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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 118-164)

BRIAN WHITEHEAD, EDDIE LAMBERT, PAUL BRENT, TIM GRAY, AND STEVE WRIGHT MBE

15 MARCH 2011

Q118   Chair: Good morning, gentlemen. Welcome to the Transport Committee. I apologise for keeping you waiting for a few minutes. Could you start, please, by identifying yourselves with your name and the organisation you represent? This is for our records. Could I start at the end here? Brian Whitehead: Brian Whitehead, RMT. Eddie Lambert: Eddie Lambert, RMT. Tim Gray: Tim Gray, National Taxi Association. Paul Brent: Paul Brent, National Taxi Association. Steve Wright: Steve Wright, Licensed Private Hire Car Association.

Q119   Chair: Thank you very much. Mr Whitehead, could I ask you first, what restrictions, if any, do you think should be put on private hire vehicles operating outside their home area? Brian Whitehead: I think they should return back to their area immediately unless they have a pre­booked fare because any other system can be abused and cannot be policed.

Q120   Chair: You think that should be an automatic thing; they should go back.

Brian Whitehead: Yes.

Q121   Chair: Does anyone else have any views on that—on private hire? Steve Wright: It's absolutely thinking from the dark ages, with respect. We live in an age where we have environmental and safety considerations. In London, where we have got rid of this type of restrictive practice with a modern Act of legislation, we have a very, very good system.

Q122   Mr Leech: Can I ask Mr Whitehead how you would expect this to be policed to make sure that a private hire vehicle would return to its home district before taking another fare? Brian Whitehead: Simply by the enforcement system that we have now, but actually using it. It is not being used at the moment. You can go to London any time you like in the evenings, because it is predominantly an evening problem, and you will see private hire vehicles ranked up, which is illegal.

Q123   Mr Leech: How realistic is it, do you think, that local licensing authorities would be able to deal with the issue if they were mandated to do that? Brian Whitehead: If it was based on a system where it could be cost-effective for them in that any fines or levies they imposed would make it neutral so that it was not an outlay for the council, then they would enforce it. The problem we have at the moment is that we have people coming in, crossing the borders, sitting around, taking up parking spaces, annoying residents by sitting outside residences. How do you police it? At the moment it says they should pick one up and go back, but who is to say which one they pick up, where they are going to take them and if they ever end up back in their own area.

Q124   Mr Leech: If this was introduced, the obvious areas where this would have a big impact would be town and city centres in the weekend evenings, I suspect. Would you take the same view on taxi firms that were based very close to borders? For instance, I represent a constituency that has Trafford on one side and Stockport on the other, and if a taxi firm was based right on the boundary between the Manchester authority and the Stockport authority, or Manchester and Trafford, do you think it would be reasonable for those taxi firms to have to apply the same rules as you are suggesting for the city centres? Brian Whitehead: Where do you draw the line? It is all right saying you will live on the boundary, so you make the boundary bigger, but there is always going to be another boundary, isn't there? You are always going to have another boundary. So how far do you keep going and going and going so that it becomes totally unenforceable or licensable because it is covering the whole country, if you don't want a boundary? With private hire, as with anything, if you are on the border and someone over that side of the road wants you, all they've got to do is pick up the phone and call you, and you come. There is no restriction on that. What we are saying is that, once you go into someone else's area, you should go back. Otherwise, you have paid the licence fee, the licence comes with all the safeguards about monitoring, being a good proprietor and everything else, but you are in another area where no one has control, no one knows what you are doing and there is no way of coming back.

Q125   Mr Leech: Just one last question, Chair. Has the RMT made an assessment of what impact your proposed change in the regulations would have in terms of the number of staff that local enforcement teams would require to be able to police a change? Brian Whitehead: No, we haven't; I'll be totally honest about that. We haven't done that, because part of our problem is that, every night of the week in London, we are having a problem as it is with enforcement.

Q126   Mr Leech: Would you accept, though, that it would have a big impact in terms of the number of staff that would be required to deal with the issue? Brian Whitehead: It could have; I accept it could have. But what we are saying is that the staff we have now don't seem to be enforcing.

Q127   Iain Stewart: Could I just probe you a little further on your suggestion that there is a requirement to return to the home licensing authority? Surely there is a difference between accepting a fare in one place that is a return fare to the home area, and having a fare that starts and finishes in another authority. Following on from Mr Leech's example, would your suggestion allow that scenario to give a fare that started in Stockport, came to Manchester and then a return fare from Manchester to somewhere in Stockport? Would that be acceptable in your solution? Brian Whitehead: Again, how would you do that? I don't know if it is a solution, but the way I look at it is, how would you police that? If you drive into another area and you drop off, if you haven't got a pre­booked fare, what you are saying is you can hang around and wait for someone to come and pay.

Q128   Iain Stewart: But it could be a pre­booked fare. Brian Whitehead: It would have to be a pre­booked fare. How long would you wait before it becomes cost-effective? If you are waiting too long, it isn't cost-effective. Most private hires that I have used are when I've gone long­distance. I have said, "I want to go from here to here." They have quoted me a price, and I have said, "That's a bit dear." They have said, "Well, we can't get a fare back so you are paying for that." That is part of the deal that you get when you do it. When I do airport runs and things like that, part of what I pay is because they are coming back.

Q129   Iain Stewart: So your solution would be to require every cab to return empty to its own authority. Brian Whitehead: If they have pre­booked fares, they can come back with that fare. But how long are you going to go into an area and just sit around for? How do they get a pre­booked fare coming back?

Q130   Chair: Is your issue about taxis waiting when they haven't got a pre­booked fare? Brian Whitehead: Yes.

Q131   Chair: That is the problem, not when there is something pre­booked. Brian Whitehead: No. If they have a pre­booked fare, I have no problem with that whatsoever. It is if you have a taxi that is not licensed in that area, it doesn't have an operator's licence for that area, and it is going into that area and just sitting around. It is going to take up parking spaces and everything else. We have no control over what that private hire vehicle does by sitting there. If it doesn't have a pre­booked fare, it should come back.

Chair: Mr Maynard, was your question on that point or was it different?

Paul Maynard: I was going to go on to something else.

Q132   Chair: I think the question from Mr Leech was how that could be policed and how somebody would know. How could it be enforced? Brian Whitehead: By the local licensing authority.

Q133   Chair: Mr Wright, do you have any view on that one? Steve Wright: I sat before this Committee in 1993 and advocated a sensible Act for London, which is exactly what we have got. Now 40% of the private hire and taxi industry operates in London, without these ridiculous local controls. It has produced a safe, modern, less polluting taxi and private hire system than anywhere else in the country. On the private hire side, the private hire regulations have done that, and it is absolutely ridiculous. I spoke with Minister Glenda Jackson prior to the Act to demonstrate why vehicles should not, for environmental reasons, be running back empty. It reduces provision and it increases pollution to make these restrictive practices. In London, the 35 boroughs are covered by the London Assembly and it all works perfectly well. There aren't the problems. There is no ranking in London. It is a common thing for the trade unions to say ranking is taking place in London. No prosecutions against private hire ranking in London have ever taken place. It's a myth. They deem cars parked up in a row to be a rank, which is not the case.

Q134   Chair: Mr Brent, do you have a view on this one and how this could be done? Paul Brent: Personally, I feel that they should return to base and it is being abused. I feel that Greater London is always looked at as a model and should be contained in London for London. It took them 22 years to catch up with the rest of the country with the Miscellaneous Provisions Act, and 23 years if you look at the Plymouth Act. Yes, I do agree with what Mr Wright says on some things in his submission. When people are looking at getting taxis from point A to point B, the safety issue definitely comes into it. But, if you go out into the sticks, when taxis go into other people's areas and just wait and wait and wait, and get a job from one area to another area and don't even return to their own area, which was the submission from Liverpool where predominantly the companies are working in another city, the person that is getting all the revenue for that is the one who is issuing the licences. In the Delta situation, all or a percentage of the vehicles were working in Liverpool. They were doing nothing wrong in law, but is that the correct way to operate a business when the vehicles or the drivers cannot be checked?

Q135   Paul Maynard: Is there any meaningful difference to the passenger in the 21st century between a private hire vehicle and a licensed hackney cab, and if so, what is that difference?

Steve Wright: I can answer that. A licensed taxi is far more expensive. It is cruising the streets, polluting the environment, whereas the private hire industry is a modern, less costly form of transport. In London, in the 10 years we have had the Act, our fleet is two years younger and far more environmentally friendly as a result of the lack of stupid restrictive practices in the industry, nationally. It works. It is good for the public. The touting and the illegal activity in London[1] have reduced by about 80% as a result of it. There is still work to do and there is more work to do with enforcement, but from the public's point of view, the private hire service is without problem. I ran a private hire operation for many, many years in Harrow, and our vehicles would return to within three or four miles of our office. It is a myth to say that we would be parking cars all over the place. They come back to the local area and park up, and they do that for environmentally friendly reasons. Brian Whitehead: I think there is a big difference. If you look at the types of vehicles used and the differences and the availability for disabled passengers, there is a massive difference. It is about comfort, and it is not about restrictions but what you get out of a licensed hackney carriage compared to what you get out of a private hire. Yes, private hire vehicles are a lot cheaper to run. For £12,000, you can buy a brand new four-door saloon and go out and use it for private hire, whereas it is a minimum of £28,000 for a hackney carriage which will take disabled passengers and everything else. Therefore, there is a difference in price there that puts the fare up. But, if you look at the difference in fares, there is not that much difference between private hire and hackney carriage. In fact, if you come out of a nightclub in London in the evenings any time after midnight, you will find that sometimes you can get a hackney carriage cheaper on the meter than you can with someone who is—and I will say it—touting and ranking up outside nightclubs. If you go to nightclubs, there is just row after row of private hire vehicles sitting there and not one of them has a pre­booked call. They are sitting there waiting for a call, and that is why hackney carriages are having to cruise around, because there is nowhere for them to park because people are coming in and doing that.

Q136   Paul Maynard: From the point of view of the consumer, there is no obvious distinction between the two types of taxi. With the example you have cited, coming out of a nightclub, there are taxis outside, the consumer doesn't distinguish necessarily between licensed hackney cabs and private hire vehicles, and indeed, as you have just said, the fares are often indistinguishable. Why, therefore, are we putting significant effort into this system of dual regulation for two different types of operation which are effectively performing the same service for the customer? Brian Whitehead: They are a totally different service.

Paul Maynard: But driving me around—

Q137   Kwasi Kwarteng: With respect, you have said that there is not much difference in price. As far as the consumer coming out of the nightclub or whatever it is at night is concerned, they just want to get home. You have said that they are using the private hire vehicles, because if they weren't using them, the vehicles wouldn't be there. So I am very confused, as I am sure other members are on the Committee, as to what the actual difference is. What is your argument? Why are these private hire vehicles so bad? Brian Whitehead: I am not saying they are so bad, but if you look at certain statistics, like crime, and what goes on, such as assaults, whether they are sexual or it is violence in a cab, and compare private hire and hackney carriages, there is a vast difference—a massive difference. If you also look at the safety specifications of the two vehicles, there is a big difference. Hackney carriages are built to different standards from an ordinary four-door saloon for private hire use. People who come out of a nightclub just want to get home straightaway. The ranking in the majority of places is away from the front entrance of that nightclub, but if you come out of there you will see private hire, parked on double yellow lines, waiting to pick people up. What happens is that people come out and there will be people there saying, "Do you want a cab? Come over here." They'll put them in that and off they go. That is the problem. People are under the impression—

Q138   Kwasi Kwarteng: You are saying that is wrong. Brian Whitehead: Yes, I am, because it is illegal. It is illegal.

Q139   Chair: Let's bring Mr Wright in. It is illegal, isn't it, for private hire to approach people without having been booked? Steve Wright: Of course it is. What this gentleman is doing is rather misleading you, because he is saying that this is the private hire industry. These are touts. He is comparing the price of a taxi to the price of a tout. It is a fact that private hire vehicles, on average, pre­booked through an office, are 25% cheaper than a taxi. End of story. That is a fact. It is quite wrong to say that private vehicles are dearer and it is actually misleading you on that. You cannot compare the illegal cabs to the legitimate, pre-booked industry. He also talked about the assaults that take place in private hire vehicles. They don't take place in private hire vehicles at all; they take place in illegal cabs. They don't take place in private hire vehicles. The Public Carriage Office has no records of any assaults whatsoever in the 4 million passenger journeys a day[2] in a pre­booked private hire vehicle. They take place with the touts.

Q140   Chair: You are saying the problem is with the touts who are acting illegally, not with the legitimate private hire. Steve Wright: There is a problem with the touts, and he is comparing the Private hire to the touts.

Q141   Kwasi Kwarteng: It is interesting that you are saying this. My experience in London is that there was a very restrictive system and it became less restrictive. Just from anecdotal experience, no one I have spoken to—people I know, my friends who work and live here, who use taxis all the time—has ever said, "We've got to go back to the old system." No one has ever said that, which seems to me that they've got something right. If it works in London, I don't understand why that can't be applied in other regions. Brian Whitehead: Because London is being used as one licensing authority.

Q142   Chair: Mr Whitehead, can you tell us why London is different? Brian Whitehead: It is not different. It is being used as one licensing authority. Again, you are going to get a situation where adjacent licensing authorities are going to be coming over and undermining that system. That is what we are on about. It is where you draw the line. Where does that licensing authority stop? At the moment you've got a licensing authority in London that covers all the boroughs. Outside of that, you then have other authorities, and you are getting the same problem on the boundaries now of cross-border vehicles coming in.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Just to come back to that, the issue is that people like yourself were making these exact arguments before when we had this chopped-up system within London. You were making exactly the same points that you are making now. What happened was that we had one big authority in London and it was a vast improvement. That is all I am putting to you, and you are making exactly the same arguments that you would have made 20 years ago about London taxis.

Q143   Chair: Mr Whitehead, are you saying that these problems remain, but it is in a different boundary? Brian Whitehead: Yes.

Q144   Chair: It is still a border issue, but it is on a different border. Brian Whitehead: Every time you create a border—it doesn't matter how artificially you create it—if you are going to move a border out to try to stop the situation and you make that one area, you are still going to get that area where it balances out against another border. So it is always going to happen.

Chair: That's okay. It is just so that we understand what the issues are.

Q145   Paul Maynard: I was interested to read in your evidence about the case of Grassbys in Basingstoke, where they operate in Basingstoke but are registered in London, so that they are exempt from the congestion charge. That raised a question in my mind. Why isn't every taxi firm registered in London in order to gain exemption from the congestion charge? Surely, most south­east taxi firms would rather register themselves somewhere that granted them an exemption. You mentioned that the borders have to be set somewhere. Isn't the logical conclusion of your argument a national licensing system? Brian Whitehead: You are back to the same thing then: how do you police it? At the moment you have separate laws that cover London from the rest of the country, with every county doing their own thing and doing it in different ways. If you are going to do what you are suggesting and go national, you are still going to have London by itself because it is covered by Acts of Parliament rather than the Acts of local councils.

Q146   Paul Maynard: Without getting into a debate, one would presume new legislation would be national rather than local, but if the only argument against national licensing is who enforces it, how would you respond to my argument that we have national laws already that local government enforce at a local level? Why would national licensing not work in this country, because we live in an age where we all travel far more? We travel further than we did in the 1840s when hackney licensing was first introduced; we are no longer just travelling within a small town. Why is national licensing not the way to go forward? Brian Whitehead: Again, it is people knowing where they are going; it is their local knowledge, whether it is through a hackney carriage licence and local knowledge, or even if it is local private hire. It is still about local. Most taxi journeys are not miles and miles long; they are only a few miles.

Q147   Chair: Mr Brent, what is your view on national licensing rather than local licensing? Paul Brent: If I could just rewind a little bit to Mr Leech, you live in Stockport, I take it. I come from Trafford. If we were to have a Greater Manchester plate, where would the boundaries be then? Does that mean to say that Liverpool, which would have a Merseyside plate, would be able to sit on our side of the fence, if you like, and vice versa? Greater London, with their Acts and everything, is for the whole of Greater London. If the people from outside were all to register in London, then most of the cabs would be in London. Let's just get back to the people. If we have a Greater Manchester plate, what would happen if everybody went into the centre of Manchester? People in Hazel Grove and places like that wouldn't be getting a taxi home because there would be no taxis there. Take Macclesfield, or even some parts of Cheshire, such as the Wirral; there is just nobody there.

Q148   Chair: Are you saying there that one problem of bigger areas is that the very local needs might not be addressed? Paul Brent: Everybody would start cherry-picking. If you had national legislation, most of the cabs would be in the big cities.

Q149   Mr Leech: Is there any evidence of cherry-picking in London in certain areas where you are going to pick up the fares, so that everyone goes to those locations and leaves some of the—there is no remote area in London—less busy parts of London without access? Steve Wright: I can answer this question because I was an operator in London for 30 years, both before and after the Act. There was absolutely no change after the 1998 Act in the demographics of where the vehicles were. It is an argument that was put before this Committee and others at the Department for Transport prior to the 1998 Act that is absolute fiction. It has not made an iota of difference to the provision of taxis. There are still over 2,000 operators in London. There has been consolidation, because some of the poorer operators have gone because of the Act, but the number of vehicles and drivers has grown, and the choice and the service have improved. What that has meant is a far more environmentally friendly service in London that is completely regulated. We heard all this before, "This would happen, that would happen, the other would happen." It is fiction. It never happened.

Q150   Chair: Does anybody have a different view on what has actually happened? Eddie Lambert: Speaking as a London cab driver, there are areas outside the central area that do get very badly serviced by the cab trade—very badly. You often hear this myth, really, "I won't go south of the river." There are occasions when drivers don't want to go south of the river. It is not because they've got a problem with taking the passenger out there; it's the 15, 20 or 25 minutes coming back when they are not going to get any work. That is why they don't want to go south of the river. It is not the job out; it is the down time coming back where they won't get a fare. That is part of the reason. I want to challenge Mr Wright on saying there are no sexual assaults in private hire. Very recently, there was a Camden Town private hire driver done for sexual assault on a young lad under social services care. A couple of drivers from Stratford have been done for rape in E15 over a period of years. To say there has been none is a fabrication.

Q151   Iain Stewart: I wonder if I could approach the national standard argument from another angle, and that is, are you concerned about any local licensing authorities who set standards below an acceptable level? Particularly, do you have a view if there are any authorities attempting to gain additional revenue by undercutting neighbouring authorities? Does that exist or is that not a factor? Tim Gray: Sir, I have some knowledge of the scenario in Berwick because I am from the north­east. They were certainly generating a huge amount of income by massively increasing the amount of licences that they issued, and we had them operating all over Newcastle, in the Rhondda, even in London. They were considered to be somewhat soft touches over CRB checks, vehicle checks and things like that. So you do get that. What I am not sure about, Sir, is whether you are saying, with a national standard, you would have what would essentially be a national one­tier system: there would be no distinction between hackney carriage and private hire. Is that what is in our minds or in the minds of the Committee?

Chair: We are asking you. We are exploring a number of things, and that is one of the issues I think we might be interested in. But maybe Mr Stewart still wants to pursue this particular one.

Q152   Iain Stewart: You mentioned the example of Berwick, which we have heard from other witnesses. Is that an isolated example or is it more prevalent out there? Eddie Lambert: I live in Peterborough. King Cabs have moved out of town to Yaxley, just over the border, so they can operate under Huntingdon conditions. Peterborough has a purpose-built policy, like London: all black cabs, all high cost. The policy in Huntingdon is four-door saloons, with no age limit. But they do the majority of their work in Peterborough now, as they did before, because that is originally where they built up their base. They have moved over the border so they can benefit from the cheaper licensing and vehicle costs. Tim Gray: The standards really do vary massively. I have had a case where I was dealing with a taxi appeal in Newcastle where a chap was found not to be fit and proper. He walked in wearing his badge from Derwentside, another authority, where he had obviously been found to be fit and proper. That is an example of the variations there can be.

Q153   Chair: How many examples are there where there have been problems because of a variation in standards? Tim Gray: The problem I have is that I can't speak at all for London, because obviously we don't operate there in any big way. I hear what Mr Wright says about that. I have seen intense problems in my area with the variations in the standards. I say again that Berwick was the classic example, because what you had there was a private hire operator who simply wanted to cut his own costs and achieve other benefits, going to what became simply a flag of convenience. It was impossible to enforce anything that they did in Newcastle because they were licensed in Berwick, and Berwick, of course, didn't want anything to do with them. Indeed, Berwick, when they were licensing them, were telling them that they couldn't actually operate in Berwick.

Q154   Chair: Could you give us any idea of the extent of this problem and any more examples of what happened? Tim Gray: I can't in the sense, Madam, that I am talking as a lawyer rather than somebody who has the knowledge on the ground, but I am sure that there have been other authorities to which people would go because they have an easier regime. I know, for instance, in my area that we have a particular issue over the local airport. There are various different plates that are represented there, and let's say some are more rigorous than others. You are not going to get the same standard. You may be saying that a national licensing system would give the same standard, but I go back to the whole issue of enforcement, which is what has worried me all the way along the line. I hear what Mr Wright says about London, but that just isn't going to work in the provinces. We have seen the difficulty over enforcement with that Berwick scenario. Cross-border hiring has been a big thing in our area because of the activities of a local firm, the leader of which is one of the leading cases denying cross-border hiring. We have seen all of that, and that is illegal. I come back to what we say in our submission, which is that the present system works perfectly well. There are two tiers, yes there are, but a national standard will never work because you will get different levels of enforcement still around the country. You can't deal with it all centrally, I am sure.

Q155   Mr Leech: In your view, if we were to have national standards, do you think it would drive standards up or drive standards down to the lowest common denominator? Tim Gray: I think it depends, Sir, on where you set the standards or who sets the standards. Obviously, you can set a universal standard, but my worry is how somebody who sets a standard, say, in London is going to enforce that standard in Newcastle or in Manchester or wherever. I see this as being something that simply has to be a local issue, because there are different localities which have different features and obviously different demands. I do go along with the so­called honeypot argument, that people are going to flock to the places that are really very busy, because we are finding that already in the north­east with authorities that have become unitary authorities.

Q156   Mr Leech: Does anyone have a particular view that it would either drive up standards or lower standards?

Chair: And could you address the issue of enforcement outside London? I want to talk about outside London now. Steve Wright: We have member operators outside London, and I happen to live outside London. I will give you a classic example outside London. If I book two vehicles, one was a hackney carriage that was filthy and the driver didn't know where he was going. From the same company, a private hire vehicle came, it was cleaner, newer, and the driver knew where he was going. You get those sorts of anomalies right the way across these things because of plates that have been bought and territories that have been owned by somebody for a period of time. Standards have just risen and risen and risen in London. If you go outside and look at the age of the average private hire vehicle in London, it is two or three years lower than the taxis. The reason it has been successful is because there haven't been the ridiculous constraints. Outside London, you have ridiculously lax regulations and also ridiculously onerous regulations. The combination of those things, border by border, borough by borough, over 350 local authorities, has created the need for things like Berwick to happen. It should all be swept away and market forces should take place.

Q157   Chair: You are saying it is lax and it is onerous at the same time. These seem to be in conflict.

Steve Wright: Yes. That is the way it is.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Some of them are lax and some of them are onerous.

Q158   Mr Leech: Would you not say that part of the issue is having better co­ordination between local authorities that border other local authorities, so that, coming back to the comment that I made at the beginning, Manchester, Stockport and Trafford have roughly similar regulations, and there is no advantage to someone going to Trafford as opposed to Manchester because it is cheaper and less onerous? Steve Wright: London has 35 local authorities embraced in one Act that covers it. I would see that these things need to be regional, and, where regional working co­operation has taken place, all the problems that we are discussing here have melted away. There are local authorities such as Humberside and Yorkshire that have merged together their procurement for taxi and private hire. They have saved cost and they have improved provision. It is the fact that there are 350 different sets of regulations and rules that causes the variation of standards and the variation of regulations across the whole country.

Chair: These are very contentious issues, aren't they? We are in an age of localism as well, which is another issue on this.

Q159   Paul Maynard: If we were to have a national licensing system, you expressed a concern that taxis would go to where the business was, and you implied that that would therefore be a problem. Am I misunderstanding the nature of taxi provision in that it is a service provided to consumers and that where consumers have the greatest demand that is where the service should be provided? Is that correct? Eddie Lambert: That is inevitably going to happen.

Q160   Paul Maynard: So why would it be a problem if there were more taxis where there was more demand and fewer taxis where there was less demand? Tim Gray: Because there may well, Sir, not be any taxis where there is less demand.

Q161   Paul Maynard: Would they not be able to then book a private hire vehicle? Tim Gray: I think the same economic constraints as there would be from the point of view of a taxi driver would affect a private hire driver in much the same way. If there is no business that is viable, and you are talking largely about rural areas, I don't think anybody is going to be very interested in it.

Q162   Iain Stewart: I would like to put to the panel a potential solution that I suggested to previous witnesses, and that is to utilise new technology. My understanding is that the vast majority of hackney cabs and private hire vehicles use sat-nav technology. For companies that are licensed in one authority but do a fair proportion of their journeys in another authority, should there not be a requirement that for each company the data is downloaded and aggregated, and if they do a certain percentage of their business outside their home authority they would be required to pay some additional levy? Do you think that would be practical? Brian Whitehead: You are talking about a vehicle tracking system.

Iain Stewart: Yes.

Q163   Chair: Mr Whitehead, do you have a view on that? Brian Whitehead: I am not too sure how you would do that and how you would transfer data and everything else on that. The whole thing, for me, is that a local authority at the moment licenses its hackney carriages and gives private hire for what it believes it needs for the area, including those with special needs in that geographical area. If you start making that area larger, for earnings reasons and those reasons alone, people will generally migrate to the town centres and to the places where they can earn because they are now licensed to go into those places where they weren't before, and because there weren't that many in that area they could make a living. Now that area is bigger, they can make a living by moving over there and leaving this area blank, and that is what is going to happen. It happened with bus deregulation and there was—

Q164   Chair: Mr Gray, do you have a view on that? Tim Gray: The technology of course is there and it would be fair to say that, in the Shanks case, I think it was Lord Justice Latham who made this point before he, of course, found that there was illegal cross-border hiring anyway. But the fact is that it is not the technology. It is the question of the enforcement. Somebody has to regulate these people. At the moment the rule is that there have to be in private hire three licences—an operator's licence, a vehicle licence and a driver's licence—and they all have to be issued by the same authority. As long as that continues and there is no doubt as to who is going to be capable of enforcing it, those vehicles can go where they want. Steve Wright: I would like to come back on a couple of points. First of all, with regard to localism, we would see regional large authorities such as London. We would see local authorities working together to make one set of standards collectively, as has happened in London, where 35 local authorities are under the one auspice, and we would see that as the same model but being more regional. The problem is that, when it is crook by hamlet, you know, village by village type regulations, you get all this protectionism and cross-border stuff. It just isn't happening in London. The second point I would make about the RMT thing is that the particular assault that he referred to is subject to a police inquiry so that is in process at the moment. A company like Addison Lee has done 27 million journeys in London with never a single complaint or a prosecution against a driver for anything[3]. So I think we need to put that into context.

Chair: Thank you. I think that we are going to move on to the next set of witnesses. Eddie Lambert: Can I just query the Addison Lee reference? One of their drivers was very recently done for manslaughter, where he deliberately ran over a homeless person in Old Burlington Street, London. To say that none of their drivers has ever been done is, once again, fabrication.

Chair: Thank you. We will leave it there. Thank you very much for a lively session. Thank you very much, gentlemen.


1   Note by witness: The reduction of 80% relates to sexual assaults by illegal touts. Back

2   Note by witness: This should be a week. This information is based on a conversation with the TFL Taxi & Private Hire Directorate in late 2010. Back

3   Note by witness: May I clarify my statement: "A company like Addison Lee has done 27 million journeys in London with never a single serious complaint or a prosecution against a driver for anything within a journey involving passengers." Back


 
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Prepared 19 July 2011