Steps Towards A Safer System?

In 2017 Minister of State for Transport, Rt. Hon. John Hayes MP, expressed a belief the current taxi and private hire licensing regimes were “unfit for purpose”.

Based on that concern, the Minister commissioned a review into the sector. Its remit would be “…to chart a future which ensured public safety for all, a working environment for those in the trade which guaranteed fair working conditions and whilst maintaining a competitive, dynamic market, preserve the character, integrity and aesthetics of this time-honoured trade…”.

The ‘Task & Finish Group on Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle Licensing’ was thus constituted to consider, and advise on, areas for improvement. Members of the Group included, amongst others, a specially chosen selection of stakeholders from Parliament, Transport for London, Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Local Government Association, Competition & Markets Authority, GMB Union, Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), National Private Hire & Taxi Association (NPHA) and Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA). It was formed from July to August 2017 and commenced meetings in September 2017.

Together the Group was, in general terms, tasked with helping to compile a report aiming to “…produce a holistic ecosystem and solution to the problems it was devised to address and, as result, to set out a comprehensive platform for the changes necessary to protect and promote the public interests in the common good...”. This report, entitled “Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle Licensing: Steps Towards A Safer & More Robust System”, was published on 24th September 2018.

Its findings offer 34 recommendations which, it is believed, present solutions to some of the more pressing regulatory issues. These are, in summary, as follows:

  • Recommendation 1

Government should, broadly speaking, consider all taxi and private hire legislation be “…urgently revised to provide a safe, clear and up to date structure…”.

  • Recommendation 2

Government should introduce “…national minimum standards…” for all taxi and private hire drivers, vehicles and operators.

  • Recommendation 3

Government should update “...its Best Practice Guidance…”.

  • Recommendation 4

Greater “…collaboration…” should be encouraged between smaller urban areas and, where possible, larger ones should be “…combined into one licensing area…”.

  • Recommendation 5

Government should introduce “…a statutory definition of both ‘plying for hire and ‘pre-booked…”.

  • Recommendation 6

Government should require “…intermediaries between passengers and taxi drivers to meet the same licensing requirements and obligations as PHV operators…”.

  • Recommendation 7

Government, and licensing authorities, should mitigate “…additional costs faced by the trade where a wider social benefit is provided…”.

  • Recommendation 8

Government should enable the setting of “…a cap on the number of taxi and PHVs…” by licensing authorities.

  • Recommendation 9

Licensing Authorities, using existing powers, should “…make it a condition of licensing that drivers cooperate with requests from authorised compliance officers in other areas…”.

  • Recommendation 10

Government should enable “…licensing authorities to carry out enforcement and compliance checks and take appropriate action against any taxi or PHV in their area…”.

  • Recommendation 11

Government should legislate that “…all taxi and PHV journeys should start and / or end within the area for which the driver, vehicle and operator…are licensed…”.

  • Recommendation 12

Licensing authorities should ensure “…licensing, administration and enforcement functions are adequately resourced, setting fees at an appropriate level…”.

  • Recommendation 13

Government should legislate “…to enable Transport for London to regulate the operation of pedicabs…”.

  • Recommendation 14

Department for Transport and Transport for London should “…work together to enable the issue of Fixed Penalty Notices for both minor taxi and PHV compliance failings…”. Such powers should also be available for all licensing authorities.

  • Recommendation 15

Government, or licensing authorities, ensure all “…ridesharing services should explicitly gain the informed consent of passengers at the time of booking and commencement of a journey…”.

  • Recommendation 16

Department for Transport must continue with its “…consultation on a draft of its Statutory Guidance to local licensing authorities…”.

  • Recommendation 17

Government should ensure “…all licensed vehicles must be fitted with CCTV (visual and audio) subject to strict data protection measures…”.

  • Recommendation 18

Government, and licensing authorities, should consider “…ways in which the costs to small businesses of installing CCTV can be mitigated…”.

  • Recommendation 19

Government must, in its national standards, “…set requirements to assist the public in distinguishing between taxis, PHVs and unlicensed vehicles…”.

  • Recommendation 20

Licensing authorities, using existing powers, should ensure all “…drivers…be subject to enhanced DBS and barred lists checks…”.

  • Recommendation 21

Government must issue guidance clearly specifying “…convictions that it considers should be grounds for refusal or revocation of driver licences…”.

  • Recommendation 22

Government must review the “…Quality Assurance Framework and Common Law Police Disclosure Provisions…”.

  • Recommendation 23

Licensing authorities must “…use the National Anti-Fraud Network (NAFN) register of drivers who have been refused or had revoked taxi or PHV driver licence…”.

  • Recommendation 24

Government must set up a “…mandatory national database of all licensed taxi and PHV drivers, vehicles and operators…”.

  • Recommendation 25

Licensing authorities, using existing powers, must “…require all drivers to undertake safeguarding / child sexual abuse and exploitation awareness training…”.

  • Recommendation 26

Officials, at all levels, involved in “…the licensing decision making process…must be obliged to undertake appropriate training…”.

  • Recommendation 27

Government must consider the “…assessment process of passenger carrying vehicles (PCV) licensed drivers…” and, in the alternative, “…the appropriate boundary between taxis / PHVs and public service vehicles (PSVs)…”.

  • Recommendation 28

Licensing authorities should require “…all drivers are able to communicate in English orally and in writing to a standard that is required to fulfil their duties…”.

  • Recommendation 29

Licensing authorities, using existing powers, should require “…taxi and PHV drivers they licence undergo disability and awareness training…”.

  • Recommendation 30

Licensing authorities should “…ascertain if there is unmet demand for…” wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs). Where found, licensing authorities should “…consider how existing powers could be used to address this issue…”.

  • Recommendation 31

Licensing authorities should “…set up lists of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs)…”.

  • Recommendation 32

Licensing authorities, using existing powers, should “…take strong action where disability access refusals are reported…”.

  • Recommendation 33

Licensing authorities should “…take into account any evidence of a person or business flouting employment law…”.

  • Recommendation 34

Government should consider “…restricting the number of hours that taxi and PHV drivers can drive…”.

Some of the recommendations clearly provoked extensive debate within the Group and indeed expressions of concern about them can be found within the report. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Recommendations 8 and 11, arguably the most restrictive proposals, accrued the most opposition. In addition, to a lesser extent, Recommendations 17, 25, 30 and 34 also received attention. It is impossible to cater for all interests but, finding the middle ground will be the purview of Government and licensing authorities.

Without doubt, in the absence of progress on the Law Commission’s draft ‘Taxis & Private Hire Vehicles Bill’ of 23rd May 2014, this report represents a progressive step forward in reforms. These recommendations, in our view, are at the very least attempting to tackle, head-on, long-standing complaints about the current licensing regimes.

The report, and its recommendations, has been passed to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling MP, and also Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Nusrat Ghani MP. A prompt response from Government has been suggested to “…maintain the momentum for improvement…” alongside a cautionary warning “…delay would risk public safety…”. It remains to be seen whether action will, or will not, be taken.

*Travis Morley Associates Limited accepts no liability for any action or inaction taken based on this article by an individual or party and where such action or inaction is taken it is done so at their own risk.