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


2  Principles to underpin new legislation

16. In this chapter we set out the three broad principles which we think should underpin new legislation on taxis and PHVs.

Listen to users

17. We were struck during our inquiry by how difficult it is to find out what users of taxis and PHVs want from these services or whether they have been inconvenienced by the cross-border issues raised by some witnesses. We received little evidence from the consumer perspective. Although the National Association of Taxi Users (NATU) gave oral evidence, and argued that users were "confused" by the distinction between taxis and PHVs, it is a new organisation which has yet to build up a substantial membership.[39]

18. The absence of a consumer voice in the debate about taxi and PHV legislation puts an additional onus on the Government to ensure that users' interests are reflected in decisions about reform. We recommend that, in developing proposals for changing the legislation applying to taxis and PHVs, the Government should commission authoritative research into consumers' opinions. Particular attention should be paid to the views of vulnerable groups, such as disabled people, who are often most reliant on taxis and PHVs.

Keep it simple

19. Various views were expressed about whether or not it was still sensible to maintain separate legal regimes for taxis and PHVs.[40] In our view, there remains a clear distinction between the two types of service but we see little reason for them to be the subject of separate Acts, particularly given that many firms operate both taxis and PHVs in their fleets. We recommend that Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 should be replaced by a single Act or legislative reform order, covering both taxis and PHVs. The distinction between taxi and PHV services could be maintained by providing for two types of vehicle licence under the Act. The separate legislation for PHVs in London and Plymouth should be maintained only if there are specific local justifications for doing so.

Keep it local

LOCAL TRANSPORT PLANS

20. The Minister told us that taxis and PHVs had a role to play in local transport plans, citing the importance of assisting people complete journeys from rail stations to their destinations in order to encourage a shift away from car usage.[41] There was widespread agreement with this view.[42] Philip Soderquest of Northumberland Council described taxis and PHVs as "a huge part of the local transport infrastructure" in the county.[43] However, Damien Edwards of Liverpool City Council commented that taxis and PHVs had historically been the "poor relations" in transport planning and John Austin of NATU said "we found a number of LTPs which regard taxis and private hire as part of the public transport system and to be planned and taken account of accordingly: others do not".[44]

21. Although some local transport plans include taxis and PHVs, others do not.[45] The Department's guidance on local transport plans makes no mentions of taxis or PHVs, save to suggest that local firms should be consulted when such plans are drawn up.[46] The guidance provided on the licensing of taxis and PHVs goes no further than to suggest some issues relating to these services which local transport plans could contain.[47] We recommend that the Government provide clearer guidance to local authorities on how taxis and PHVs should be included in local transport plans.

STANDARDS

22. An issue we explored in some detail was the rationale for differences in licensing standards between local authorities, given suggestions that this contributed to cross-border hire problems.[48] David Wilson called for national standards for drivers and vehicles which would "in effect, be a national licence". He said "we have national licences for everything else. If you drive an HGV, you don't obtain a licence from your local council. You obtain it from the DVLA and you can drive an HGV anywhere in this country".[49] However, most witnesses preferred to retain licensing as a local function.[50] For example, Myles Bebbington, the licensing manager for South Cambridgeshire District Council, argued that there were valid reasons for differences between vehicle licensing conditions in urban and rural areas because of the different types of driving undertaken by cars in those areas.[51] The Minister said he did not think differences in standards between local authorities were likely to be problematic and that removing functions from local authorities "would go against the grain of the Government's general drift".[52]

23. There are strong arguments in favour of national standards in relation to issues which directly relate to public safety, such as the level of CRB check drivers require, the roadworthiness of vehicles and drivers whose licences have been revoked being licensed shortly afterwards by a different district.[53] We recommend that new legislation in this area should provide for this. There are no good arguments for local variations in these areas and, in our view, taxi and PHV passengers ought to be confident that wherever they travel their safety is protected to the same degree. However, some aspects of licensing, such as whether or not drivers should be subject to a knowledge test and what form such a test might take, are essentially local matters which depend on the nature of the district.[54] We agree with the Minister that the licensing of taxis and PHVs should remain a local function, not least because of the likely cost and complexity of instituting a national system.

ENFORCEMENT

24. Some local authorities raised with us difficulties in enforcing standards in relation to drivers or vehicles licensed by other districts.[55] Councillor Cec Tallack, the leader of Milton Keynes Council, said it was "inequitable" for Milton Keynes residents to pay for enforcement activity against out-of-town cars whose drivers and operators paid licensing fees to another authority.[56] He also drew attention to difficulties caused by differing practices in the licensing of drivers who had infringed the law: he argued that Milton Keynes Council took a tougher line than its neighbouring authorities.[57] This was disputed by one such authority, South Northamptonshire, which also said that its officials had been carrying out enforcement activity in Milton Keynes since 2005.[58] We were also told of other arrangements whereby local authorities could engage in enforcement activity in neighbouring districts or in relation to out-of-town cars, such as a joint initiative involving Merseyside councils.[59]

25. If our proposal for national standards in relation to matters directly relating to public safety is accepted, there should be no difficulty in local authorities carrying out enforcement activity against cars and drivers irrespective of where they are licensed. Precisely how enforcement activity is organised is a matter for local authorities but we acknowledge that the current requirement for ring fencing income from licensing may constrain innovative practices, such as contributing to enforcement activity in a different district. We recommend that any legal barriers to co-operation between local authorities and innovation in organising and funding enforcement activity in relation to taxis and PHVs should be reviewed as part of the process of legislative reform.

26. Offences relating to taxis and PHVs, such as plying for hire, must be dealt with in court. Prosecutions are not numerous. Liverpool City Council undertook 18 prosecutions for plying for hire by PHVs in 2009 and 40 in 2010.[60] Northumbria Police said that it had evidence of just three such prosecutions in north east England during this time.[61] Some witnesses suggested that fixed penalty notices could be used for dealing more efficiently with taxi and PHV offences.[62] We are sympathetic to the argument that offences relating to taxis and PHVs, such as plying for hire, should be dealt with by fixed penalty notices rather than court action and we recommend that the Government should move in this direction when it comes to reform the legislation in this area.

LICENSING DISTRICTS

27. It was suggested that one solution to cross-border hire disputes would be to licence vehicles to operate over a larger geographic area.[63] This approach has been adopted in London, where taxis and PHVs are licensed by Transport for London to operate across the entire Greater London region. Brian Whitehead of the RMT argued that this had simply moved cross-border disputes out to the borders of Greater London.[64] Paul Brent of the National Taxi Association suggested that with larger districts taxis and PHVs would flock to the most profitable areas, such as city centres, leaving other parts of the district bereft of cars.[65]

28. Kris Beuret of NATU said "one of the problems at the moment is that so much taxi thinking is done at the district level and most transport planning [is] at the next tier up. So you often find complete disregard of taxis as the essential cement ... of the public transport system".[66] This is a sensible assessment which points to the desirability of aligning licensing districts with local transport planning areas. In general terms, it might be preferable for taxis and PHVs to be licensed to operate across all of the boroughs of a conurbation rather than to be constrained by borough boundaries which are often somewhat artificial. However, in other areas the status quo may be optimal. This is properly a matter for local authorities and different arrangements will suit different areas. We recommend that new legislation should permit existing licensing districts to be combined where local authorities decide it is best to do so.


39   Qq 166-68, 173, Ev 62 and see www.taxiuser.com. Back

40   Foe example see Qq 101-2, 136-37 and Ev w7 paragraph 8. Back

41   Q221. Back

42   For example Qq114-16 and 196. Back

43   Q117.  Back

44   Qq115, 196. Back

45   The local transport plans for Merseyside and West Yorkshire, for example, cover taxis and PHVs in some detail. Back

46   Guidance on Local Transport Plans, DfT, July 2009. Back

47   Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing: Best Practice Guidance, DfT, March 2010, paragraphs 96-97. Back

48   See paragraph 8. Back

49   Q69. And see Qq168-71 (NATU and TravelWatch NorthWest). Back

50   For example Qq 75, 155 and Ev w21 paragraph 9 and 33 paragraph 14. But also see Ev w34 paragraph 5(iii). Back

51   Ev 49. Back

52   Q207. Back

53   For example Qq 72-73, 152, Ev 52 paragraph 4.3, Ev w8-9 paragraphs 21-28, 15 paragraphs 3 and 8, 23 paragraph 1.4, 37 paragraph 10, 64 paragraphs 3.4 and 5.1 and 73 paragraphs 7 and 10. Back

54   For example, Q98. Back

55   For example, see Ev w32, paragraph 6. Back

56   Ev 79-80 3(b)-(c). Back

57   Q96. Back

58   Ev w84-86. Back

59   Ev 57, paragraph 14. Back

60   Ev 57. Also see evidence from Merseyside Police, Ev w89. Back

61   Ev w89. Back

62   See Ev w8 paragraph 19, 23 paragraph 1.5, 66 paragraph 53 and 81; but also Qq 73 and 209. Back

63   For example, Q171 and Ev 55 paragraphs 9 and 13. Back

64   Qq142, 144. Back

65   Qq147-48. Also see Qq 11, 113, 124. Back

66   Q196. Back


 
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Prepared 19 July 2011