Friday 9 March, 2018
- Serious public safety concerns after technological advances increase scale of cross-border hiring
- Drivers can secure licences in areas where they perceive standards are lower but then work anywhere in England
- Changes to the law essential to ensure passenger safety and a national minimum standard
London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross has called on the Government to ensure the safety of taxi and private hire passengers nationwide by ending the potentially dangerous practice of cross-border hiring.
Currently drivers of taxis or private hire vehicles can work anywhere in England once they have secured a licence with a licensing authority. It means that drivers can apply to get their licences in an area where they perceive standards are lower, despite having no intention of working there.
This has led to a number of issues across the country including drivers with convictions for violence and sexual offences being granted licences elsewhere despite being refused one by a West Midlands licensing authority; a driver being refused a licence in Doncaster but working in the town after obtaining a licence elsewhere; and one authority licensing 1,000 drivers from their area but more than 6,000 from other areas.
Transport for London has called on the Government to introduce legislation to tackle this problem, and London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, has written to Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani to request a meeting at which cross-border hiring would be discussed. Now a report published today (9 March) by TfL has made clear the need to drive up national standards across the taxi and private hire industries.
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 licensing standards and significantly restrict the enforcement capabilities of local licensing authorities, 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. In London, more than 1,000 drivers have home addresses in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, and TfL suspects these drivers rarely, if ever, undertake journeys in the capital.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has made a series of recommendations in the report published today, which are supported by a number of licensing authorities across the country. They are:
- To require all taxi and private hire journeys either to 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 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 data sharing, for example 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.
The Mayor also continues to press the Government for the power to cap the number of private hire drivers in London, a statutory definition of ‘plying for hire’ and what constitutes a ‘pre-booked journey’ to help enforcement and prevent illegal activity. Sadiq has consistently called for urgent changes and through his Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan he set out a series of actions to ensure high standards in the industry and that passengers are protected.
Val Shawcross, London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, said: “Cross-border hiring is a serious national safety issue that must be tackled by the Government. It cannot be right that drivers can obtain a licence in an area where they believe 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. We need the Government to pass legislation now that insists drivers start or finish their journey in their licensing authority and deliver a national minimum standard to help ensure safety of passengers.”
Simon Blackburn, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Licensing authorities up and down the country are concerned about drivers who get a licence in one area and then go and work exclusively in another area. Operators and drivers should be licensed in the areas they intend to work – as any other type of licensed business would be. This will help ensure passenger safety, as drivers know the area where they are driving and the licensing authority can effectively take action in relation to any issues in their areas. Councils have been making the case for our outdated patchwork of taxi laws to be updated with a regime fit for the 21st Century. We need action on a range of issues, including national minimum standards, wider enforcement powers for authorities and a requirement for people to be licensed where they are actually going work. The current regime is not fit for purpose – some parts of the law pre-date the internal combustion engine, let alone apps and smartphones – and it’s long past time we had a package of reform that brings our taxi and PHV legislation up to date.”
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.”
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 over 200 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.”
Mick Rix, GMB Union National Officer for Taxi & Private Hire Drivers, said: “TfL has correctly identified that cross-border working of Taxi and Private Hire Drivers predominantly working in areas where their license is not issued, is now at such epidemic levels, that a real threat to passenger safety exists. When existing legislation was written the intentions were never to have a free for all with Taxis and Minicabs working anywhere in the country. There are now obvious increased safeguarding problems for vulnerable persons. Local authorities and enforcement agencies are powerless to enforce taxis and PHV not from their jurisdiction. The Police believe this is also a major threat too. TFL have produced a welcome report, where we hope Government will listen, and bring forward proposals to update legislation”.
Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the LTDA, said: “Passenger safety is absolutely paramount, and yet the current licensing regulations mean that local authorities can’t control who operates in their area and protect passengers. TfL has put together a fantastic report with some strong recommendations which we at the LTDA fully back. London’s black cab industry provides a gold-standard service to our passengers, and we don’t want to see this undermined by minicabs from other areas that do not comply with TfL’s strict licensing requirements and crucially TfL is unable to enforce against. In London, while cross border hiring remains legal, TfL could set whatever high standards they want to, but a driver could be licensed in the Home Counties where the rules are weaker, and then legally ignore the additional regulations in London. TfL has rightly added additional requirements in London to ensure vehicles are zero emission capable, it cannot be right that a vehicle that does not meet these standards can work 100% of the time in London undermining the high standards expected of the local trade. It’s time the Government closed the loophole in the law and gave TfL and local authorities the powers they need to protect passengers when they get into a cab or a private hire vehicle.”