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UNITE 302/3 NE: Official Response To Department For Transport Consultation Specific To Hackney Carriage And Private Hire (Mini-Cabs) And Deregulation Bill: March 2014

22/03/2014

Foreword:

Unite 302/3 NE is part of Unite the Union Cab Section in the UK and represents the voice of members across Yorkshire.

We were somewhat perplexed on March 14th 2014 when the document titled, ‘ Taxi and Private Hire Measures: Deregulation Bill ‘ was received.

A confusion as to why the points entered into the document were even there.

Background:

Back in 2011, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Norman Baker MP set the UK Law Commission on a specific directive, to undertake a comprehensive review of existing legislation pertaining to both Hackney Carriage and Private Hire.

A period of review which completed during 2013, was then due to deliver its draft proposals in December 2013 and subsequently then announced it would not be delivering it then until April 2014.

Consultation Points:

We will address each point individually and list those points below in order of severity.

Point 1: ‘ Allowing Private Hire operators to subcontract bookings to operators licensed in a different district. This change will improve operators’ ability to meet passengers’ needs. And it will help to make the passengers’ experience so much more convenient ‘.

Point 2: ‘ Allowing anyone with an ordinary drivers licence to drive a Private Hire vehicle when it is "off duty". The principal benefit of this measure is that a PHV could be used as a family car, freeing up many families from the need to run a second car and saving them money ‘.

Point 3: ‘ Making the standard duration for all Taxi and PHV driver licences three years; and five years for all PHV operators’ licences. Shorter durations will only be granted on a case-by-case basis, where it is justifiable for a particular reason. This will reduce the financial and administrative burden of having to make more frequent licence renewals ‘.

Response:

Point 1: By their own admission, the Law Commission announced that over the period of the review, thousands of respondents had taken part and an integral part of that review was understanding the feeling towards this very point. Given that it would have evoked a clear comment from the respondents, it appears odd to the extreme why this particular question was put in this consultation in the first place.

However, in so far as the point, we feel that while it may be attractive in few areas of regulation to remove issues in ‘ the public interest ‘, this item should not form part of any such removal.

By allowing this to go through unfettered, it begs the question and overbearing issue of public safety, satisfaction and standards.

We shall elaborate further on those issues.

(i) Public Safety:

In so far as, it will be an unknown variable to the passenger as to exactly who they have arrive and pick them up. This would lead to an insecurity in the knowledge that the driver is both familiar to the user as their regular company and know, trusted and familiar to the area in which they are being required to service.

The more worrying aspect would be a user who may be classed as ‘ vulnerable ‘ being forced through no choice of their own to use an unknown as mentioned.

(ii) Satisfaction:

This would diminish over a short period of time due to the mere fact that the user rings firm ‘A’, expecting firm ‘A’ and getting firm ‘B’. The question of satisfaction would be, why ring firm ‘A’ if I am going to get firm ‘B’ anyway? That in actual fact has the alternate effect of lowering satisfaction levels. This is demonstrated in many other business where an exact replication of this scenario is known (albeit non Hackney Carriage or Private Hire), but save to say as close to reality of the overall outcome of decisions of this nature.

(iii) Standards:

These both of driver and vehicle will be questionable by the user as an overarching viewpoint of both (i) and (ii) as the user will have no knowledge, confidence or surety of the standards applied by firm ‘B’ for example, being equal, lesser or greater than those of firm ‘A’ in their own licensing authority – their preferred choice!

If a replacement is used then harmonisation across the entire UK must be adopted first. However, harmonization can only be adopted if every local authority were to accept pre-set high standards across the board. However, that may be a step too far as areas of high use, such as large cities and towns would find it comparatively easy to comply, unlike smaller and more rural areas which would find it impossible to do so equally. Given that variable and the uncertainty of firm ‘B’, it raises the argument and question, ‘what if the standards were lesser’?

It must be noted at this point that it only serves Private Hire companies in London due to its geographical nature and that standards are themselves both harmonised and lesser by their virtue by Transport for London anyway via the London Private Hire Act 1998.

On a safety note however, it has to be mentioned that recent cases of ‘vulnerable’ passengers being submitted to attempted assaults cannot be overlooked and should be a serious point taken forward whilst interpreting points such as safety and standards.

Conclusion: Unite 302/3 does not support the attempt to reduce safety, satisfaction or standards and as such cannot support the views of the Department for Transport.

Point 2: Unite 302/3 feels that this point is one that, like point 1 previous, should be examined for the same reasons as mentioned in point 1 (i) & (ii).

We feel that while it may be the case ordinarily at present to allow a ‘non-licensed’ driver in London to use a licensed PHV (mini-cab), the overreaching burden of safety to the would-be user must take priority over and above that of a family, who allegedly may be required to purchase an additional vehicle for their spouse, relation or friend to use.

It surely cannot be a debating point that any of the above-mentioned persons could be guaranteed to be ‘fit and proper’ and that no ill would come of such action. May we respectfully draw your attention to the whole reason the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1976 – Part 2 and latterly the London Private Hire Act 1998 were conceived and legislated. Exactly to eradicate situations where vehicles, which at the time carried no official vehicle licence and in the case of pre 1976, neither the driver also.

It is a very strong argument indeed to suggest that today, in the provinces, licensing whilst having a difficult task, can be at least satisfied that where either a Hackney Carriage or Private Hire picks up from their own local authority, that the driver will have an official status. This therefore allows that department the opportunity to ‘track-n-trace’ any would-be rogue while out carrying out enforcement.

The opposite could be argued to be the case potentially were this allowed to be accepted. Driving safety squarely back almost 40 years to pre 1976 in the provinces. Moreover, it should be an argument that rather than eliminate safety in the provinces with this, that the greater should not conform to the lesser and that London Private Hire (mini-cabs) should therefore be standardised in line with the safety values currently in operation in the provinces rather than vice-versa.

Safety, given recent cases specifically in London, should be paramount and not whether a Private Hire (mini-cab) driver has to embrace two vehicles instead of one. All Private Hire drivers and Hackney Carriage drivers accept when training to become licensed drivers these very issues.

Conclusion: Unite 302/3 does not support the attempt to reduce the safety implications that such a move would bring and would recommend, where possible, that the alternate view be looked at as explained.

Point 3: Unite 302/3 feels that the issue of duration of licences is one of a slightly contentious nature.

On the one hand, it is fair to imply the ‘fit and proper’ test on a new applicant and subsequent renewal of a licence and to that end the matter of duration should be a clear-cut point.

However, the application of the term ‘fit and proper’ can and may be misused especially when applied to an applicant who may be entering the industry after an economic situation, i.e. where bad credit may have ensued through a job loss and the applicant wishes to use the profession of being a cab driver as a means to re-enter the work place. Thus, ‘fit and proper’ can and may be used to prevent drivers entering.

Likewise, it must also be considered that where incidents of this nature are applied as ‘working real-time’ examples, it would be fair for any local authority to have a power to use a probationary period to ensure no impropriety went unchecked for a greater period rather than the lesser.

We would however, look to a local authority where longer terms were available to suitable licence holders or applicants to monitor costs borne through the transformation from ‘annual’ to ‘tri-annual’ renewals only. It should be an argument to suggest that where administration costs borne because of annual renewals are inherently high, it should be reflected also that tri-annual renewals would also see reductions in administration costs and this should be passed onto the renewee at point of renewal of their licence.

Conclusion: Unite 302/3 sees no argument against 3yr or 5 yr licences, save for local authorities having a localised policy where testing, specifically other than ‘fit and proper’ could be applied.

Many local authorities use enhanced DBS reports currently and this should serve as the best indicator of an applicant’s or renewee credentials and should be more than adequate.

Final Conclusion:

Unite 302/3 can see no obvious reason, save for personal objectives from members of the DfT and Ministry why these issues should be contemplated and or taken forward until such time as the Law Commission review delivers its report at the end of April 2014.

On that basis, personal objectives or these of a government wanting to rush through serious proposals should be refrained and no government should determine a review by means of selected policies being taken forward.

We seriously question, why carry out a review costing literally hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ pounds and then as a last ditched attempt, scurry through a few items before the impending end of parliament, when the items in question were already reviewed by the Law Commission and answered as mentioned in the beginning of this report.

We see this as a deliberate attempt to salvage something from a review, which is thoroughly flawed and wrong. Also a personal attempt by Senior Civil Servants, The Minister for Transport, The Secretary of State for Transport to ‘prove and show accountability’ before the end of their tenure.

Unite 302/3 does not agree with the timing, necessity or alleged reasons for these items to be pushed through nor to the attempt at legitimising a cost process.
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