a ‘concentration’ of the ongoing Taxisafe scheme, which aims to make Wrexham’s taxi users feel more secure.

The licensing department is responsible for vetting all 15 of Wrexham’s taxi companies, with fleets totalling between 350-400 taxis.

The majority are law-abiding or at worst have overlooked a broken light or windscreen wiper.

But council licensing officer Alan Davies warned that police and the council would prosecute if the situation warranted it.

He said: “It’s my job to make sure the vehicles out on the road are fit for driving and fit for carrying passengers.

“Our main priority is to ensure every passenger is safe when they climb into a taxi.

“Every 12 months, taxi drivers have to renew their licence with us and every six months the car gets a full check, like an MOT, to ensure they’re roadworthy.

“By going out on the roads at this time of year we’re sending out a clear message that we take this matter very seriously.

“And by working directly with the police we have the power to stop vehicles on the street to carry out spot safety and licensing checks.”

On Monday the team launched Operation Lasso and I went along for the ride in one of the three patrol cars assigned to tackle the problem. I witnessed first hand a spot check in action. The unmarked vehicle parked up on Holt Road and it wasn’t long before a taxi went past and was pulled over by driver PC Luke Evans.

PC Evans and Sgt Nick Evans were happy the vehicle was legally safe to drive and Mr Davies carried out a number of checks to make sure it was fully licensed.

The three main legal requirements are that the taxi’s licence plate is displayed clearly alongside the registration plate, the operator has the correct licence and the driver carries his own licence at all times.

Fortunately the driver passed all three checks with flying colours and he was carrying a fire extinguisher and first aid box, the other requirements which the council demands from all taxi drivers.

The driver said: “I panicked a bit when I first saw the police. I think that’s most people’s natural reaction even when you know you haven’t done anything wrong.

“But when I realised what I’d been stopped for I was all right. I’m just glad I passed.

“My firm are pretty good at keeping us up to date with what the requirements are so I know I’ve got nothing to worry about.”

He added that passengers should be vigilant in checking a taxi for the licence plate, a clear display of the company name and a Wrexham Council licensing window sticker, which proves the vehicles authenticity and displays security information for the passenger.

Sgt Evans was happy to see another safe taxi go about its business, but warned passengers to beware of suspicious vehicles not conforming to these strict criteria.

He said: “Now the weather is colder, the nights are longer and the busy Christmas period is approaching, more people are using taxis.

“This scheme, advertised by the council, aims to get passengers asking ‘who’s taking you home tonight?’.

“And we’re enforcing Operation Lasso alongside our fight against drink-driving to make sure Wrexham residents are as safe on the roads as possible. And so far it’s working really well.”