On July the 12th 2017 the All Party Parliamentary Group On Taxis released a document entitled Lessons From London: The future of the UK taxi trade. Many from within both the taxi and the private hire industry were in attendance as well as those who had direct input into the document and its findings. Uber were highly conspicuous by their absence having refused to engage with the APPG. The launch was made at Portcullis House with Wes Streeting the MP for Ilford North and head of the APPG hosting the event. Wes started the proceedings with a speech laying out the documents findings and proposals,
this was subsequently followed by speeches from both Geoffrey Reisel the Chairman of Gett and Andy Batty the General Manager of myTaxi.
The document is a 27 page, comprehensive 11 point plan; but will it be enough?
Lets find out!
1. To stop the exploitation of cross-border hiring the government should consider legislating to create a statutory definition of cross-border hiring whereby a journey must "begin or end in the licensing authority where the license was issued"
The government must, at the earliest opportunity, consult on statutory guidance for taxi and PHV licensing and the proposed guidance should set out a robust set of minimum licensing standards for all licensing authorities to impose.
These standards must include mandatory disability equality training and enhanced DBS checks for both taxi and PHV drivers.
Local authorities should still have the freedom to impose any standards over and above this, should they feel that this is appropriate in response to local challenges or market conditions, at their own discretion.
Legislation must always be supported by robust enforcement and there must be punitive punishments for non-compliance, the government must go further than ensuring that there are enhanced DBS checks undertaken by all prospective taxi drivers or PHV drivers. Circumvention of the DBS system is rife and open to widespread abuse within the PHV industry, some PHV companies recommend their chosen company to perform a DBS check that may prove to be inadequate. The certificate of good conduct system that is used by some foreign nationals is also open to widespread abuse as the Rotherham sexual assault case amplified. As a result of this weakness in the system a certificate should no longer be acceptable, as a fail_safe nobody should be able to obtain a taxi or PHV license without holding a full UK driving license for a minimum of 3 years so as to be able to assist in performing the necessary DBS back-checks. The public must be fully protected at all costs.
2. The Government should establish a national database of registered taxi and PHV drivers and operators in conjunction with the DVLA and police.
Any national database should also link all taxis and PHVs to the ANPR system so as to make sure that the police can check that all vehicles are full legal without having to physically stop the vehicle.
3. The Government to legislate to provide a legally enforcable statutory definition of plying for hire. The Government must also clarify its position on taxi and PHV regulation and the future of the two-tier system by issuing its long overdue response to the Law Commission's 2014 report on taxi and PHV licensing as soon as possible.
Given the technological advancement that has been both a blessing and a curse to the taxi industry any statutory definition must cover both time AND distance. App providers have the ability to geo-fence, this method should be used to prevent immediate e-hiring within the PHV industry. Without geo-fencing the situation surrounding e-hailing and e-hiring will become almost unenforcable with the wider ramifications dictating that the taxi and PHV industry becomes nothing more than an homogenised, one-tier entity.
4. As part of its plan to devolve further power to local authorities, the government should consider granting the Mayor/TfL, in London, the power to cap the number of PHVs, and any other Mayors and combined authorities who request it.
The capping of the PHV industry is an essential part of any reforms within the taxi and PHV industry. Cities around the UK have been systematically flooded, with Londons PHV industry doubling in size in under 5 years. In an era when congestion and pollution are at an all time high there can be no more jousting between Mayor Khan and Chris Grayling PC the Secretary of State for Transport. It no longer matters who has lobbied who or who makes the first manoeuvre. this particular piece of legislation along with legislation on cross-border hiring is a necessity.
5. It is vital that all taxis and PHVs are insured to protect passengers and the wider public. The Government should legislate so that all minicab operators have operators' insurance to ensure that vehicles have full hire and reward insurance in place at all times. At the very least, hire and reward insurance should not be issued without this.
Correct insurance is an essential in almost every industry you can name, it beggars belief that the PHV industry has serious issues surrounding this, it also beggars belief that any PHV company could or would object to having the correct insurance, it is completely irresponsible. Transferring responsibility from PHV driver to PHV company is the most prudent course of action. it has long been known that many PHV drivers obtain full hire and reward insurance, present their vehicles for passing and then photocopy the insurance document before cancelling the insurance and reverting to either fully comprehensive insurance or third party fire and theft. This is a criminal offence and should automatically negate any PHV driver from continuing to hold a PHV license. This does not apply to the taxi industry as the only insurance that can be held on a licensed taxi is hire and reward insurance, anything less will highlight the taxi on the ANPR system as being uninsured.
6. To incentivise and facilitate take up of the new zero emissions black cab and to support drivers to make the transition to the cleaner vehicle in London and across the Country, the Government must work with local authorities to ensure that:
There is adequate rapid charging infrastructure in place to support the use of the new ZEC vehicle;
The VED regime does not penalise those who purchase the new ZEC taxi;
Drivers understand what is available to them in terms of grants and subsidies and these are readily available to them; and,
The Government should also consider implementing a national diesel scrappage scheme which applies to black cabs. Finally, the Government should also review the impact that the changes to vehicle excise duty could have on take up of the new ZEC vehicle and consider creating an exemption for ZEC black cabs from the additional rate of VED charged on vehicles with a purchase price of more than £40000.
This particular subject has a myriad of issues to negotiate, none more important than the cost of the vehicle. It is rumoured that the cost of the vehicle may be in excess of £50000 with a maximum scrappage subsidy announced by the Mayor of £5000 for diesel taxis between 1 and 10 years old and then reducing down incrementally by £1000 for every year beyond 10 years. This however does not cover the massive loss in revenue that the taxi trade will suffer due to the second hand market in diesel taxis completely collapsing. the trade stands to be left with a completely worthless commodity. We then come to range, whilst the zero emission capable taxi will still have a 1 litre petrol engine to charge the battery, the fully electric variety has a major problem.....its lack of range. This problem can only be overcome by having a massive network of fast charging points, but that still will not be enough. A fast charging point will only charge a battery to 80% of its capacity and will take 30 minutes to do so. To make the fully electric taxi a viable proposition to the trade you would need to be able to charge the vehicle to 80% capacity in under 10 minutes, roughly the same amount of time that it takes to fuel up and pay for a diesel vehicle as well as having range extenders on the vehicles. This will have a massive impact on drivers working out of Heathrow Airport who regularly cover journeys in excess of 100 miles return. For this whole scheme to work we need a full national network of fast charging points otherwise drivers face being stranded. An electric taxi needs to be able to cover a minimum of 250 miles for it to be a viable vehicle. The best example of an electric vehicle with a viable range is the Tesla, therefore it is most certainly achievable.
7. In London, the regulator, TfL, should review its mechanisms for communicating with both the taxi and PHV trades and look at how these could be improved. Both trades must also look to take a more constructive and open approach to engagement with the regulator. This would allow the regulator to work more closely and effectively with the industries on issues of common concern and to better champion their interests with the Government.
This is straightforward common sense. All sides need to consign previous failings to the past. An open and transparent regulator will lead to a successful working relationship with both the taxi industry and the PHV industry. All sides need to build rather than burn bridges.
8. The Mayor of London and TfL should ensure that taxis remain exempt from the ULEZ, in recognition of the trade's efforts to tackle air pollution. However when reviewing the congestion charge, TFL should introduce congestion charge for PHV vehicles.
On the surface introducing the congestion charge for PHVs is an attractive proposition. On closer examination this may be counter-productive as it may shift PHV drivers working pattern, this may well negatively impact the evening and night-time trade of both taxi and PHV industry. The way to counteract this would to bring in a specific PHV charge to cover a 7 day, 24 hour period. This could be self-funding as any administration will come out of the charge.
9. The Government should support TfL in its efforts by reviewing the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 to ensure that it is fit for purpose in the digital age.
This is an essential issue, however any act or legislation is only as strong as the enforcement attached to it.
10. Licensing authorities and local police should produce code of conduct for the use of apps by taxi and PHV drivers to sign up to in order to ensure that they are not using their phones whilst driving and putting passengers and other members of the public at risk. This is a short term measure to address the dangers associated with the use of apps whilst driving. The Government should also consider including adherence to a code of conduct as part of national minimum standards.
Anything that distracts or diverts your attention whilst driving is a potential hazard. Apps are now part of the taxi and PHV industry but there also has to be an investigation into the use of satellite navigation devices and their affect on PHV drivers ability to function behind the wheel. Legislation is already in place surrounding hand held devices and that legislation should be enough to adhere to, there is however a massive over-reliance on sat-navs and ignoring this fact may eventually prove fatal.
11. All licensing authorities, including the Mayor of London and TfL should take immediate steps to strengthen PHV regulation to ensure that all PHV are insured and that their drivers have the skills and knowledge to ensure public safety. These should include:
Introducing an enhanced driving test for minicab drivers.
Introducing a limited topographical test for PHV drivers.
Introduce mandatory disability equality training and an associated test for all PHV and taxi drivers.
The Mayor of London should stand by his decision to introduce an English language test for PHV drivers with both spoken and written elements, in recognition of the importance of both skill sets in communicating with additional needs and disabilities. We further recommend that other licensing authorities should follow suit.
Introducing an enhanced driving test for PHV drivers is an absolute must, however problems may ensue due to the DVLA no longer performing vocational tests for taxi drivers. one would assume that any test would be of the same format, therefore who will perform these tests?
Given that those within the PHV industry do not wish to embark on the knowledge it may be prudent to split London into sectors much in the same way as suburban taxi drivers have to operate in sectors so that those within the PHV industry can operate in an area that is topographically strong to the individual.
Anybody within any given industry should be able to communicate at some base level, the PHV industry is no different. A major part of the taxi and PHV industry is driver, customer communication. Any failure in that aspect of the industry creates a sense of unease for the passenger and confusion for the driver.
This document is by no means a magic bullet, however this is potentially a solid and sensible start to a new era within the taxi and PHV industry, this must not be the end of the road. For the taxi industry to survive there needs to be full recognition that we are the Gold standard, a fully qualified, fully professional industry. It is widely recognised that London has the best taxi service in the world, the Mayor has stated that Taxis are part of the public transport system in London, not just a private entity, therefore TfL must support the industry and treat the industry as such. This means a concerted advertising campaign promoting the industry, proper enforcement, turning more COs into warranted officers, supporting drivers by ensuring that they can continue working whilst renewing their licenses and engaging with the industry by having open dialogue with taxi organisations.
I am cautiously optimistic that these recommendations, if implemented by the government, will trigger the resurgence of the licensed taxi industry.