WHAT IS THE PROBLEM? – The issue is that cab licensing laws in England Wales were changed in the Deregulation Act of 2015 and now allow a private hire driver licensed in one local authority to accept work, either from an operator in his own local authority area or from a different operator in a different part of the country.
The new ‘cross-border’ hire rules were meant to free up capacity and allow cab companies to make more efficient use of their fleets and drivers.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. For instance, some council districts with strict cab licence rules have been flooded with drivers with licences from areas with less rigorous criteria.
And there have been a number of cases where drivers with convictions for violence and sexual offences have been granted a licence by one local authority despite being refused by another.
There is even one local authority which has 1,000 cab drivers licensed in its own district but which has granted licences to 6,000 from other parts of the UK. And as can be seen below the consequences of the Deregulation Act are affecting the whole country.
COVENTRY – Councillors responded in anger after complaints that the city was being flooded by private hire drivers with licences issued by Wolverhampton City Council.
Coventry City Council licensing committee member Damian Gannon said: “Wolverhampton City Council is clearly handing out cab licences like sweeties and don’t give a damn about how it makes the cab trade unaccountable to Coventry residents.
“At the moment, Wolverhampton is exploiting a gap in the licensing regulations to make as much money as they can and that is just plain wrong. Treating taxi licensing as a cash-cow undermines local democracy and it undermines public safety.
“Here in Coventry, we place tight rules on our cab drivers and require them to be DBS checked, have excellent local knowledge, good standards of English, and undergo disability and child sexual exploitation training.
“Our cab licensing process is also based on repeated face-to-face contact, unlike Wolverhampton, where most of their application process takes place online and it is possible for their new cab drivers to be taking fares after just two weeks after first accessing the website.”
SHEFFIELD – Over 700 private hire drivers in Sheffield were found to have licences issued by local authorities outside the area, including 177 from Transport for London (TfL). Local MP Paul Blomfield blamed the Deregulation Act 2015.
He said: “I warned the Government that this would happen back in 2014 when they proposed the new rules and I’ve pressed the case with ministers ever since. Allowing drivers to register anywhere in the country undermines Sheffield Council’s tough approach to regulation and puts passengers at risk. The Government is putting ideology ahead of common sense on the deregulation of cab licensing.”
Sheffield taxi driver Ibrar Hussain also called for government action against the 2015 Act and said: “There is a complete lack of enforcement or no enforcement at all as to who is driving these vehicles. Are they fit and proper? Are the vehicles safe to drive? No one knows. Why live in Sheffield but get a licence from TfL?
SOUTHEND – Essex councillors hit out at the cross-border cab hire laws after the coastal town of Southend-on Sea was flooded, with Uber drivers in general and in particular, two ex-drivers who had been given a private hire licence by Transport for London, after they had been stripped of their licences in Southend.
Nasser Hussain and Nisar Abbas had their private hire licences revoked after they were found guilty of operating a syndicate where licensed taxi and PHV drivers shared each other’s traffic penalty offences to avoid totting up 12 points and losing their DVLA driving licence.
Hussain and Abbas were jailed for 12 months each after pleading guilty to 10 counts of perverting the course of justice.
Tony Cox, Southend Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “What I find absolutely astounding is that we did our part and removed these people from the road but we now find that we are impotent to protect the public. Uber are sticking two fingers up at the licensing authorities and TfL is complicit in it.”
WHY DID NO ONE PREDICT THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE 2015 DEREGULATION ACT? – Quite simply, they did. Organisations like the Unite union campaigned against the Government, because as a spokesman said before the 2015 Act was passed: “By being able to pass jobs from one operator to another, the role of the local licensing enforcement officers will become almost impossible because only the licensing officers from a licensing area have the power to take enforcement action against a vehicle and driver.
“This proposal (which later became Clause 11 in the Deregulation Act 2015) will result in vehicles and drivers working literally hundreds of miles away from their licensing authority, without enforcement or compliance controls and therefore putting the public’s safety at risk.”
The Law Commission’s report on taxi and PHV services in the UK, which was published in 2014, had recommended scrapping the ‘triple lock’ rules of operator, driver and vehicle being licensed by the same authority in favour of less-restrictive cross-border hire rules but also acknowledged there could be problems.
So, it proposed that the Government bring in a new set of cab licence rules to combat any obstacles that might occur with the relaxation of cross border rules.
The Law Commission recommended: “A new national funding system will have to be introduced, with PHV fees set nationally and provision for redistributing them according to enforcement need.”
Crucially, the Law Commission wanted the Government to give cab licence enforcement officers a set of national compliance powers which would have allowed them to take action against drivers and vehicles licensed from areas other than their own. As well as having the authority to prosecute touts, impound illegal vehicles, issue penalty notices and enforce cross-border hire rules.
But, for some unknown reason, the Government only took notice of the Law Commission proposal to open up the cross-border cab hire rules. And not its recommendations to beef-up the compliance and enforcement powers of local authorities to deal with the inevitable consequences that such an action would obviously bring.
SO, WHAT IS CITY HALL DOING TO TRY TO FIX THIS MESS? – London’s deputy mayor for transport Val Shawcross has called on the Government to, “Enure the safety of taxi and private hire passengers nationwide” by ending the dangerous practice of cross-border cab hiring.
Ms Shawcross added: “Cross border cab hiring is a serious national safety issue that must be tackled by this government. It cannot be right that drivers can obtain a licence in an area where standards are lower and then go to work elsewhere in the country where they feel they can ignore enforcement officers. It’s potentially dangerous and must be stopped.”
A London Assembly spokesman said: “TfL and licensing authorities across the country view cross-border hiring as a serious public safety issue that undermines local licensing regimes. It can create a race to the bottom in terms of licence authority standards, which only have limited powers to enforce against ‘out-of-town’ vehicles.
“The scale of the problem has also been magnified significantly in recent years through developments in new technology. For instance, in London there are more than 1,000 drivers with home addresses in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield and TfL suspects these drivers rarely, if ever, undertake journeys in the capital.”
In light of this, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan has made a series of recommendations to the Government, which are also supported by a number of licensing authorities across the country.
NEW CROSS BORDER CAB HIRE PROPOSALS
- Require all taxi and private hire journeys to either start or finish in the area in which the driver, vehicle and operator are licensed.
- Set high national minimum standards to provide a consistent approach to customer safety and accessibility.
- Create national powers to ensure that authorities can enforce national minimum standards in their areas, regardless of where the operator, driver and vehicle is licensed. This would be supported by a provision for sharing data, licensing decisions and conduct of licensees between licensing authorities.
- Consider the impact of these issues in Scotland and Wales and work with respective devolved governments to ensure any future requirements in England are not undermined.
Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, said:
The legislation governing taxi and private hire services was drawn up before the dramatic changes we have seen in the taxi and private hire market over recent years. It is no longer fit for purpose.
We have made a number of recommendations to Government that will bring an end to cross border hiring and the perverse situation where a driver lives hundreds of miles away from where they were granted a licence with no intention of working there.
“The reforms we are proposing, such as national minimum standards, national enforcement capabilities and the need for journeys to start or finish where the driver is licensed, are urgently needed to ensure passenger safety nationwide.”
Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “Reading Borough Council welcomes the Mayor’s proposals and fully supports the principle that any journey must start or finish in the area in which the driver is licensed.
“Over many years in Reading we have had to deal with large numbers of drivers licensed in other areas, such as London or Luton. A set of minimum standards for driver and vehicles would additionally provide consistency and promote public safety.
“National enforcement powers for enforcement officers would increase the ability of local councils to detect illegal plying for hire, and would thereby increase public safety.”