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Law Commission: Taxis and private hire services consultation begins

10/05/2012

LawComLogo Clearer rules governing taxis and private hire vehicles could bring stretch limousines and bicycle rickshaws into the licensing system but keep charity volunteers and childminders out of it, the Law Commission said today.

The Law Commission for England and Wales, which advises the Government on law reform, has launched a public consultation seeking views on proposed changes to the way in which taxis and private hire vehicles (often referred to as minicabs) are regulated.

The proposals retain the important distinction between taxis – which can “ply for hire” on the street or a cab rank – and private hire vehicles which can only be pre-booked.

But all vehicles would be subject to national minimum safety standards and, for private hire vehicles, these would replace more than 340 sets of local regulations. This will reduce the burden on business because, once appropriately licensed, a private hire firm could work freely across the country, without geographical or licensing restrictions. This would contribute to widening consumer choice and to making services cheaper and more competitive.

The provisional proposals published today follow a detailed review of the current law, some of which dates back to 1831 and is still in force.

Few of the proposals would affect the iconic London “black cab”. But outside the capital, taxi numbers could no longer be restricted by local authorities and private hire operators would be able to take bookings outside their own local area.

Licensing could be extended to limousines, motorcycle “taxis” and bicycle rickshaws (or “pedicabs”), which under current law may avoid the safety and driver training requirements imposed on taxis and private hire vehicles. But greater legal clarity would ensure that volunteers who give up their time to drive elderly people or childminders who collect children as part of their work would no longer risk being caught by licensing rules.

Among the other provisional proposals is a requirement that all new taxi and private hire drivers should have disability awareness training. The consultation also asks whether there should be a specific licence for accessible vehicles.

And where drivers or operators do break the rules, the consultation suggests that improved enforcement powers should be available, including impounding vehicles.

Our review of taxi and private hire services provides an opportunity to simplify and improve the current law so it can deliver a better deal for consumers, including disabled passengers, while removing unnecessary burdens on business.

Frances Patterson QC (pictured right), the Law Commissioner with responsibility for the project, said: “Our review provides a great opportunity to streamline and improve taxi and private hire legislation and we look forward to engaging with as many people as have an interest in this varied and important transport sector.”

The consultation is open until 10 August 2012. The Commission’s provisional proposals and consultation questions are outlined in the paper, “Reforming the law of taxi and private hire services”, which is available on the Commission’s website, www.lawcom.gov.uk.

Relevant Documents:

Taxi and Private Hire Services Consultation

Taxi and Private Hire Services Summary

Taxi and Private Hire Services Impact Assessment

OUTLINE OF KEY PROPOSED CHANGES

(1) National minimum safety standards for both taxis and private hire vehicles.

(2) Changes to standard-setting: additional local standards, above the national standards, would continue to apply to taxis (for example, topographical knowledge and vehicle requirements). However, for private hire vehicles, only the national standards would apply and there would be no scope for additional local standards. However we ask about possible exceptions where local private hire standards may be retained, for example, in respect of signage.

(3) It would be easier for private hire services to operate on a national basis.

We suggest private hire operators would no longer be restricted to accepting or inviting bookings only within a particular locality; nor to only using drivers or vehicles licensed by the same licensing authority. Subcontracting would be allowed, as is already the case in London.

(4) London would be regulated under the same flexible framework as the rest of England and Wales.

(5) Licensing authorities could no longer limit the number of taxi licences.

(6) More enforcement powers for licensing officers against out-of-borough vehicles and drivers.

(7) Disability awareness training for drivers.

(8) Introduction of a statutory definition of “plying for hire” (but without changing it in substance).

(9) Weddings and funeral cars would no longer be exempted through primary legislation.

(10) Allowing leisure use of taxis and private hire vehicles.

(11) Bringing more vehicles within the licensing system (including for example limousines, motorbikes and pedicabs) – but giving the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers power to make exclusions, and to set separate standards, in respect of different categories of vehicle.

(12) Clearer exclusions for volunteers and other services where transport is not the main service provided, such as childminders.

(13) Powers for government to issue binding statutory guidance to create greater consistency in how taxi and private hire legislation is applied.

We also ask questions about the following:

(1) a new category of wheelchair accessible vehicles;

(2) extending operator licensing to taxi radio circuits;

(3) possible use of the term “taxi” in respect of private hire services if used in phrases like “pre-booked taxi only”;

(4) reintroducing a (revised) contract exemption;

(5) improving the enforcement powers of licensing officers; and

(6) a new “peak time” taxi licence that could only be used at particular times of day as decided by the licensing authority.

This list only provides simplified, headline points and does not include all the changes we propose. Some of the provisional proposals would not give rise to change in London, such as allowing sub-contracting and leisure use of vehicles.

Status: We began consultation on 10 May 2012. The consultation will run until 10 August 2012

We are reviewing the existing framework of taxi and private hire vehicle regulation with a view to preparing proposals for consultation.

Taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) are an important part of local transport. They operate in highly regulated markets where safety and quality control are paramount. Licensing covers key areas such as the quality of services, the fitness of drivers, fare regulation and restrictions on the number of licenses issued.

The current law on taxis and PHVs has been criticised for being complex and outdated.

One problem is the multiplicity of legislation. Taxis, which can “ply for hire” so customers can stop them in the street, have different rules to PHVs which can only be pre-booked. In turn each of the taxi and PHV trades is regulated by multiple statutes. There are also different legal systems along geographical lines distinguishing Plymouth, London and the rest of England and Wales. Whereas some distinctions are clearly justified others are less clearly so.

Some of the legislation, particularly relating to taxis, is archaic. The key statutes date back to Victorian times and refer to “hackney carriages” when taxis were literally horse-drawn vehicles. Case law and guidance are indispensable in interpreting the law. This also makes the legislation less able to reflect more modern technology like the telephone, internet and GPS technology.

The project

The project examines the legal framework relating to taxis and PHVs with a view to making it simpler and more modern. We published a consultation paper with our provisional proposals for reform on 10 May 2012. This will be followed by a three month consultation period where we invite the public to respond to our proposals. We plan to publish a final report with our recommendations and draft bill by late 2013.

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