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30/09/2015

TfL consults on private hire vehicle regulation

Subject: Transport of passengers – hackney carriages and private hire vehicles

Source: Transport for London

Transport for London (TfL) has launched a ‘second and final’ consultation as part of its wide-ranging review of private hire vehicle regulations. The consultation will close on 23 December 2015 and responses will be analysed in early 2016 ahead of any amendments to the regulations being announced and implemented.

Transport for London (TfL) is the licensing authority for the London black taxi and private hire vehicle operators. TfL says that it is the largest licensing authority in the country and is responsible for licensing approximately one third of all taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) in England. TfL initiated its review because of a number of developments within the PHV trade including technological advances [e.g. satnav technology and Uber in particular] and an increase in the different ways people engage and share taxi and private hire services.

The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 provided for the introduction of licensing of private hire operators, drivers and vehicles in London. Originally, the 1998 Act preserved the former licensing body, the Public Carriage Office (PCO), which historically was an office within the Metropolitan Police responsible for regulation and licensing of London hackney carriages’ or black taxis. In 2000, the PCO was absorbed into TfL.

Tfl stated that its overriding concern in developing the proposals was to improve passenger safety and that it was committed to maintaining a clear distinction between the taxi and private hire trades. The main proposals in TfL’s consultation include:

Operator regulation

* Operators must provide a booking confirmation to passengers containing the driver photo ID and details of the vehicle being used to discharge the booking.

* Operators must provide booking confirmation details to the passenger at least five minutes prior to the journey commencing.

* Where a licensed operator uses an app based platform, bookings must only ever be allocated to licensed drivers.

* Operators must offer a facility to pre-book up to seven days in advance.

* Operators must have a fixed landline telephone which must be 7.available for passenger use at all times.

* Operators must not show vehicles being available for immediate hire, either visibly or virtually via an app.

* Operators must specify the fare prior to the booking being accepted.

* Hire and Reward insurance will be checked by TfL at point of licensing and must be in place for duration of vehicle licence. Alternatively, operators should be required to have Hire and Reward fleet insurance.

* Stricter complaints procedures.

Drivers

* Requirement for an English Language test for PHV drivers to the same standard as the Home Office requirement for UK visa applicants applying for settlement who must demonstrate that they meet the English language criteria by taking an “English for Speakers of Other Languages”, an intermediate level at which individuals should be able to demonstrate that they can understand everyday English.

* PHV drivers to be required to pass a skills test covering map reading skills, ability to navigate to/from key points in London and understanding of private hire licensing regulations.

* Further PHV driver training to include disability awareness and possibly further measures to raise standards of PHV drivers.

* Unlicensed private hire vehicles and drivers should not be used for any journey where multiple passengers were taken on the same trip for commercial gain

Comment

In England and Wales, if not in the whole of the UK, there has been a long standing legal and practical distinction between "hackney carriages" i.e. taxis on the one hand private hire vehicles (PHVs) on the other. Only taxis are permitted to "ply for hire" on the street and to wait for fares in official cab ranks. PHVs may only accept prearranged bookings. Technological and social changes have meant that this traditional distinction has become blurred, and some of the detailed regulation and "red tape" applying to taxis and PHVs has become difficult to justify.

The Law Commission for England and Wales published a detailed report on the regulation of taxis and PHVs together with a draft Bill in May 2014. The Commission observed that "the piecemeal evolution of the regulation of taxi and private hire services has, moreover, resulted in a complex and fragmented licensing system". The Law Commission proposed to reform the legislation so that it would cover both taxis and PHVs for the whole of England and Wales. It would retain the distinction between taxis and PHVs but base the distinction on the requirement for pre-booking rather than the elusive concept of 'plying for hire'.

The Government has not yet responded to the proposals of the Law Commission. Rapid social and technological change, particularly since the advent of Uber and "copycat" business models, has far outpaced the legislation. The Uber promise of a booking made within "minutes" would seem to make any distinction between taxis and PHVs based on the requirement for pre-booking increasingly irrelevant.

With regard to the proposals made by TfL for regulation specifically within London, some seem to be quite reasonable, such as the requirement for a basic geographical and regulatory knowledge and an intermediate level of English. Other proposals are more controversial; some critics argue that they are wholly or mainly intended to prop up the distinction between licensed black cabs and PHVs. Proposals of this type might include the requirements to provide a booking confirmation details to the passenger at least five minutes prior to the journey commencing and to specify the fare prior to the booking being accepted.

 

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