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UNITE REPONSE TO TfL PRIVATE HIRE CONSULTATION.

07/03/2011

Unite welcome the opportunity to engage in the London Private Hire consultation. Since Private Hire in London have been licensed many changes have taken place in relation to drivers, vehicles and operators. For Unite the major problems that need to be addressed are primarily those which have been created by ‘satellite offices’. The long lines of private hire vehicles, often illegally parked, outside of clubs, pubs and bars together with the illegal touting by ‘clipboard Johnnies’ outside of these premises and the lack of record keeping has contributed to a system which has become impossible to enforce. This is despite the best endeavours of a very dedicated enforcement team. The situation has clearly been allowed to get out of control. Unite hopes that this consultation will be able to rectify the problems of enforcement that have been produced by the current system. We welcome the suspension of the issuing of private hire operator licenses in 3rd party venues. Below we set out our response to the proposals listed in the consultation.

LTPH proposals – Drivers:

Additional licensing requirements for new drivers.

We support the proposal to introduce a minimum three year UK residency in addition to the requirement to a Certificate of Good Conduct.

Enhanced driving assessment for new drivers.

We support the introduction of a DSA enhanced taxi and private hire driving assessment for all new private hire drivers.
All new drivers should undertake the DSA taxi and private hire driving assessment (as outlined in appendix 1) before their private hire drivers’ license is issued.

All drivers to obtain the NVQ in Road Passenger Vehicle Driving.

We believe that the Vocationally Related Qualification (VRQ) should be introduced before licensing for private hire drivers. This would ensure a consistent standard for new entrants of drivers into the private hire trade. The VRQ course is relatively short and would professionalise private hire drivers and may diminish the high turnover in the private hire trade and enhance the passenger experience.
NVQ’s should be encouraged to the private hire trade but should be done on a voluntary basis. Education is always better delivered when the recipient is learning willingly. We believe that the introduction of the VRQ is more important than the NVQ. The VRQ requirement for licensing along the introduction of the DSA driving assessment will ensure that every passenger that travels in a private hire vehicle can expect the same standard of driver.

All drivers to display identification to be visible to passengers.

A second badge should be issued to the driver showing a photograph of the licensed driver with the licence number of the driver and the licence expiry date. This is the only information that should be displayed on the badge.
The additional badge should be displayed on the dashboard in addition to the badge worn by the driver. This should be on display at all times whilst the driver is working in the vehicle.
We are opposed to the introduction of re-design of the paper licence as we feel that this would be cumbersome and unnecessary compared with just having a second identifying badge.

No driver is to make a remark of a sexual nature or have any sexual contact in a licensed vehicle.

Whilst we support the intention of this proposal we have a number of concerns regarding the actual interpretation and use of this proposal. One of our concerns is the unintended consequence of this proposal. TfL rightly campaign to encourage taxi drivers to safely get vulnerable passengers home, especially late at night from social venues. We believe this will be undermined as drivers will be reluctant to put themselves in such compromising positions and will choose to avoid taking these fares.
We have a number of questions that we would like reassurances on before we can fully engage in this proposal. It is important that this is something that should be properly assessed before rushing into its implication.

1. What is the test for “balance of probabilities”? Is it a decision to be made based on a genuine belief following reasonable investigation? If so, who carries out the investigation and who makes the ultimate decision to revoke?

2. How is this intended to be enforced and by whom?

3. How long will the license be revoked for? Can TfL define “precautionary basis”?

4. Will there be a right of appeal and if so, how will this operate and will the licensee be able to operate during the appeal period?

5. Could the licensee be offered the opportunity to have a license with conditions – say only working within certain hours of the day or only taking fares where there are more than one passenger, or account work/delivery of parcels, couriering type services.

6. What happens if the allegation is not pursued by the police or CPS, where the criminal burden of proof is “beyond reasonable doubt”? Will the license be reinstated?

We would like answers to these questions before we can fully respond to this proposal.

LTPH proposals – Vehicles:

Replace the existing licence discs and red route signs with consolidated signage.

We feel that the original system of having a single yellow licence disc on the front and rear windscreen worked well when first introduced. The proliferation of dark tinted windows in private hire vehicles obscures the licence discs form the public. This then leads to confusion between whether a vehicle is a licensed or unlicensed vehicle as the disc is obscured. The added benefit of the yellow disc is that it is clearly visible at night and it is very easy to fit to the front and rear of any vehicle. The introduction of the additional red route sticker was needed to compensate the problem of the yellow licence disc being obscured by the tinted window. If tinted windows were removed then the licence discs would be clearly visible to any red route operator or enforcement teams making the red route stickers redundant.We believe that private hire vehicle should be restricted to the same window tint as exists for taxis in London. This would allow the yellow licence discs to be clearly seen at all times. Private Hire vehicles should have the same restriction on tinted windows as exists for Taxis in London, i.e. all windows must allow a least 75% of light to be transmitted (70% on the rear window if an advert is fitted).

We believe that tinted windows in private hire vehicles should be as described above at all times as this makes it safer for vulnerable and female passengers, particularly late at night. Not having tinted windows allows any misdemeanours taking place inside the vehicle to be clearly seen. We intend to provide supportive evidence of this view from women’s groups at a later date.
We think that the current work being done by TfL to highlight the differences between taxis, licensed private hire and unlicensed vehicles is currently very effective. Continuing education of the public is the best way to overcome this confusion rather than the introduction of further signage which we believe will confuse the public even further.

We believe that the regulations on tinted windows as described above should be extended to Limousines. At the moment there are Limousines driving about that are hired as strip clubs and brothels. Much of the activity that takes place is illegal. We believe that an organisation like TfL which has very progressive policies towards women should not condone these activities as the women involved are put in a very vulnerable position. The only way that these activities can take place is by the vehicle having tinted windows.

We are also opposed to any form of roof signage on private hire vehicles as this leads to confusion for the public.

We also feel that the use of fully partitioned vehicles that resemble the inside of a taxi are confusing to the public and should be excluded from use as a private hire vehicle.
Given that there are only two types of taxis currently produced for the London market we think it is easier to educate the public into the differences between taxis and private hire and unlicensed vehicles in London compared to towns and cities where any type of vehicle is licensed as a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle. In these places all types of signage are used, which we don’t believe is necessary in London.

Restrictions on what types of vehicles can be licensed as PHVs, and other measures to clarify the distinction between taxis and PHVs in London.

Private hire vehicles should not be colour coded with a single colour such as silver, as this will add even more to the confusion by the public. It would allow unlicensed vehicles to adopt the licensing colour and the colour would become the distinguishing feature of the vehicle rather than the vehicle licence.
It is already a concern expressed in the consultation document that PHV’s waiting for booked journeys may be regarded as a rank (we do think it is a rank) by customers and that this an opportunity for unlicensed drivers to tout and may expose passengers to the risk of assault. Having a standard colour for PHV’s is likely to increase this risk as a passenger will instinctively use a vehicle of the correct colour rather that checking the licence of the vehicle. Colour coding is another form of signage which is likely to distract the public from correctly identifying the licence status of the vehicle.
We do not believe that any colour coding should be used for taxis or private hire vehicles as there is a clear distinction between taxis and private hire with the ‘for hire light’ and taximeter on display in hackney carriages.
Where the same or similar vehicle is currently licensed, taxis should have compulsory clear taxi signage as is currently used by some licensed hackney carriage Mercedes Vito vehicles.
We are opposed to private hire vehicles being left-hand drive.

LTPH proposals – Operators.

Regarding licensed operators there has clearly become a problem late at night and regarding providing private hire to corporate events. We welcome the suspension of the issuing of licenses in 3rd party venues but the number that has currently been issued has made it impossible to enforce. The long line of vehicles outside many of these premises means that along with the private hire marshals that are often employed in tandem passengers get into these private hire vehicles without having been pre-booked and the correct records being taken. This is clearly touting by the driver with clear safety implications for the passenger. We believe that the removal of some of the record keeping requirements at these operating centres is also responsible for the proliferation of illegal activity. We think addressing the late night situation of illegal touting should be the main aim of this consultation.

Restrictions on operating centres in late night venues and other shared premises.

We do not believe that Operating Centres, commonly known as Satellite offices, should be licensed in shared premises. The problems this causes for enforcement agencies is beyond the control of current resources.

A return to assessing the status of planning permission before granting licences for operating centres.

We support the proposal that planning consent should be checked before granting a licence for an operating centre.

A commitment to comply with parking regulations in the area of the operating centre(s).

We support this proposal that it is made a condition of the operators licence that operators make a commitment to comply with local parking regulations.

Restriction on the acceptance of bookings to a designated area in the licensed premise.

We support this proposal that all bookings should be taken inside the premises in a secure identified booking area and all details of bookings should be recorded immediately. Bookings should include the time of the booking, the name of the passenger, the licensed driver and vehicle details and the destination. The identity of the member of the operating staff taking the booking should also be recorded.

An obligation to have arrangements in place to provide accessible vehicles when required (directly or by sub-contract).

We agree that all private hire operators should have arrangements in place to transport disabled passengers. The only exemptions should be those allowed under the Equality Act.

Restrictions on small operators and operating centres in residential premises.

We support this proposal of only allowing Small Operators being allowed to licence residential premises as an operating centre.
The only exemption to this which we would support would be to the Association of Professional Tourist Guides (APTG) and the Drivers Guides Association (DGA). These are a specialist niche group of individuals who have trained over a number of years to become Blue Badge Tourist Guides in the UK. We believe that the current arrangements were they can have one operators licence in the name of the APTG for 50 Blue Badge guides licensed as operators at their place of residence, or a Small Operators licence for 2 individuals both having an operating centre works well now at the moment. We can see no benefit in changing this system as it works well and we can see no safety implications for the travelling public.

A requirement that operators provide a landline number for accepting bookings.

We agree with this proposal.
All operators should include the operating address on all literature that they produce and in all advertisements that they use.

A requirement for a standard CRB check on applicants for an operator’s licence.

We agree that CRB checks should be introduced for all named applicants on an Operators licence.
We also feel that all operating staff in the Operating centre who come into contact with the public should have a standard CRB disclosure.
We also feel that all operating staff in the Operating centre that come into contact with the public should have an enhanced CRB disclosure, particularly ‘Clipboard Johnnies’, due to their pivotal and influential position in allocating which passenger goes into which vehicle. ‘Clipboard Johnnies’ are low paid employees and are often open to corruption from unscrupulous drivers and sexual predators.

Restrictions on premises where an operator licence would be granted.

TfL should not licence any operating centres in 3rd party venues as the problems that this causes for enforcement is beyond the control of the resources available.

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Read Cab Trade News March 2011

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