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Unite the Union Response to the Law Commission’s Taxi and Private Hire Services Consultation

Unite submission to the Law Commissions Taxi and Private Hire Services Consultation – October 2012

Introduction

This submission is by Unite. Unite has over 1.5 million members across the private and public sectors.

Unite has thousands of taxi driver members and we have obtained their views through our lay member committees at national and regional level. Therefore Unite are in a unique position to submit a response to the Law Commissions current thinking.

Provisional Proposals & Questions

Provisional proposal 1

Regulation should continue to distinguish between taxis, which can accept pre-booked fares, be hailed on the street and wait at ranks, and private hire vehicles, which can only accept pre-booked fares.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • In addition the proposal should say that private hire vehicles are not available for immediate hire.
  • Safety of the travelling public should be paramount, we cannot agree that a one tier system will be beneficial to the travelling public in whatever form it takes.
  • London operated a one-tier system until 1998 and eventually came into line with the rest of the country rather than the other way around. We take the view that the Commission should ask representatives of TfL, why they abandoned a one tier system.
  • Strictly speaking London did have a two-tier system, however the ‘other tier’ was unlicensed mini-cabs and it is difficult to believe that if a one-tier system was adopted that history would not repeat itself and unlicensed mini-cabs would reappear in all major towns and cities.
  • A two-tier system affords the travelling public multiplicity of choice in price, choice of vehicle and choice of company. The consumer may not wish to use taxis for a variety of reasons and therefore they can choose a private hire firm and of course if they receive an unsatisfactory service with private hire firm ‘A’ they can transfer to private hire firm ‘B’, just like all consumer choices.
  • Furthermore the existence of a two tier system impacts on taxi fares, which benefits the consumer any taxi trade representatives will confirm that when it comes to the annual fare increase, it is done with one eye on the ‘competition’, take away that competition and it will inevitably lead to fare rises.
  • If a one-tier is to be considered, serious thought must be given to both the price structure and the composition of the taxi fleet. There are two ways of setting taxi fares, either they are set by a body such as TfL or by a Local Authority. Or it is left to the individual taxi driver to set their own fares, which would reflect market conditions, there are no other viable alternatives.
  • Every report into taxis has rejected the latter option, on the grounds that it could lead to vulnerable adults being practically held to ransom. Even the OfT which advocated a total deregulatory approach to taxis rejected out of hand the notion of taxi drivers setting their own fares in favour of fares set by an Authority and fares being meter controlled on the grounds that it was against the interests of the consumer.
  • Multiplicity of vehicles – there is a wide range of licensed vehicles available for hire from wheelchair accessible purpose built taxis through to MPVs via saloon car, estates etc.
  • Britain can rightly be proud of the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) licensed in the UK, which far outstrips the rest of the world combined. For example there are 30 WAV’s in Paris compared to 20,000 in London, with Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow etc having WAV fleets in thousands. A number of smaller Authorities also pursue a WAV only policy and therefore taxi coverage for wheelchair users is extensive in the UK not just in the major cities.
  • As mentioned earlier, the second-tier offers multiplicity of choice not only in price but in vehicles, and all private hire forms have a variety of different vehicle to suit the travelling public needs.
  • If a one-tier system is adopted it would mean that London’s taxi fleet plying for hire and trying to access ranks would rise from 20,000 to over 100,000, and every town and city in the country would experience a similar situation.
  • Moreover a one-tier system would either have to be WAV only thereby denying freedom of choice which the travelling public currently enjoys. However if a mixed fleet option was adopted it is conceivable that WAV owner/drivers would opt for the cheaper and more cost effective saloon cars, thereby diluting the WAV fleet throughout the UK.
  • It is no idle claim that Britain has the best taxi system in the world albeit by default and we believe that the two-tier system should remain.

Provisional proposal 2

London should be included, with appropriate modifications, within the scope of reform.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • London is unique in terms of taxi and private hire licensing. London has always had its own laws demonstrating that London has always been thought of as being different from the rest of the country. The shear numbers of taxis and private hire means that London needs to be treated separately, and that the separation should be maintained.
  • The laws licensing taxis and private hire in London have proved to be robust and do not lead to any significant legal challenges. Nothing that takes place in London has led the government to ask the Law Commission to investigate changing the laws operating in London.
  • The licensing laws that have led to many of the problems in the rest of England and Wales, such as cross-border hiring, the Berwick and Stockton decisions do not apply in London. The issues that have caused the Law Commission investigation do not cause problems in London. The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 is very recent and draws on the experience of private hire licensing in the rest of the country that had been licensed since 1976. Many of the problems that existed with the 1976 Act were therefore avoided. In London private hire has gone from being an unregulated largely illegal activity to a highly regulated industry with strict controls on licensing. Private hire in London now caters for all levels of demand from high end limousines to low priced vehicles.
  • There is a constant supply of taxis and private hire vehicles at all times of the day, every day of the week. The introduction of the evening and night tariffs in London for taxi fares has ensured a high supply of taxis at peak times at night and at weekends.
  • Competition between taxis and private hire is highly competitive and the customer has a wide variety of choice. There are now many hailing systems on Smartphone’s for both taxi and private hire.
  • London’s taxis have regularly been voted the best taxi service in the world by visitors in surveys by travel companies.
  • London’s taxis are world renowned for their knowledge of London. Nothing should be done that would jeopardise this.
  • London’s Green and Yellow badge licensing system means that the suburban boroughs of London receive a good supply of taxis at all times of the day.
  • Taxis and private hire should be continued to be licensed by Transport for London to Transport for London standards. These are well known to be robust and have ensured that London drivers, vehicles and Operators are known for their high standards.
  • There has been no request from customers for a relaxation of these standards. It was only in the last ten years that standards were set for private hire following a public consultation.
  • Enforcement is the biggest problem facing London. With its high number of vehicles it is a huge task for Transport for London and the Police to enforce against illegal touting and plying for hire. Opening up London to any licensed private hire vehicle would cause a massive influx of private hire vehicles making enforcement practically impossible. The number of touts and illegal vehicles would increase massively at a time when illegal touting and plying for hire is falling. This would be a great danger to the customer especially vulnerable women.
  • Part time taxi licenses would undermine the current professional standards of London’s taxis and severely damage their reputation as standards would fall.
  • There is no case for including London in the proposals to reform taxi and private hire licensing. Including London in these proposals is opposed by the Mayor of London, Transport for London and every taxi trade organisation in London. There is no rational reason to include London. London’s licensing system works well so Unite can see no reason to change such a success.

Provisional proposal 3

The regulation of taxi and private hire vehicles should not be restricted to any particular type of vehicle but should rather focus on road transport services provided for hire with the services of a driver.

  • Unite do not believe that private hire vehicles should be restricted to one vehicle, and would probably be subject to a legal challenge. Nevertheless all vehicles licensed as a PH should conform to Local Government(Misc.Prov)Act 1976 sec 48 1(a) that the vehicle is:-

(i) suitable in type, size and design for the use as a Private Hire vehicle;

(ii) not of such a design and appearance as to lead any person to believe

that the vehicle is a Hackney Carriage;

(iii) in a suitable mechanical condition;

(iv) safe; and

(v) comfortable;

With a renewed emphasis on (iii)-(v), which should outlaw the licensing of Tuc Tucs and other 3rd world vehicles.

  • In addition we believe that ALL vehicles that are available for hire and reward should be licensed and s75 LG(MP)A 1976 be repealed. Special event, wedding & funeral cars could have the certificate clearly displayed on the front windscreen in preference to a ‘plate’, this would aid both the travelling public and enforcement agencies to clearly identify the purpose of the vehicle.
  • Testing should be standardised so all drivers involved in hire and reward should undertake the same training (i.e. Local topographical knowledge test, VRQ/NVQ training) and be subject to an enhanced CRB.

Question 4

Would there be (and if so what) advantages to restricting licensing to motor vehicles that require a driving licence?

  • Unite believe the advantage would be that you would not legitimise unsafe non motorised vehicles.
  • For example non-motorised pedicabs should not have a license because they are not safe for the public or other road users and should be banned.
  • However horse-drawn carriages should be licensed under omnibuses.

Provisional proposal 5

Public service vehicles should be expressly excluded from the definition of taxi and private hire vehicles; and taxi and private hire vehicles should only cover vehicles adapted to seat eight or fewer passengers.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • There should not be taxi-buses.
  • Taxis and buses should be kept separate with a clear definition between the two.

Provisional proposal 6

References to stage coaches charging separate fares should no-longer feature as an exclusion from the definition of taxis.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • Non-motorised pedicabs should not have a license because they are not safe for the public or other road users and should be banned.

Provisional proposal 7

The Secretary of State should consider issuing statutory guidance to the Senior Traffic Commissioner about the licensing of limousines and other novelty vehicles to assist consistency.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • A plate should be internally fixed to dashboard for private hire licensed, limousines and novelty vehicles.
  • 8 or less should be determined by the local authority.
  • More than 8 should be determined the traffic commissioner.

Provisional proposal 8

The concept of “in the course of a business of carrying passengers” should be used to limit the scope of taxi and private hire licensing so as to exclude genuine volunteers as well as activities where transport is ancillary to the overall service.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • Unite are concerned on how you would define ‘genuine volunteers’ because we know of examples where volunteers are doing tens of thousands of miles, earning 40 pence plus per mile and expenses and are clearly operating as a taxi, whilst using the guise of a volunteer status.
  • Clearly a limit on the amount of mileage per year should be stipulated, which would help indentify ‘genuine volunteers’ and also help reduce the opportunity for tax evasion.

Question 9

How, if at all, should the regulation of taxis and private hire deal with:

(a) carpooling; and (b) members clubs?

  • Unite do not agree that the regulation of taxis and private hire should deal with carpooling.
  • Carpooling has separate fares that should remain outside taxi and private hire vehicle licensing.
  • Unite agree they should only be included if the vehicles are licensed and the  drivers are CRB checked because the public’s safety will be compromised if they’re not.
  • There is compelling evidence that this proposal would be misused, in fact the exemption on members clubs has only recently repealed (the so-called ‘Pink Ladies’ amendment) because of abuse.
  • Warrington Pink Ladies were operating as private hire but working outside licensing authority.
  • Therefore members clubs should be licensed.

Provisional proposal 10

The power of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to set national standards should be flexible enough to allow them to make exclusions from the taxi and private hire licensing regimes.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • There should be no exclusions allowed at anytime.

Provisional proposal 11

Weddings and funerals should no-longer be expressly excluded from private hire licensing through primary legislation.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Unite believe they should be included on the grounds of public safety.
  • The vehicles should be required to have an internal plate, which verifies their license.

Question 12

Would there be merits in reintroducing the contract exemption, by means of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers’ exercise of the power to set national standards? If so, what modifications could be made to help avoid abuse?

  • Unite agree there is merit because all vehicles doing private hire work would then be included.

Provisional proposal 13

Regulation of the ways taxis and private hire vehicles can engage with the public should not be limited to “streets”.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • There should be free entry, open access and rank provision to airports, railway & bus stations, retail parks and supermarkets, hospitals etc; in fact any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access (whether on payment or otherwise) (see *Criminal Justice & Public Order Act below)

Criminal Justice And Public Order Act, 1994. Section 167. Touting For Car Hire Services. Defines a ‘public place’: includes any highway and any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access (whether on payment or otherwise).

  • The Government would have to step in to make private companies allow hackney carriage licensed taxis access in these areas. This might not be that easy to achieve because it is highly likely private companies would want some compensation.

Question 14

Is there a case for making special provision in respect of taxi and private hire regulation at airports? In particular, where concessionary agreements are in place should airports be obliged to allow a shuttle service for passengers who have pre-booked with other providers, or to the closest taxi rank?

  • Unite agree there is a case for making special provision.
  • At Stansted airport the nearest taxi rank is in Bishop Stortford, which is 5 miles away! This has to be put right.

Provisional proposal 15

The defining feature of taxis, the concept of “plying for hire”, should be placed on a statutory footing and include:

(a) references to ranking and hailing;

(b) a non-exhaustive list of factors indicating plying for hire; and

(c) appropriate accommodation of the legitimate activities of private hire vehicles.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Currently, private hire line up outside venues clearly for hire. However currently because private hire or not included they are technically not breaking the law.
  • Agree that a definition in law for “plying for hire”, would be useful. However the trade would have to be consulted to get this right.

Provisional proposal 16

The concepts of hailing and ranking should not cover technological means of engaging taxi services.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Question 17

Would there be advantages to adopting the Scottish approach to defining taxis in respect of “arrangements made in a public place” instead of “plying for hire”?

  • Unite have looked at the Scottish approach but believe there maybe a problem because it seemed to involve touting in the description, which would complicate any definition.

Provisional proposal 18

The concept of compellability, which applies exclusively to taxis, should be retained.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 19

Pre-booking would continue to be the only way of engaging a private hire vehicle and cover all technological modes of engaging cars. This is without prejudice to the continued ability of taxis to be pre-booked.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 20

Leisure and non-professional use of taxis and private hire vehicles should be permitted. There would however be a presumption that the vehicle is being used for professional purposes at any time unless the contrary can be proved.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 21

The Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers should have the power to issue statutory guidance in respect of taxi and private hire licensing requirements.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • However we believe that decisions should be made locally.

Provisional proposal 22

Reformed legislation should refer to “taxis” and “private hire vehicles” respectively. References to “hackney carriages” should be abandoned.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • It would create confusion for the public.
  • Unite strongly believe that hackney carriage should remain, it is a respected standard and the travelling public knows what they are getting, so it shouldn’t be abandoned.
  • The real problem is there are numerous examples of ‘private hire’ firms advertising themselves falsely as ‘Taxis’, which needs clamping down on.

Question 23

Should private hire vehicles be able to use terms such as “taxi” or “cab” in advertising provided they are only used in combination with terms like “prebooked” and did not otherwise lead to customer confusion?

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • It will create greater confusion for the public.
  • The terms “taxi” and “private hire vehicles” should remain.
  • The wording that should apply nationally on this subject is the wording that is used in the London Act.

Provisional proposal 24

Taxi and private hire services should each be subject to national safety requirements.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 25

National safety standards, as applied to taxi services, should only be minimum

standards.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • It is important that decisions are taken locally.
  • Brighton taxis have blue bonnets and boots on a white vehicle, colour coding is not standard.
  • CCTV should not be made compulsory by local authorities.

Provisional proposal 26

National safety standards, as applied to private hire services, should be mandatory standards.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • National safety standards should be minimum safety standards that apply to both “taxis” and “private hire”, which local authorities can add to if local needs determine it.
  • Having mandatory national safety standards that are mandatory means that private hire drivers, vehicles and operators could be licensed in licensing authority, or all 3 could be licensed by different licensing authorities, and still work in a completely different authority. This would mean that the licence fees would not go to the licensing area which is being worked but to those licensing areas which do the licensing.
  • This could mean a driver is licensed in Carlisle, the vehicle in Sunderland, the operator in Leeds and all three work in London.
  • Under this scenario London would get all of the enforcement problems and associated costs, and the licensing authorities the fees without having to ever enforce or check on the driver, vehicle or operator.
  • This would make enforcement or checking the safety of the driver, vehicle or operator impossible as no fees would go to London in the above scenario.
  • The Law Commission make no mention of how this would be resolved. The only suggestions that we have heard are some sort of centralised pot of licence fee money that would be shared out. This would create a bureaucratic nightmare to administer and be totally unworkable.
  • The only system that works is to retain the current system of the three licenses which ensures that fees go to the local authority which licenses and enforces the three licenses.
  • A national standard for private hire is clearly unworkable as fees would not necessarily go to the local authority which will ultimately have to do the enforcement.

Provisional proposal 27

Private hire services would not be subject to standards except those related to safety. Requirements such as topographical knowledge would no-longer apply to private hire drivers.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • Topographical knowledge should be required of drivers of “taxis” and “private hire” on safety grounds for the health of the general travelling public.
  • If a driver does not know where they are going and is having to work it out whilst driving then their concentration and maybe even visual awareness is affected, which makes them a far great health and safety risk in comparison to a driver who has topographical knowledge.

Question 28

Should local standard-setting for private hire services be specifically retained in respect of vehicle signage? Are there other areas where local standards for private hire vehicles are valuable?

  • Unite believe that local authorities should be able to stipulate higher standards for private hire vehicles including age limit and condition of vehicles.
  • Question 28 seems to contradict the mandatory approach in proposal 26.
  • National safety standards should be minimum safety standards that apply to both

“taxis” and “private hire”, which local authorities can add to if local needs determine it.

Question 29

What practical obstacles might there be to setting common national safety standards for both taxis and private hire vehicles?

  • None that we know off.

Question 30

Should national conditions in respect of driver safety be different for taxi services compared with private hire services?

  • National conditions in respect of driver safety should be the same for taxi services and private hire services but give local authority the freedom to implement different standards if the nature of the different vehicles dictates that this is necessary.

Provisional proposal 31

The powers of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to set standards for taxis and private hire vehicles should only cover conditions relating to safety.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • However local authorities should retain the authority to stipulate additional standards like the topographical test for taxis and private hire.

Provisional proposal 32

The powers of the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers to set national safety standards should be subject to a statutory consultation requirement.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Question 33

What would be the best approach for determining the content of national safety standards? In particular should the statutory requirement to consult refer to a technical advisory panel?

  • Unite strongly believe that any technical advisory panel should have trade union representation on it in order to provide the skills and knowledge that is required.
  • A national taxi forum made up of VOSA, the police, licensing authorities, trade unions and passenger representatives (including disability groups) would be capable of providing the technical advice that is needed.

Provisional proposal 34

Licensing authorities should retain the power to set standards locally for taxis provided above the minimum national standards.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • However this must apply to private hire as well.

Question 35

Should there be statutory limits to licensing authorities’ ability to set local taxi standards?

  • Local authorities should not be restricted by statutory limits.
  • Whatever standards are set private hire must be included the same as taxis.

Question 36

Should licensing authorities retain the power to impose individual conditions on taxi and private hire drivers or operators?

  • Local authorities must retain the power to impose individual conditions on taxi and private hire drivers or operators.

Question 37

Should the powers and duties of licensing authorities to cooperate be on a statutory footing or is it best left to local arrangements?

  • Unite believe that the powers and duties of licensing authorities should not cooperate on a statutory footing and is it best left to local arrangements.
  • Keep local control.

Provisional proposal 38

Neighbouring licensing authorities should have the option of combining areas for the purposes of taxi standard setting.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • Localism would be lost and a poorer service will result, which would not work for the travelling public because taxis and private hire would just be attracted to the honey pot areas within a bigger boundary.
  • Keep it under local control.

Provisional proposal 39

Licensing authorities should have the option to create, or remove, taxi zones within their area.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Currently licensing authorities can not create but only remove.
  • For example in Durham they removed taxi zones and city centre was flooded with taxis, with no taxi provision for the public anywhere else.
  • Therefore it is sensible to now give licensing authorities the option to create as well.

Question 40

Would it be useful for licensing authorities to have the power to issue peak time licences which may only be used at certain times of day as prescribed by the licensing authority?

  • Unite believe that this would not be useful and would create confusing for the public about when they can and can not use a private hire vehicle.
  • It would also lower standards and service because why would anyone work in non peak times?

Provisional proposal 41

Private hire operators should no longer be restricted to accepting or inviting bookings only within a particular locality; nor to only using drivers or vehicles licensed by a particular licensing authority.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • The three licenses must stay under one local authorities control because if it doesn’t then a local authority will no longer be able to set standards for the private hire trade according to the particular needs and priorities of their area.
  • Standards would fall, service would reduce and the licensing mechanism would have now way on monitoring and enforcing the safety of the travelling public.

Provisional proposal 42

We do not propose to introduce a “return to area” requirement in respect of out of area drop offs.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • There are a number of proposals that has been put forward concerning “return to area” requirement in respect of out-of-area drop offs also known as cross border hiring, lets examine them individually.
  • Make ‘controlled areas’ bigger. We would respond to this by asking ‘how big is big?’ If for example there was a proposal to create Merseyside as a single controlled area, it does nothing to curtail the activities of both taxis and private hire vehicles from outside this ‘new’ area from cross border hiring. And therefore the problem has been pushed further out rather than a solution found.
  • Maintain the status quo, to curtail it amounts to restrictive practice. At present, largely because of case law, a private hire can undertake a contract anywhere to anywhere and taken on an individual basis there is little wrong in this as it gives the consumer the right to use the private hire of his choice (although somewhat ironically this choice does not extend to taxis). However looking at local authority licensing funding holistically, cross border hiring is somewhat of an anomaly. Local authorities license a variety of businesses and activities for which the authority will charge a fee. The obvious benefit is that the fees are determined by the council and licensing does not, or should not cost the general council taxpayer a penny.
  • This exposes the inherent unfairness of cross border hiring, in that the taxi and private hire drivers (and the other licence payers) from authority ‘A’ are funding the licensing section. Whereas the taxi and private drivers from authority ‘B’ are predominately working in authority ‘A’ and effectively using the facilities without paying the subscription fees.
  • We believe that if the status quo is maintained, that there are two ‘solutions’ to this anomaly; either licensing to be funded centrally, thereby losing local control as well as adding another layer of bureaucracy, or authority ‘A’ be allowed to ‘bill’ authority ‘B’ for the extra enforcement needed to police ‘their’ vehicles. However, we would point to the original remit of the Commission is to reduce bureaucracy, and this has the potential to create a clearing house of byzantine complexity (it must be remembered that cross-border hiring usually involves vehicles from several authorities that are remote from the ‘honey pot’ authority) with claims and counter-claims.
  • We believe that the way forward is to incorporate s21 of the Scottish Civic Government Act 1982 that requires a private hire vehicle to return to the area that they are licensed after completing a fare. Furthermore if our proposals outlined in ‘Driver training and accessibility’ was implemented, this would address concerns that it would be restrictive; if a driver wanted to work in another authority, they would only have to pass the local knowledge and be able to start work immediately.
  • One of the issues that have not been aired is public safety. All taxis and private hire vehicles have a ‘plate’ number and the driver has an individual ‘badge’ number, and should a member of the public wish to complain about a driver they can contact the local licensing section with the driver’s number. However with cross border hiring, and certainly at peak loading times, major towns and cities may have taxi and private hire vehicles from many remote authorities. Therefore if a passenger wishes to complain about ‘plate 26’ or ‘badge 63’ for example, the licensing section may have to trawl through numerous ‘plate 26’s’ and ‘badge 63’s’ which practically makes numbering taxis and private hire vehicles and drivers irrelevant.
  • Furthermore there is an assumption that cross border hiring only affects big cities and the immediate surrounding ‘smaller’ areas, however examples of private hire vehicles working many miles away from their area of license are becoming increasingly commonplace. In addition there is also the ‘Berwick Situation’ (In which taxis are licensed in rural areas and smaller towns and work on private hire systems in larger towns and cities) where taxis are working sometimes hundreds of miles from their area of license.
  • If the commission is minded to legitimise cross border hiring, it will inevitably break the link between local licensing and vehicles; to use an extreme example, with the aid of new technology, it would be possible for a private hire vehicle to start a shift for example, in Manchester that takes the driver to St Helens and then onto Leeds, in fact anywhere in the country. Not only does this deprive the travelling public of Manchester of a vehicle, but would make enforcement infinitely more difficult because the hunt for ‘plate 26/badge 63’ will not be in the tens, but in the hundreds.

Provisional proposal 43

Licensing authorities should retain the ability to regulate maximum taxi fares. Licensing authorities should not have the power to regulate private hire fares.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Question 44

Should taxis be allowed to charge a fare that is higher than the metered fare for pre-booked journeys?

  • Unite believe that taxis should not be allowed to charge a fare that is higher than the metered fare for pre-booked journeys.

Question 45

Should national driver safety standards such as the requirement to be a “fit andproper person” be either:

(a) set out in primary legislation; or

(b) included within the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers’ general powers to set national safety conditions?

  • Unite believe that yes it should be set out in primary legislation but local authority should be able to stipulate standards beyond the minimum including topographical knowledge, enhanced CRB checks, group 2 medicals, VRQ for all new applicants including disability awareness and customer safety.
  • Unite believe that driver training as part of a wholesale review of the conditions governing taxi and private hire drivers would lead to less bureaucracy. At present if a taxi driver wishes to move from one authority to another they are treated as new drivers and they must not only have a local topographical knowledge test, but a medical and apply for a CRB, even though it may have been only weeks since this was undertaken in their old authority.
  • If the commission advocated a national taxi qualification incorporating CRB medicals etc, it would make it easier for a driver in Manchester to transfer to Nottingham for example and only have to pass the local topographical knowledge.
  • If the Commission does not endorse driver training, it will be swimming against the tide; but what training should be adopted? We believe that all new applicants whether taxi or private hire drivers should complete a VRQ (Vocational Related Training) and within the first 12 months of receiving the licence, they should top up to a full NVQ level II .
  • Unites taxi education has delivered training to 4,500 drivers. Unite trains applicants in all aspects relating to people or persons with a disability, which includes loading and unloading wheelchair users into a WAV, securing the wheelchair, how to operate the swivel seat, the hearing loop etc. More importantly the unit makes drivers aware that it is imperative to treat all people of differing abilities with dignity. In the last four years since Unite has been involved in this training it has been adopted by numerous councils up and down the country.

Provisional proposal 46

Vehicle owners should not be subject to “fit and proper” tests and the criteria applied would relate solely to the vehicle itself.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • A fit and proper test for vehicle owners is vital in order to discourage people for entering the trade for the wrong reasons, for example drug and money laundering through shell taxi owner operations.

Question 47

Should national vehicle safety standards be either:

(a) set out in primary legislation; or

(b) included within the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers’ general powers to set national safety conditions?

  • Unite believe national vehicle safety standards should be set out in primary legislation and should include M1 crash tested certification.

Provisional proposal 48

Operator licensing should be retained as mandatory in respect of private hire vehicles.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Question 49

Should operator licensing be extended to cover taxi radio circuits and if so on what basis?

  • Unite believe operator licensing should be extended to cover taxi radio circuits that cover 3 or more taxis.

Provisional proposal 50

The definition of operators should not be extended in order to include intermediaries.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • A member of the public is not going to know they are travelling via intermediaries.
  • Surely an intermediary’s journey will have to be insured in the same way as an operators would, so for this reason can intermediaries be left outside the definition?

Question 51

Should “fit and proper” criteria in respect of operators be retained?

  • Unite believe that “fit and proper” criteria in respect of private hire operators should be retained.
  • As an operator there is a duty to be responsible for the safety of the passenger they carry.
  • The current criteria helps reinforce this duty of care.

Provisional proposal 52

Operators should be expressly permitted to sub-contract services.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • There are huge differences not only in the economy and geography between the Capital and the rest of the country; for example the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 allows firms to ‘baton pass’ contracts whereas it is not allowed in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. The provision contained within the London Act reflects not only the volume of traffic that London experiences but the size of the capital, and therefore a provision like sec 5 of the PHV London Act is commonsense.
  • For instance a private hire vehicle based in Lewisham breaks down while undertaking a fare going north of the river, or indeed anywhere outside of the immediate proximity, it should be able to ‘baton pass’ the fare on to a local private hire firm as opposed to dispatching a car from the base that might take some time.
  • Whereas ‘baton passing’ may seem commonsense, we reiterate that in the rest of the country this would be open to abuse and would legitimise cross border hiring.
  • A more practical solution for the instances where a taxi or private hire vehicle undertakes a fare out of their licensing area, would be a requirement that all taxi and private hire vehicles must have breakdown with door-to-door recovery (National Recovery).

Question 53

Where a taxi driver takes a pre-booking directly, should record-keeping requirements apply?

  • Unite do not see the need for this.

Provisional proposal 54

Licensing authorities should no longer have the power to restrict taxi numbers.

  • Unite do not agree with the proposal.
  • Licensing authorities must undertake a survey by a reputable company every three years and there is a strong case to state that regulated authorities are more informed about the demand for taxi and private hire services, ranking provisions etc than authorities that pursue a delimitation policy.
  • Unite believe the long-term policy in regard to taxi numbers should be ‘managed growth’ by which demand for taxis will be tailored for a particular area as opposed to the, dare we say, ‘blunt regulatory tool’ of leaving taxi provision to market forces, with its simplistic message of ‘more taxi equals shorter waiting times’ despite there being no evidence to support this assertion; in fact there is more evidence to suggest restricted areas provide a better service.

Question 55

What problems (temporary or permanent) might arise if licensing authorities lost the ability to restrict numbers?

  • If quantity controls are removed in an area that had previously been restricted, then ranking provision must be reviewed, otherwise over-ranking and problems associated with over-ranking will be the inevitable consequences.
  • Liverpool took the decision to remove the numerical limit on taxis in 1974 (which was before the amendment to s37 Town Police Clauses Act 1847by s16 of the Transport Act 1985). However by 1983 over ranking had become a serious traffic and public order issue, which led to the then Chief Constable, , in his annual address to Liverpool City Council to articulate his frustrations about the amount of police resources that were being used to combat the problem.
  • He stated that relations between the police and the taxi trade was fractious, and commented that many of the issues “are a result of too many taxis seeking to stand on any one rank at the same time”. Sir Kenneth concluded “One cannot escape the fact that there are currently over 1,250 licensed hackney carriages in Liverpool (the figure is now 1,417), for which there are only 370 spaces available on designated ranks. It is equally apparent that no matter what level of enforcement is pursued, the problems associated with over-ranking will remain until such time as this imbalance is redressed.”
  • The Chief Constable of Merseyside’s report to Liverpool City Council is seen by many as the reason that in passing the Transport Act in 1985, the government of the day stopped short of outright abolition of numerical controls on taxis, and although comments are nearly thirty years old, it is difficult to envisage what the participants of this consultation exercise can add to or better the observations that came as a result of his many years of operational control.

Question 56

Should transitional measures be put in place, such as staggered entry to the taxi trade over a scheduled period of time, if quantity restrictions are removed?

  • The last decade has seen a large number of authorities remove quantity restrictions as a result of the OfT report and the subsequent ‘Best Practice’ guidelines issued by the DfT, and because there is no requirement for a council to revisit the policy to assess its impact on taxi services, and the assertion that it benefits the travelling public is based on free market ideology as opposed to hard evidence. In fact an increasing number of delimited authorities are commissioning surveys to assess the impact and almost all of them have reversed the policy as a result of concerns expressed by not only the taxi trade, but resident groups affected by over-ranking, noise etc, other road users, the travelling public, shopkeepers and even the police.

Case Study – Wirral Borough Council (WBC):

The major urban centres of Wirral are Birkenhead and Wallasey and according to the WBC statistics, two thirds of the population of Wirral lives there. Stretching out towards Cheshire are the relatively affluent areas Bebington, Bromborough and Eastham (although Eastham has a large council estate), and Heswall, West Kirby and Hoylake to the west of the peninsula. The aforementioned areas all have their own identity, and all have small but vibrant High Streets, with a mixture of independent retailers, and familiar High Street brands and wine bars, restaurants and public houses. However club land is to be found exclusively in Birkenhead and New Brighton.

From its inception in 1972 to 1996, Wirral pursued a limited numbers policy and between those years the taxi fleet stood at 86, however after the result of court action a tranche of 25 licences were issued. A further 20 licences was issued in 1998 following a supply & demand survey by the Maunsel group. The survey concluded that although no evidence of unmet demand could be found in the urban areas of Birkenhead and Wallasey, this was because the taxi fleet worked in those areas at the expense of the outlying areas, and concluded that preference should be given to applicants that would service the outlying areas.

In 2002, following a report to the council, that the cover in the outlying areas was still non-existent, the council removed numerical controls completely and resolved to issue a licence to any vehicle that was purpose-built WAV that was 3 years old or newer. However following numerous complaints from bus companies, the police, and in particular a residents group in Wallasey that was formed solely because of the  problems that came as a result of the removing of numerical limits, WBC commissioned a new survey that was undertaken in 2006 by Keilder North West Ltd(KNW).

By now the taxi fleet had grown to 255, however KNW observed that the outlying areas taxi coverage was still non-existent, but a more surprising conclusion of the survey was that a small but significant unmet demand in Birkenhead and Wallasey had been recorded where none existed when the fleet stood at 101, 8 years previously, which flies in the face of the assertion that more taxis equals better service. An explanation is required for this apparent contradiction.

The Double-Shift System:

In areas with restricted taxi numbers, it is commonplace to have a taxi double shifted, for instance in cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, and even in smaller areas i.e. Ellesmere Port, Knowsley etc, approximately 70% of the taxi fleet is double-shifted; this has two main benefits for the travelling public; it gives taxi coverage 24/7, and the driver has shorter shift patterns. Wirral also had 70% double-shift prior to the increase in licences, and it is now between 2-4%. When WBC took the decision to remove numerical controls, most of the ‘jockeys’ applied for a licence and very rapidly the double-shift system was abandoned, and drivers began to ‘cherry pick’ the most lucrative hours to work.

The working pattern now is the majority of the drivers work 8am-8/10pm, therefore after midnight on week nights taxis are few and far between. It is however the shift pattern at the weekend that causes the most concern, in that drivers will usually start at 8am Friday, but work through to 4-5am Saturday morning. With the Saturday shift pattern being more of the same, except the drivers will usually start around midday and work until 5am Sunday morning.

The significant unmet demand the KNW survey measured was early Saturday and Sunday morning and of course weeknights after midnight. We take the view that these suicidal long shift patterns are the ‘negative externalities’ (to continue with the economic jargon) of removing numerical control, and it is difficult to make a case that it benefits the consumer.

  • WBC 2007-2012

In 2011, WBC commissioned a further survey by the Halcrow group, as a response to not only the complaints as detailed earlier but by the members of the Licensing Committee. The economic downturn with the resulting increase in job losses made driving a taxi one of the few alternatives and licence applications increased the number of taxis from 255 in 2006 to 400. However a combination of too many taxis, a fall off in business that all sectors of the economy are experiencing, and the relatively high cost to license a vehicle (it has to be a 3yo or new WAV costing between £25-35k), has seen 114 licences handed back to the council.

There is an opinion that this is the market in action in that it is finding its own level of provision, nevertheless in the ‘negative externalities’ column questions must be asked-prior to handing the licence back, how was he/she funding his/her business, and what impact did the lack of revenue

have on:-

a) Standards of Vehicle Maintenance?

b) Did the vehicle have adequate insurance?

c) What shift patterns did he/she work and did they compromise safety?

d) If there have been as many as 114 taxis effectively going out of business is the rest of the fleet experiencing similar economic hardship and does it compromise safety?

On 23 January 2012, the Licensing, Health and Safety and General Purposes Committee, after hearing representations from the taxi trade voted unanimously to reintroduce numerical controls on taxi licences and to review the situation at regular intervals.

  • Conclusion

The present law needs urgent review; any legislation that has generated so much litigation and created so much hostility must be revisited.

The way forward is managed growth of the industry and the way to achieve this is full integration in to the Local Transport Plan (LTP), then the needs of the travelling public can be looked at holistically; everything from the appropriate number of taxis to raising the kerb at taxi ranks to accommodate easier loading of wheelchairs can be planned within the provision for the needs of the travelling public. To prevent the voice of the taxi trade being lost within such a large structure, we propose that Local Taxi Forums be set up, which should consult Licensing Officers, representatives of disability groups, Police, Councillors, and taxi trade representatives and representatives of the LTP.

Question 57

Should there be a separate licence category for wheelchair accessible vehicles?

This could involve:

(1) a duty on the licensee to give priority to disabled passengers; and

(2) a duty on the licensing authority to make adequate provision at ranks for wheelchair accessible vehicles.

  • Unite do not believe there is any need for a separate license because hackney carriage taxis are all wheelchair accessible already. As we know private hire vehicles cannot rank, so when a disabled customer makes a booking they can choose the vehicle they require.
  • The real problem is currently there are not enough adequate ranks with raised kerbs.
  • Local authorities need to do more to make sure taxi ranks are suitable for the access of persons using wheelchairs.

Question 58

Should licensing authorities offer lower licence fees for vehicles which meet certain accessibility standards?

  • Unite do not believe that licensing authorities should offer lower licence fees for vehicles which meet certain accessibility standards.
  • All major cities have fully accessible hackney carriage taxis already in place.

Question 59

Do you have any other suggestions for increasing the availability of accessible vehicles, and catering for the different needs of disabled passengers?

  • Unite believe the availability is there but more training is needed for drivers and licensing authorities need to do more to make sure taxi ranks are suitable for the access of persons using wheelchairs.

Provisional proposal 60

We do not propose to introduce national quotas of wheelchair accessible vehicles.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 61

National standards for drivers of both taxis and private hire vehicles should include recognised disability awareness training.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Unites taxi education has delivered training to 4,500 drivers. Unite trains applicants in all aspects relating to people or persons with a disability, which includes loading and unloading wheelchair users into a WAV, securing the wheelchair, how to operate the swivel seat, the hearing loop etc. More importantly the unit makes drivers aware that it is imperative to treat all people of differing abilities with dignity. In the last four years since Unite has been involved in this training it has been adopted by numerous councils up and down the country.

Provisional proposal 62

In order to better address concerns about discrimination, taxis and private hire vehicles should be required to display information about how to complain to the licensing authority.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Taxis already display information about how to complain on their tariff sheet.
  • Private hire vehicles don’t display information about how to complain and should.

Question 63

What would be the best way of addressing the problem of taxis ignoring disabled passengers seeking to hail them? Could an obligation to stop, if reasonable and safe to do so, in specified circumstances, help?

  • Unite think more training and education is the best way of addressing the problem of taxis ignoring disabled passengers seeking to hail them.
  • Unite are not in favour of any obligation to stop because there is no way of knowing 100% whether a driver has seen a disabled passenger seeking to hail them down or not, which makes it unenforceable.

Question 64

Should authorised licensing officers have the power to stop licensed vehicles?

  • Unite do not think that authorised licensing officers should have the power to stop licensed vehicles.
  • The current stopping powers are adequate and see no need for extension.
  • What is already in place is robust enough, in addition we take the view that the local concordat that is in place in Merseyside is a better template and perhaps the rest of the country should follow Merseyside as opposed to adopting something that is unproven.
  • In addition we foresee serious problems if a licensing officer from Sefton for example attempted to stop a Liverpool Taxi in Bootle, how would the taxi driver react to being stopped outside their licensing area by an individual who is not a police officer. It may be seen that the driver would be in his or her rights to ignore the stop because they fear for their safety.
  • Drivers could be placed at risk.

Question 65

What more could be done to address touting? Touting refers to the offence “in a public place, to solicit persons to hire vehicles to carry them as passengers”.

  • Unite believe targeted enforcement has been successful in the past particularly in London but there just is not enough targeted enforcement carried out.
  • More resource dedicated to educating passengers on what touting is and the dangers involved in travelling in an unlicensed and uninsured vehicle.

Question 66

Would it be desirable and practicable to introduce powers to impound vehicles acting in breach of taxi and private hire licensing rules?

  • Unite believe this will be done safest if it is left as it is currently is to the police.

Question 67

Should licensing authorities make greater use of fixed penalty schemes and if so how?

  • Unite believes that cross-border hiring should be made an offence and that local authorities should use fixed penalties of £200 and 3 points on a driver’s license as an appropriate punishment.

Provisional proposal 68

Enforcement officers should have the powers to enforce against vehicles, drivers and operators licensed in other licensing areas.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Question 69

Should cross-border enforcement powers extend to suspensions and revocation of licences? If so what would be the best way of achieving this?

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • Fixed penalties with the right to appeal to the licensing sub committee.

Provisional proposal 70

The right to appeal against decisions to refuse to grant or renew, suspend or revoke a taxi or private hire licence should be limited to the applicant or, as appropriate, holder of the relevant licence.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • No change needed, the current appeal process is appropriate.

Provisional proposal 71

The first stage in the appeal process throughout England and Wales, in respect of refusals, suspensions or revocations should be to require the local licensing authority to reconsider its decision.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

Provisional proposal 72

Appeals should continue to be heard in the magistrates’ court.

  • Unite agree with the proposal.
  • The appeal against refusal to grant a taxi vehicle licence goes straight to Crown Court under s7 Public Health Act 1907, which appears to be historical rather than procedural. In law (s43 Town Police Clauses Act 1847) a taxi licence lasts one year and then a new one must be applied for (as opposed to being renewed). Some council’s do not differentiate between a ‘new’ application, and an existing proprietor who puts in a late application regardless of circumstances is deemed to have ‘lost’ the licence. Essentially this is a throwback to the days of horses and carts when the vehicle obviously did not need a compliance certificate and a more practical approach needs to be found; for instance the taxi could be suspended until such time as the proprietor renews the licence. The vehicle licence (commonly referred to as a ‘plate’) must be made ‘renewable’

Question 73

Should there be an onward right of appeal to the Crown Court?

  • Unite agree with the proposal.

 

Len McCluskey

General Secretary

Unite

For clarifications and more information please contact:

John Neal

Researcher

Unite the Union

128 Theobald’s Road, Holborn, London, WC1X 8TN.

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