Taxis and private hire vehicles: the road to reform - Transport Committee Contents


Written evidence from Christopher R Wildman (TPH 51)

1.  Legislation covering Taxis and Private Hire (PH) vehicles is very out of date. The underpinning legislation is contained the Act of 1847.

2.  Key areas have been covered in successive updating and, whilst this has resulted in multiple subsequent Legislation, Statutory Instruments and Court Decisions, the result is far from satisfactory. Within the circa 300 pieces of Legislation there is much that is ambiguous. This leads to a reliance on Court Cases. It may be that the time has come to sweep all away and introduce new primary legislation to regulate the two, and possibly four trades that now co-exist.

3.  The key areas that the 1847 Act could not have covered, nor indeed foreseen are;

  (a)  The Internal Combustion engine.

  (b)  The Telephone.

  (c)  The Taxi Meter.

  (d)  The Radio Transceiver (short Range).

  (e)  The Datahead.

  (f)  The Satellite Navigator.

Whilst the list above is not exhaustive, it can easily be seen that an Act of Parliament, written in the age of the "Horse" and prior to "Made Up" roads becoming the norm, is simply out of touch with England and Wales in the 21st Century.

4.  As well as the nuts and bolts of the trade, there has also been a major change of the demographic of the Taxi or PH user. In the 19th and 20th Centuries, until the 1970's the Taxi and PH travelling public were most likely to be from the more affluent stratum of society. No doubt some use was made of the services by the lower orders, but this was only on a very occasional basis. In the world of today, the demographic has totally reversed. The passenger is far more likely to come from the General Population, indeed the richer members of society are now the occasional users.

5.  As society has changed, either by steady evolution or by sudden change brought about by legislation, the Taxi and PH trades have evolved and when necessary changed to accommodate the situation. Whatever is done at this juncture this forward progression will not stop.

6.  The primary reason for the Transport Committee requesting input is in regard to "Cross Border" hiring. I would suggest that this, whilst a problem, is far from the most important area that needs clarification and remedy. Cross Border Hiring has come about because Parliament has delegated Licensing of the two trades to Local Authorities (LA). This has had the effect of pitting area against area. If one LA allows different vehicles from the nearby neighbouring areas, and if as a result Tariffs are cheaper, or vehicles of a better quality or design are available, then cross border hiring will happen. In the free market economy, in which we rightly pride ourselves, large operators of Taxi and PH fleets will aggressively advertise. The independent operators and drivers service a relatively small client base and tend to remain within their LA areas (though obviously longer journeys are undertaken on an opportunity basis).

7.  The most important reasons for legislative reform should be;

  (a)  A national standard for Taxis (combined with requirements of the Equality Act).

  (b)  A National standard for PH vehicles.

  (i)  a and b should be covered by a National body, e.g. VOSA.

  (ii)  Local Authorities must retain the responsibility for drivers' standards (training, testing, driving and criminality checks).

  (c)  Licensing and enforcement should remain the domain of LA's.

  (d)  License fees should be determined nationally.

  (e)  Monies to enable the LA licensing function should be paid from the central fund accrued from d. above.

  (f)  The numbers of both trades should be sensibly controlled, whilst rural areas are underprovided for with Taxi and PH services, suburban and urban areas often end up massively overprovided.

  (g)  Whilst not subjecting the passengers to any risk, the checking of drivers for criminal histories needs to be rationalized.

  (h)  The whole of England and Wales must be covered by all future legislation (Plymouth with the 1975 Act in force, is currently not covered by the important adjustments made to the 1976 Act). This should also include London, though perhaps instead of direct LA supervision, consideration is given to retaining the Public Carriage Office which should then assume all the functions normally delegated to LA's.

  (i)  Consideration must be given to increasing the weight of the "guidelines" as produced by the Department for Transport.

  (j)  Alternate road transport, such as long distance transfer vehicles (Airport/Port transfer), legitimate long term Chauffeur contracts, novelty vehicles (stretched limos', converted fire engines etc.), full time wedding and funeral vehicles all need a proper rationale within prospective legislation.

  (k)  Courtesy cars - Hotels, Pubs, Clubs and Car Hire Firms amongst others are not currently properly legislated for.

  (l)  Volunteer Hospital Patient services are not voluntary, money is paid whilst carrying passengers and even when empty - sometimes this is costing far more than a Taxi or PH.

  (m)  Taxi and PH are used for transporting the disabled, the Aged and schoolchildren on LA contracts. Sometimes an LA will refuse to use local Taxi and PH provision because of burdens placed on conditions of license of the same LA's licensing department. This needs to be adjusted.

  (n)  Changes made to vehicle license conditions at the local level can and do force the early redundancy of vehicles. Properly maintained vehicles should be allowed to remain in force for longer.

  (o)  Taxi Drivers are governed by bylaws, PH drivers by conditions. As conditions can be changed, virtually on a whim, PH drivers should be moved to governance by bylaw.

  (p)  As "public transport", Taxis in all areas should have free access to all transport hubs, Airports, Ports, Bus Stations and Railway Stations. Only local licensed Taxis should be able to ply for hire at these venues.

8.  The imminent imposition of Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAV) provision levels as a result of the Equality Act, whilst laudable, is going to cause real problems in rural areas. There is every chance that the current under provision will actually be exacerbated, it may be that the conditions imposed prevent new applications to become Taxi drivers. Why would a new entrant to the trade in these areas want a vehicle that by its very design is expensive to buy, to run and to maintain? Indeed new entrants may find the costs incurred to be so prohibitive that they do not stay in the trade at all. In fairly short order this could lead to a dearth of experience in some LA areas. On the other hand, 100% provision in suburban and urban areas is not unreasonable. The disabled in most rural areas would be able to access WAV services by telephoning the nearest "Town" operator.

9.  The biggest problem caused by cross border hiring is the inability of the LA issuing licenses to properly supervise the condition of vehicles. This is compounded by the inability of the LA in which the hiring occurs to have any procedure to check "visiting" Taxi or PH vehicles or drivers. A National "Standard" is therefore required to address these issues. Perhaps the DfT should come up with regulations for the vehicles and should then be responsible for all vehicle checks, mandatory at set periods and, perhaps more importantly at random times, including "spotchecks" and these could be delegated to LA enforcement Officers.

10. The actual licensing of vehicles and drivers are a Local and not a National requirement and should definitely remain so.

11. The requirements of LA's for vehicles vary enormously. Some require an MoT exemption certificate, some only require an MoT to license a vehicle for example. In some areas a Taxi or PH vehicle, being under three years old requires no test at all. The exemption certificate is generally a far stricter test of a vehicle, proprietors need to present a far higher quality of vehicle maintenance to achieve "fitness". But even with this level of test, standards vary, not only between LA areas but also within the area itself at different testing stations.

12. Taxi and PH drivers also need to be regulated. It is a fact that occasionally a driver misbehaves, sometimes with violence or sexual intent. Plainly this is not acceptable and barriers to those with existing histories must be firm. Currently whilst the LA is aware of any past convictions, the Licensing Panel is able to disregard these and licence individuals if they think fit. That is not as great a concern as it may first appear, people do change and so LA Licensing Committees should retain this power. Drivers that do "misbehave" are subjected to the LAs' "Quasi Judicial" Licensing Committee. The options open to these Councillors is very limited. They can revoke permission to drive, they may suspend, and they may refuse to renew a license. These powers can be seen as punishments, if a driver is suspended for a set period of time for example, should the public at large consider that the driver is "not fit and proper" only for that period? The powers of these committees should be considered, the suspension should be clearly seen as a punishment. Perhaps it should be considered levying a fine in preference to suspension. Monies from fines should then be used to support the regulation of the trades. In the event that further evidence came to light on an offence that reduced the severity or proved innocence, fines could be returned or reduced. The checks on histories of drivers are also a problem. Some LA licensing departments get a CRB, then a different department in the same authority may want an enhanced CRB. If this turns up something that should preclude someone from being in the trade, one department can't inform the other. Therefore a standard level of check should cover all members of the trade, this should obviously be at the highest levels of investigation. In any case of doubt the Licensing Panel should decide if an applicant is "fit and proper". One CRB should cover all aspects of being a Taxi driver and the ridiculous position of multiple CRB checks should be stopped.

13. Despite the move by the Office of Fair Trading to restrict the numbers of Taxis it should not be seen as necessarily detrimental to correct provision. The problems suffered in Eire are good indication of what happens when Taxi provision is no longer numerically restricted. In the urban and suburban areas, the over provision of Taxis (and PH) leads to generally lower vehicle standards. Forcing the introduction of WAV vehicles into rural areas will not greatly assist the disabled but may actually cause less general Taxi provision. Areas restricting numbers currently require a survey to be undertaken at three year intervals. This at face value is a good idea, but it would be far more sensible at five year intervals and the survey should be an integral part of the Local Transport Plan. Taxi provision must become part of the quinquennial transport review and must be properly seen as important as busses in the public transport setup. Whilst they are not "public transport", it is equally important to include PH in these plans. This would allow proprietors to plan and finance new vehicles in a steady or at least known prospective market place.

14. In the Road Safety Act 2006 provision was made to protect the public from potentially dangerous Taxi and PH drivers. Section 52 very sensibly gave the power to LA's to immediately suspend suspect drivers. Unfortunately the travelling public in Plymouth are uniquely not offered this protection as the Act only amended the 1976 Miscellaneous Provisions Act, Plymouth alone has the City of Plymouth Act 1975. This anomaly should be addressed with alacrity. Abuse of the power conferred by Section 52 has occurred, this too needs to be prevented. The power must never be allowed to be used as a punishment. Further this power must be retained by the Licensing Committee and it must not be delegated to Council Officers. A right of appeal to Magistrates must be available, even if the driver remains suspended until the appeal is heard. Any new legislation must cover the entire Nation, if the Capital is to continue to be seen as a special and separate area, London legislation should closely follow the National position.

15. It is accepted that Hearses, Funeral, and Wedding Cars are different from Taxi and PH operations, whilst safety checks are required, the need to licence these vehicles is not required as long as they are not used for any other purposes.

16. Novelty vehicles, including stretched limousines, should be licensed as private hire vehicles with all that licensing entails.

17. Long distance "transfer" vehicles, often providing services to and from Ports, Airports and the like, must be licensed.

18. Currently whilst Hackney drivers find themselves governed by bylaws, PH drivers are ruled by conditions. It would be better if PH drivers too were brought under bylaws. This would give Courts the power to impose sanctions if a bylaw was broken. It would also protect PH drivers from being subjected to sudden changes of conditions.

19. In the Disabled Discrimination Act 1995, it was envisaged that all transport hubs would allow free and open access. This was never enacted and the Equality Act of 2010 does not have such a provision. As legitimate public transport, Taxis should have this free access. PH also, when booked, should be allowed to collect or deposit their customers at these venues.

20.   Currently the situation exists that no LA are required to provide Hackney Ranks. In both number regulated and unregulated areas there is generally an under-provision of ranks. Consideration should be given to provision for rank space for at least 40% of the locally licensed Taxis. These ranks should be sited in positions that are amenable to the trade and the travelling public.

21. In the days of the horse, journeys were sensibly limited to 12 miles in large conurbations such as London. Smaller Cities and Towns found it more practical to limit journeys to the boundaries of the LA area. This was not a consideration for the "Cabby" but for the horse. The internal combustion engine does not require this facilitation. Requests for destinations by passengers should be entertained at meter rates of a larger maximum, even if this involves leaving the LA jurisdiction. It may however need to be charged at a slightly higher rate to cover the fact that a return journey is required before further work can be undertaken. It would not be onerous to have metered journey's that exceed a set distance (50 Miles) to charge at a higher per mile rate thereafter.

22. Illegal plying for hire is often undertaken by private hire drivers, either by they themselves "calling in a job" or encouraging the prospective passenger to do so via mobile phone. This could be partly prevented by a strict imposition of a minimum call in period (perhaps five minutes) before the job can be undertaken. Acceptance of the job could be instantaneous to enable the PH vehicle to be dispatched to the collection point, picking up of the passenger could not take place until the booking office passes confirmation that the call in period has expired.

23. It is for LA's to apply local tariffs but one LA area at least, Taxi Meters are not compulsory. Legislation should be considered to make meters compulsory. Consideration should be given to making these meters Calendar controlled (to facilitate bank holiday increases, night tariffs etc) and possibly in the longer term to print receipts.

24. Along with booking details, radio transmissions should be retained by PH operators to confirm bookings. Computer technology makes this possible and is not onerous or costly.

25. Along with booking details, datahead transmissions should be retained by PH operators to confirm bookings. Computer technology makes this possible and is not onerous or costly.

26. Satellite navigation is a useful tool for any Taxi or PH driver. It could also be useful for tracking the correct use of trade vehicles. Routes can now be checked by passengers or the Authorities. Satellite navigation is not however, a substitute for genuine "knowledge" and to this end a full topographical test remains a vital (if not the most vital) part of any qualification for entry to the trade.

27. As legitimate public transport, Taxi's (and possibly PH though not public transport) should have access to all "Bus Lanes" irrespective of area. Anyone caught licensing a vehicle for strictly personal use, to gain access to bus lanes should face an immediate and mandatory driving ban. Private hire operators facilitating this abuse should be fined and operator's licences should be revoked.

28. Police should be reminded that "Bilking" is a criminal and an arrestable offence. Perhaps this could be reinforced in any prospective legislation.

29. The provision of, and the funding for, CCTV in Taxis and PH vehicles varies from one area to another. As a result of the high number of murdered Taxi and PH drivers, imposition of these systems must be considered at the National level. It should be remembered that the systems can and do protect the travelling public as well as the drivers.

December 2010



 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 19 July 2011