A HI-TECH scheme launched by a South Tyneside taxi firm to help keep passengers safe from rogue cabbies is already ranking high with users.
Under a state-of-the-art system which went live this week, people booking cars from Dial-A-Cab are sent a picture of their driver via a mobile phone app before they arrive.
Bosses at the firm, based in Commercial Road, South Shields, set up the scheme after meeting Northumbria Police officers involved in Operation Sanctuary, the investigation into alleged sexual abuse of vulnerable women and girls in the North East.
It is thought some of the alleged victims could have been picked up by rogue drivers in the region, while others were transported by taxis to addresses where they were attacked.
The app has already proved a big hit with customers – and numbers using the service are expected to swell on another busy weekend in the borough.
Steven Pippin, office manager at the company, said: “It has been absolutely fantastic.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better response. The scheme is in its early days, but the feedback we have already had has been very good.
“Customers have been very happy with the service.”
Mr Pippin is hoping even more passengers take advantage of the app during the weekend – a period when taxi services are most in demand during the week.
Dial-A-Cab has spent £6,000 on the new phone app, which it says will allay any passenger fears about getting into a bogus taxi.
Speaking about the app, Mr Pippin added: “We had a standard version, which told people the make of taxi and when it would arrive, but now we can send a picture when people book a taxi using the app.
“We wanted to invest in the upgrade to offer a better service. If you have a family and are booking a taxi for your child, you know who they are getting into a taxi with.
“We are happy to be transparent and share that information. The app is free to use, and has now gone live.
“When customers book, a picture of the driver is sent to the app.
“They can also track the progress of the taxi and will be told its registration and make.
“It gives people using our taxi service extra reassurance.
Police have made 115 arrests across the North East as part of Operation Sanctuary, with 19 people charged.
A leaflet sent to taxi firms and drivers by officers involved says: “Some victims are transported in taxis to addresses where they are sexually assaulted or raped.
“We also know some men have posed as taxi drivers and picked up women who have then been sexually assaulted.
“We need the help of all legitimate taxi drivers to stop this criminal behaviour.”
Anyone with any information or concerns is asked to contact police on 101 ext 69191, quoting ‘Operation Sanctuary’, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Advice and support is also available via Victim Support on 0845 277 0977 or Childline on 0800 1111.
Dial-A-Cab’s app can be found by searching for Dial-A-Cab South Shields on Google Play for android phones or the Apple store for iPhones.