Issues relating to the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles

Written evidence from Licensed Private Hire Car Association (TPH 56)

The LPHCA is delighted that The Transport Committee is to hold an inquiry into issues relating to the licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles.

1. Background - The LPHCA & Steve Wright MBE

i. The Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) was established in 1989 with a specific mandate to get Private Hire Vehicles (Minicabs and Chauffeurs) licensed in London. We independently vet and visit 160 Private Hire Operator Members annually, who engage by agency or directly employ 15,000 drivers, using a similar number of vehicles.

ii. The LPHCA’s successful campaign alongside Diana Lamplugh OBE of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, led to Sir George Young’s Private Members Bill becoming the Private Hire Vehicles (London) 1998 Act (98 Act).

iii. Steve Wright gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee in 1994 and worked closely with Sir George Young and Minister Glenda Jackson CBE on the structure and implementation of the 98 Act. Since Royal Ascent of the Act, work has continued with the Department for Transport (DfT), Transport for London (TfL), the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Home Office, the Police, the Mayor of London, many Transport Ministers, their key staff and officials, as well as Local Authorities and their Enforcement Officer’s Organisations.

iv. The LPHCA has responded to most DfT, TfL, GLA, Industry and Government consultations / inquiries in the last 20 years and gave input on the ‘Regulation of Licensed Taxi and PHV Services in the UK Market Study’ (November 2003) by the ‘Office of Fair Trading’ (OFT).

v. Steve Wright has also served on GoSkills Stakeholder Boards or their Industry Groups since inception giving advice on standards and industry qualifications and he is now the London Mayor’s representative on the Transport for London Board covering Private Hire.

2. Cross-Border Hire problems?

i. The LPHCA notes the terms of reference of the inquiry and in particular ‘cross-border hire problems caused by private hire vehicles picking up passengers on a large scale outside of the area in which they are licensed’.

ii. In our view the so called ‘problems’ are a symptom of the regulation and chaos that emanates from inconsistent, outdated, protectionist interests and poor enforcement, that is ‘no longer fit for purpose’ in modern times in much of the country.

iii. Much Taxi & Private Hire regulation, its management and enforcement, particularly outside of London is poor. In London the Taxi (Hackney Carriage) regulations have stood the test of time to deliver the highest standard of ‘Flag Down or Hailed Taxis’ in the world.

iv. More recently the 1998 London Act has delivered a phenomenal increase in standards and regulated service for Private Hire in the capital, with modern fleets of vehicles driven by a diverse ethnicity of drivers, reflecting London’s ‘multi-cultural society’.

v. There is currently a TfL London Private Hire Consultation running and when it concludes it will hopefully add to the benefits that the 98 Act has delivered to date.

vi. Current regulations do not embrace the massive changes brought about by technological progress. The Internet for example does not support ‘invisible borders’, ‘barriers to fair trade’ and ‘restrictive practices’, just the opposite it actually provides liberation of choice, logistical efficiencies and far better access to providers bringing better supply for the travelling public.

3. Inconsistency

i. A primary cause of ‘problems’ in Taxi & Private Hire is the inconsistency applied via regulations and enforcement across the country.

ii. Devolving powers ‘locally’ has caused inconsistent regulations and unnecessary bureaucracy that has often proven to be flawed and there has been a ‘lack of government interest in changes’.

iii. Whilst there has been ‘DfT Best Practice Guidance’, the lack of mandatory ‘Hard and Fast’ rules and regulations nationally, has spawned inconsistent standards, which we believe has in some cases ‘undermined the safety of the travelling public’.

iv. The inconsistency of regulations has led to the courts needing to interpret the intention of regulations, some of which senior judges implied have little or no logic. This has impacted negatively on the industry at great cost and stress, with all manner of rulings, decisions and uncertainty the outcome.

4. Outdated

i. Many local rules and regulations are in fact draconian and ‘out of kilter’ with modern day requirements for service provision, competition, safety and environmental considerations.

ii. London has shown that a larger body or Metropolitan Authority (like the GLA via TfL) is far better placed to regulate Taxi & Private Hire, than smaller Local Authorities whose other policies can sometimes get in the way of appropriate modern regulations and requirements.

iii. The 2003 OFT ‘UK Market Study’ scratched at the surface of such problems without providing any tangible outcomes and actions going forward.

5. Protectionist interests

i. It is complete irony that the Transport Committee in particular is interested in ‘cross-border hire problems caused by private hire vehicles picking up passengers on a large scale outside of the area in which they are licensed’.

ii. In London, Sir George Young and Minister Glenda Jackson rejected bringing into place outdated practices like ‘invisible borders / territorial domains’ etc., as was being advocated by ‘Commercially Self Interested’ parties (including some elements of the Licensed Taxi Trade) prior to the 98 Act. They also recognized that one Metropolitan Authority rather than around 35 Local Authorities would be best placed to avoid the ‘cross border parochial licensing practices’ that went on outside London.

iii. In particular the ‘no sub-contracting clauses’ of some previous Acts were removed from the early ‘Draft Regulations’ of the 98 Act after lobbying by the LPHCA and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, who exposed the flaws in safety and service provision, that such outdated protectionism gave.

iv. In a modern Britain there should be no ‘invisible borders’ or ‘barriers to free trade’, as protectionism and outdated thinking belongs to yesterday. In London for environmental and safety reasons ‘Licensed Operators’ in Private Hire are not constrained by ‘quotas and artificial operating borders’, etc., and rightly can pick up and drop anywhere with a previously made booking.

v. The ‘horse and carriages’ world is long gone and we now have ‘modern technological capabilities’ that ensures that the nearest vehicle can and should be provided when possible for service, safety and environmental considerations. The ‘not on my patch’ regulations should be overhauled and ideally scrapped as soon as possible.

vi. The system where licenses and the right to operate are still traded for cash via ‘plate sales’ is an outdated, archaic practice. Taxi & Private Hire regulations are in the main at least 40 years out of date, except in London, where Licensed Private Hire has a modern, much more ‘fit for purpose’ set of regulations with the older Taxi regulations still working.

6. Enforcement

i. The inconsistency of regulations, leads to poor supply, which in turn compromises safety. This is compounded by inconsistency of enforcement, which alongside poor supply enables serious illegal activity and crime to prevail.

ii. Charlotte Atkins (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport) in 2003 said:

"We will crack down on touts who threaten the entire industry nationwide. All police forces - and not just the Met in London – are encouraged to focus on the problem to give it the priority it deserves".

iii. Sadly ‘Illegal activity’ has grown since this statement was made and lack of enforcement, particularly outside London (where the multiplicity of rules and out of date regulations exist) has meant that demand is sometimes not being met. This we believe has created the opportunities for illegal activity to prevail and grow.

7. CRB & Medical Requirements

i. The LPHCA has for a long time had concerns with the Criminal Record Checking process and we have reported to the ‘Criminal Records Bureau, Vetting & Barring, Protection of Vulnerable Adults and the Protection of Children Act in relation to Private Hire Vehicles Inquiry’ currently being undertaken by the Home Office.

ii. The LPHCA has similarly had issues with the medical requirements under ‘DVLA Group 2’ where perfectly appropriate drivers have been lost to the trade, whilst older drivers with the same minor medical issues work with exemptions in the form of ‘grandfather rights’.

iii. Some DVLA Group 2 issues have been resolved (diabetics) but others remain (like monocular vision and treated epilepsy) and it would be good for the Transport Committee to review the appropriateness of the standards for Taxis and PHV drivers.

8. The Need for change

i. Taxi and Private Hire regulations outside London are in many cases not ‘fit for purpose’, and certainly not applicable for today’s needs. This applies technologically, environmentally and in the best interests of the travelling public, not least for reasons of safety and service provision.

ii. Much of the regulation was written before the mobile phone, satellite tracking, the PC and the Internet were invented. It is time government stopped ignoring the need for change by saying that ‘Licensing is a matter for Local Authorities’. The public deserve better in the 21st Century.

Summary

The LPHCA has outlined here some of the reasons why The Transport Committee must look at the issues relating to the licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles.

Unfortunately the timing of the review alongside the Home Office CRB review, a Major Industry Consultation in London by TfL and other live consultations has made this a rather condensed response.

LPHCA Members based outside London all seek radical changes in regulations that are ‘fit for purpose’ in today’s world. The Institute for Licensing, the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers are amongst many who have also called for changes.

As Chairman of the LPHCA I would be delighted to brief Transport Committee Members individually or collectively and I would be honoured to once again be called to give evidence to assist your efforts and understanding of our industry, the regulatory problems and issues.

December 2010