Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Twelfth Report


Letter from the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee

  Thank you for giving the Central Rail Users' Consultative Committee the opportunity to comment on the draft Order.

  Because of the short timescale for consultation not coinciding with the cycle of Committee meetings the matter has only been considered by the Chairman, Mr David Bertram, and myself. I understand that you have also consulted at least some of the regional RUCCs directly.

  Having considered the further papers which you provided we would welcome any change which would assist the provision of alternative transport for rail passengers during emergencies. We note that in certain cases this may lead to the use of vehicles which are less accessible than those currently provided. This may not be a problem for able bodied people but it is important that Train Operators recognise that further provision may still be needed for passengers with a mobility impairment. We will press train operators to ensure that they recognise that sole reliance on private hire operators and vehicles may not be acceptable.

  In the case of pre-planned train service suspensions there are already often undesirable restrictions on the conveyance of some bulky items such as prams or cycles. Use of private hire vehicles in such circumstances may impose further restrictions. The use of taxis in lieu of trains often occurs in rural areas where the road network does not allow the use of buses to access stations. In such circumstances it is also often not realistic to attempt to summon a substitute vehicle if the one initially provided is unsuitable. However, depending on the locality, licensed taxis may already comprise ordinary saloon cars with a minimum of modification.We will press train operators to ensure that current levels of provision are not eroded.

  On balance we are unable to justify a stance of opposition to the draft order but we will expect train operators not to withdraw or reduce any current provision. If operators meet this expectation the level of exploitation of the new flexibility may be limited.

  The Committee does not object to the revision of the regulations to allow a holder of licences issued in Northern Ireland to be granted a taxi or private hire licence.

  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss matters further.

  Paul Hadley
  National Director
  19 January 1998


Letter from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Pauline Gaunt, the Department's Parliamentary Clerk, has asked me to reply to your letter to her of 18 December about the above deregulation proposal.

  As to consultation with passenger groups, you will appreciate that the Department originally consulted on a set of four deregulation proposals involving taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs - often known as minicabs). One of these proposals was that the period of a taxi or PHV driver's licence should be standardised at three years, some local authorities at present fixing the period at one year. It seemed to the Department that this proposal might be seen as having safety implications, because criminal record checks are usually made by local authorities in respect of the grant or renewal of a licence. It was for this reason that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust was included in the consultation. (Ministers have since decided not to proceed with that particular proposal.

  The Department had not seen the proposal about the use of PHVs for replacement rail services as having safety implications, because it was deliberately couched in terms of licensed PHVs. It is already open to railway operators to use licensed taxis to replace trains, and outside London both taxis and PHVs are licensed by local authorities. The Department's information is that local authorities apply the same safety checks in respect of both taxis and PHVs. This includes criminal record checks on drivers, and mechanical checks on vehicles.

  I hope this serves to answer the first of the two questions on which the Committee requested evidence. In short, the licensing regime for minicabs is essentially the same as that for taxis, and the Department is not aware that it is any less effective.

  I should add that there are, or have been, a very few local authorities outside London which do not licence PHVs; and the Committee may be aware that there is at present no legislative provision for PHV licensing in London (although Sir George Young has a Private Member's Bill for that purpose before Parliament at present). I should again stress that the Deregulation proposal relates only to licensed PHVs from those areas where they were licensed. Thus, for example, a railway operator would under the proposal not be entitled to use an unlicensed PHV from London.

  As to the Committee's second question, the Department is not aware of any statistics relating to the number of attacks on passengers in taxis, licensed minicabs or unlicensed minicabs. Our understanding is that police forces do not keep statistics on this basis.

  I hope this letter is helpful to the Committee. Please let me know if the Committee would like any further information.

  I am copying this letter to James Rhys in the House of Commons, and to Pauline Gaunt.

  E C Neve
  Head of Division
  19 January 1998


Letter to the House of Commons Committee from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  You have had a copy of Dr Tudor's letter of 16 January to Pauline Gaunt of our Parliamentary Branch. Attached to it was a letter from the Director, Passenger Services Group of the Office of the Rail Regulator. This gives an up to date assessment of the need for our proposed order relating to private hire vehicles being used for substitute rail services. His conclusion was that the proposal would now have no effect in practice. (You will appreciate that circumstances have changed since we started the procedure for this order).

  We are reviewing this advice with our legal advisers, and may well feel that we should put the matter to our Ministers again. That being so, and since we are anxious not to take the Committee's time unnecessarily, I wonder if you might feel that our appearance before the Committee might best be postponed. Obviously we would aim to put a submission to Ministers quickly.

  I will be happy to discuss this with you, but Edward Neve and I will be in the House most of to-day (at least until 14.30) in connection with Sir George Young's Bill to regulate London minicabs.

  I am copying this to Dr Tudor.

  John Lewis
  Head of Taxi Policy Branch
  23 January 1998


Letters from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

  Thank you for your letter of 22 January about the above proposal. You may know by now that officials' appearance before the House of Commons Committee has been postponed to 3 February.

  You raised two questions in your letter, the first being about para 1 of Schedule 1 of Sir George Young's Private Hire Vehicles (London) Bill. That provision was included in Sir George's Bill merely for consistency with the proposed deregulation order. Sir George said in the Second Reading Debate on his Bill in the House of Commons on Friday that the provision would be introduced in London only if it were introduced elsewhere. (Commons Hansard, 23 January, column 1258.) If the proposed deregulation order did not proceed, then either Sir George's Bill would be amended, or the Secretary of State would not bring the provision into effect. (You may like to note that Clause 13(7)(b) of the Bill contains a similar provision in connection with Northern Ireland driver's licences, the subject of the other draft deregulation order).

  You also asked about statistics on attacks on passengers, in the context of the press cuttings which you attached to your letter. We have checked with Home Office colleagues, who tell us that police forces do not keep records of criminal convictions by the occupation of the offender.

  The press cuttings which you sent both related to London, and we have further checked with the Metropolitan Police on the background to them. The Met Police have told us that before Christmas they ran a special one-off crime prevention campaign about sexual offences involving minicabs, using their information on reported crimes rather than convictions.

  It seems important to stress in this context that the term "minicab" can cover a wide range of such cases, especially in London where the minicab trade is not regulated, and where the vehicles do not carry any identification as minicabs. In commenting on the figures, the Metropolitan Police said that "whilst the victims all believed they were passengers in a minicab", it was not possible to confirm that, "as they merely reported being a passenger in a large saloon car" - not necessarily a minicab as such. The Police told us that the majority of victims were picked up by vehicles which they had not previously booked, often after being approached by the offenders - or their agents - on the street, or after themselves approaching the offenders. You will appreciate that touting on behalf of either taxis or minicabs is already illegal throughout the country, as is plying for hire by minicabs.

  The Committee will also appreciate that the proposed deregulation order only applies to licensed vehicles. It would therefore not apply to minicabs in London, because they are not licensed. That position would only change if Sir George Young's Bill providing for the regulation of London minicabs were to become law, or if there were subsequent legislation.

  From time to time, there are reports about attacks on passengers by the drivers of London taxis, although again we are aware of no firm statistics. Here too, there is a problem of definitions; unless the offender is successfully prosecuted, there is no way of knowing whether he was a licensed taxi driver or merely somebody purporting to be a licensed driver, either driving a stolen licensed taxi or an unlicensed vehicle which had been sold out of the trade.

  As I mentioned in my previous letter, our information is that in areas where both taxis and minicabs are licensed, the local licensing authorities apply the same criminal record checks in respect of drivers for both kinds of vehicle.

  To conclude, the Department does not believe that the Order would have any adverse implications in respect of 'necessary protection', since it will only allow for hirings by train operating companies using licensed private hire vehicles where the drivers had been subject to criminal record checks.

  E C Neve
  Head of Division
  27 January 1998

  This letter is to confirm that Glenda Jackson has decided that our proposal for a deregulation order relating to private hire vehicles and passenger train services should be withdrawn. A fuller letter giving our reasons, and in reply to one from James Rhys received this afternoon will follow.

  I am copying this to James Rhys.

  John Lewis
  Head of Taxi Policy Branch
  28 January 1998

  As you know, the Department has decided that it would not be right to pursue further that part of the above proposal which relates to the use of private hire vehicles for replacement rail services. It seemed right to record for the Committee why the Department had reached that conclusion. The issue concerns section 4A of the Transport Act 1962, and whether it applies to passenger train service Franchise operators.

  Section 4A of the 1962 Act relates to the British Railways Board (BRB). It empowers the BRB to operate road passenger services in two cases:

    (i)      where a railway passenger service has been withdrawn permanently; and

    (ii)      where a railway passenger service has been temporarily interrupted (for example, because of engineering work, or an emergency).

  Under these powers the BRB may provide a replacement road service using buses or licensed taxis.

  By virtue of the provisions of section 47 of the Railways Act 1993, the powers of the BRB are exercisable concurrently by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising. We understand this to mean that if the Franchising Director should run trains himself, then the powers and constraints of section 4A of the 1962 Act would apply.

  However, the Franchising Director does not in fact operate passenger train services. He franchises the right to do so to private sector operators. Through Franchise Agreements, the Franchising Director has required that, in the event of a disruption to a passenger train service, a Franchise operator use all reasonable endeavours to provide or secure the provision of such alternative transport arrangements for passengers as are reasonably feasible (having regard to safety and cost); this is so that the passengers who would have travelled by train can do so by the alternative transport. This wording does not appear to pass on to a Franchise operator the provisions and constraints of section 4A of the 1962 Act.

  The Office of Passenger Rail Franchising (OPRAF) did at an earlier stage question the need for the order. Mr McDonald, the then Assistant Director of OPRAF, told us on 17 June 1996 that he was "not fully convinced that the Transport Act restrictions do bite on Franchise operators...". At that time, the Department took the view that it was preferable to proceed to resolve any doubt; we also took account of the fact that the Association representing the Train Operating Companies subsequently expressed support for the proposal. It was also the case that the British Railways Board were then still running train services, though they have since ceased to do so. (You will be aware that the draft order was held over from January 1997, after the proposal was originally ready for submission to the Deregulation Committees, because the Committees considered that they would be unable to complete consideration of the proposal before the general election; the proposal therefore waited until December 1997, after the Committees were re-formed).

  However, the most recent development has been the letter of 16 January from Mr Rhodes, of the Office of the Rail Regulator. This led the Department to reconsider the legal position; on reflection, and in the light of Mr Rhodes's letter, the Department takes the view that the assessment of the legal position put forward in that letter is correct. It follows that, in the words of Mr Rhodes's letter, 'the requirements will have no practical effect'.

  On that basis, and having reconsidered the matter, the Department came to the view that we could not satisfactorily point to any regulatory burden which would be lifted by the proposal. This view will of course be reconsidered by the Department if circumstances should change (for example if there were to be some significant change in the role of the BRB). But it now seems clear to the Department that it would be wrong to take the time of the Committee any further with the proposal, since we could not argue to the Committee that it fell within the terms of the Deregulation and Contracting Act 1994.

  The Department accepts with hindsight that this conclusion could and should have been reached at an earlier stage, and it is clearly right to offer the Committee our full apologies for our not having done so, and thus for having taken the time of the Committee unnecessarily.

  I am writing in similar terms to James Rhys, Clerk to the House of Commons Deregulation Committee.

  E C Neve
  Head of Division
  29 January 1998


Memorandum by the London Taxi Board

  The London Taxi Board represents over 90 per cent of the drivers, owners and manufacturers of the London Taxi trade. Members of the Board are the Joint Radio Taxi Association, London Motor Cab Proprietors' Association, Licensed Taxi Driver's Association, London Taxis International, Metrocab and the Transport and General Workers' Union. More than 23,000 licensed taxi drivers operate in London ensuring that more than 2 million passenger journeys are completed each week. The licensed taxi trade is proud of its long history of public service, and worldwide reputation for high standards of customer service and safety.

  We noted with interest the two draft orders that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions put forward to the Deregulation Committee last month.



  The proposal to recognise Northern Ireland driving licences as qualifying towards a taxi or private hire vehicle drivers' licence would seem entirely reasonable. An anomaly has existed for a number of years and this would seem an opportune means by which to rectify this strange irregularity. The Board fully supports the Department's proposal on this issue.



  The proposal to allow private hire vehicles to be used for railway substitution services concerns the London Taxi Board as it would compromise current standards of customer safety, reliability and accessibility in London - thereby removing 'necessary protection'.

  Disabled accessibility

  There is a requirement for all London's licensed taxis to be wheelchair accessible by the year 2000. At present more than 70 per cent of the fleet is wheelchair accessible and this ensures that the disabled will have full access to our vehicles. This piece of legislation was implemented on the basic principle that disabled people should have equal access to all forms of transport services -specifically without having to make special arrangements. Private Hire Cars are not required to meet such criteria. It is not anticipated that they should have to, even when licensed in London.

  Passengers on a train do not have a choice - they have to accept the service which is given by the train operating company, ie the situation is analogous to when a customer hails a cab in the street - and they should therefore be able to expect the highest reasonable levels of safety. The principle when providing a railway substitution service is thus equivalent to the requirements for plying for hire.

  We understand that the Government is due to stipulate that all new trains and buses should also be 100 per cent wheelchair accessible, taxis have already been regulated in this fashion. As the entire integrated transport network becomes 100 per cent wheelchair accessible it would seem to be a backward step in necessary protection to allow railway substitution services to utilise a non accessible means of transport.

  It seems unreasonable to impose a 100 per cent wheelchair accessible fleet on the licensed taxi industry in London and then jeopardise one of its key market segments. The Disability Discrimination Act was specifically amended so that those who are disabled need not worry with regard to the availability of a transport service. This order would remove that guarantee should a train be terminated between stations. This would appear to go against the principle and intentions of the Disability Discrimination Act.

  Passenger safety

  The licensed taxi industry is highly regulated and has a world renowned reputation for providing a safe and reliable service to all customers. All drivers in the industry are required to undertake training which involves a criminal record check, a medical, a rigorous topographical examination (the knowledge) and a driving test to police standards - if private hire cars are licensed in London it is unlikely that they will be required to meet all these rigorous standards. The safety of the public who have no choice of service is an important requirement and it would be compromised should this order be implemented in its current format.

  The well publicised physical attacks which those utilising minicabs have suffered in recent months should not be allowed to also threaten those who originally intended to travel by rail, but whose service has been terminated.

  Topographical training

  Licensed taxis are required to undertake intensive topographical training. Minicab drivers in London may not be required to undertake such rigorous training and as a result would be unable to safely, reliably and quickly transfer passengers in the event of a rail substitution requirement. Passengers, already late due to a rail failure, should be able to reach their destination as soon as is feasible - licensed taxis are clearly able to do this - private hire cars without parallel standards of training would be unable to do so.

  Furthermore, rail passengers stranded short of their final destination may not be able to guide a minicab to its ultimate destination, as they may not have detailed knowledge of the area.

  London issues

  Although this will not affect London until minicabs are licensed (we are supporting Sir George Young's Private Member's Bill to do so) we believe that this legislation should not be amended in any circumstances prior to the licensing of London's Private Hire trade.



  Point 4.6

  In explaining the rationale behind the order the Department, whilst referring to journeys outside the District in which taxis are licensed, stated that '[for a private hire car] a fare can be established in advance; the contract being made at the time of booking.' This is also the case for licensed taxis - contracts already exist with the train operating companies, airports and corporations establishing agreed fares (which are often below the meter fares) with licensed taxi operators in London.

  When travelling outside their licensed areas the agreed fare for a journey is made in advance - in the same way in which a private hire fare is agreed.

  Only when plying for hire can a licensed taxi refuse a fare that goes outside of the metropolitan area and only providing the driver has good reason to do so. Rail substitution services are provided by the radio circuit taxi industry and thus are booked for the job by telephone. Drivers who provide the service are therefore committed to the destination.

  Healthy competition already exists and charges are set at appropriate levels commensurate with passenger safety, economy and government policy on wheelchair accessibility. The train operating companies place substitution services out to competitive tender.

  Point 4.7

  Benefits exist only if the issue is reduced to the lowest common denominator - cost savings. However, passengers already bear the costs of training, safety and accessibility when they use trains, buses or licensed taxis now, or in the future.

  The Board would like to see the Department's evidence to justify the statement that 'allowing private hire vehicles to be used in this way is unlikely to make any financial difference to taxi drivers'. It will be impossible for the licensed taxi industry in London to compete with the private hire industry, who do not carry the running costs inherent with accessible vehicles, fully trained drivers and PCO inspections etc, etc.

  We are currently assessing the financial impact on the licensed taxi industry and will advise the Committee of our findings as soon as possible.

  However our case is fundamentally based upon principle rather than finance.

  The principle being that customers utilising rail substitution services do so involuntarily and are a completely random cross section of the community who have no choice in the type of substitution service chosen by the operating company. These principles form the basis of the regulation of the licensed taxi trade in London and operating conditions and costs imposed upon it by the Government. It cannot be reasonable or in public interest to make an exemption in this instance.

  Point 4.9

  The Departmental consultation document stated that there was nothing in the order which has the effect of removing or reducing necessary protection.

  However, it is clear that necessary protection would be removed from passengers - as they would not be guaranteed the necessary levels of safety or accessibility that they currently enjoy.


  We believe that the current rail substitution regulations provide passengers with necessary protection and ensure that customers reach their intended destinations as safely and as quickly as is possible. The Board feels that this order would remove this protection and potentially put the travelling public at risk.

  Our proposal is that, at the very least, London be exempted from the order at this time. The issue of its application in London should be addressed once the conditions of licensing minicabs in London is confirmed in legislation. Only at that time will it be possible to judge its effect on passengers and the licensed taxi trade.

  This order goes against the established principle of Government policy of ensuring a comprehensive wheelchair accessible transport network.

  I enclose an executive summary of our main points.

  We have no doubt that, if asked, those who use rail services in London would view this order as a removal of a protection and service they currently benefit from in the event of having to use substitution services.

  Should the Board be able to assist the Committee in any further way we would be delighted to do so.

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