A new police radio system is leaving hundreds of city
taxi drivers stranded - by stalling their engines.
The multi-billion pound Airwave system, which is being
rolled out nationwide, is being blamed for interfering with engine
immobilisers on certain black cabs.
Masts at the police headquarters at Fettes and outside a
cab office on Murrayburn Road are said to be blocking the signals
which switch off the immobiliser.
Drivers who park in these areas, which include a taxi
rank near Fettes, are unable to start their engines again because of
The only way to solve the problem is to tow the vehicles
away from the masts so the driver can again turn off the immobiliser.
The problem affects TX1 taxis, which make up almost half
of the citys 1200-strong black cab fleet.
Private cars have been affected by the problem elsewhere
in the country but so far only taxis appear to have been stranded in
Now a taxi lobby group has expressed concern that the
problem could escalate when the radio masts are erected across the
Keith Bell, chairman of taxi trade lobby group CABforce,
said: "This is a serious problem for drivers and if these masts
are put up across the city it could create huge no-go areas for some
"If they keep the engine running to avoid the
problem they could face a £30 fine from environmental wardens,
but if they stop and cant move, it could cost them even more to
tow the vehicle."
Murray Fleming, vice-chairman of Central Radio Taxis,
admitted the problem could seriously disrupt its service if more
masts were erected across the city.
"One of the drivers reported that his engine
wouldnt start and we had to assign a new vehicle to the job and
tow his vehicle away," he said.
"As soon as it was a decent distance away it
started no problem. The council should be concerned about this, as if
these masts are put up across Edinburgh we will have to tell our
drivers to keep their engines running in taxi ranks, even though that
could now lead to fine."
The new £2.9 billion digital radio service for the
police is being introduced nationwide to replace the current analogue
system. The digital system, Terrestrial Trunked Radio (Tetra), will
allow a much greater level of communication between individual
officers and control room staff, as well as making it more difficult
to intercept police communications.
The service provides combined radio, mobile phone and
data devices to replace outdated radios, and 35 forces are already
using the technology, with the remaining 16 UK forces due to adopt
the system by the end of 2005.
A similar problem with immobilisers was reported by
hundreds of people in Normanton, near Wakefield.
And in the town of Dursley, Gloucestershire, residents
have complained to the police that the masts have created a critical
public health situation.
It was claimed that people were being woken up ten or 12
times a night with migraines which only went away when they left the
town, while other people had complained of virulent skin rashes and
even hallucinations since the masts were switched on.
A spokesman for operator mmO2 said that as long as it
was operating within its licence it would be up to the taxi companies
to change their equipment in order to solve the problem.
"There have been issues arising in several parts of
the country, and the problem is that we use a signal that is very
similar to the signal which passes between a key fob and a cars
automatic locking and immobiliser systems," he said.
"The older equipment cannot distinguish between the
key fob signal and the signal being emitted by our mast.
"Most modern equipment is sensitive enough to
distinguish between the two types, and it is up to the taxi provider
to ensure their equipment is not affected."
The company has previously insisted that its masts pose
no health risks.
A police spokeswoman said that while the masts were
sited on police property and were part of the new police
communications system, they were owned by mmO2 and therefore the
police could not answer any queries about problems resulting from
The issue is being investigated by London Taxis
International, the manufacturers of Edinburghs black cabs.
A spokesman for the firm said the problem was the
transmission frequency of the mast, 362mHz, which effectively blocked
the immobiliser signal going to the engine.
He said the problem affected all TX1 taxis built before
the Y registration was introduced, as well as Vauxhalls and Range
"Our vehicles are all licensed to use this
frequency, so there is no simple solution at present.
"We will continue to look at the problem and see
what options are open to us," he said.
Has your car been immobilised by a phone mast?
Contact the Evening News on 0131-620 8743.