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Part One: TfL’s Helen Chapman talks Politics, Private Hire and Uber

Helen Chapman has been a mainstay at Transport for London for a number of years. Occupying various roles within the taxi and private hire department, Helen is now TfLs director of licensing, regulation and charging. TaxiPoint’s UK Editor Steve Kenton would like to welcome Helen Chapman and you the reader to an EXCLUSIVE two part interview covering all things taxi related. 

Today we talk about the politics surrounding the trade, private hire and Uber.  

So let’s get started!

Last year it was revealed that over 13,000 PHV drivers, predominantly on the Uber platform, were operational with flawed DBS checks. How many of the 13,000 drivers have had fresh DBS checks and are there currently any drivers working without one?

The first thing that I would like to make clear is that the figure of 13,000 drivers is a myth.

When we first identified that there may be an issue with some of the DBS checks, we were asked by representatives of the taxi trade as to what the potential figure may be. We said there could be as many as 13,000, but that we were checking the actual figure. Once we had completed our checks, we identified the true figure was in fact 2,600 drivers that we wanted to obtain new DBS checks for. We did update trade representatives with the correct figure at that time. To put things into some context, the DBS checks themselves on the 2,600 drivers weren't flawed. Only the Disclosure and Barring Service carries out DBS checks and they liaise with the relevant police force (usually the Metropolitan Police Service) to determine what information to release to TfL. Our concern was that the ID check at the front end of the process, prior to it being sent to the DBS, hadn’t been carried out by our appointed and independent service provider. We wanted to be absolutely sure that our own service provider was carrying out the ID part to verify the individual, right at the front end of the process. Therefore we wrote to all 2,600 private hire drivers to ensure their DBS checks were redone, using our service provider, so that we could be absolutely sure that the ID check was carried out independently. 

How many PHV drivers were allowed to continue operating with flaws found on their DBS checks?

We allowed a set period of time for the 2,600 drivers to provide evidence they had applied for their new DBS check and took licensing action on those who didn’t provide evidence.

As the original and subsequent DBS checks were all carried out by the DBS, no additional information was identified between the two different checks, other than those which might ordinarily come up in the course of a licence. For example, if the driver had gone onto commit a crime after the first check but this would be the case for all taxi and private hire drivers. 

What has been the Government’s response, more specifically Chris Grayling's, to TfL's lobbying for controls on capping, cross-border hiring and defining plying for hire, given that there has been a stalemate between both TfL and the Government over these issues?

The Mayor and TfL been actively lobbying the Government on these issues for some time. For example, even in our response to the Law Commission report from 2014 we were asking for a statutory definition of plying for hire which we believe is vital to maintain and make clear the distinction between the two tier system.

We were very pleased, when, last year, the then Transport Minister, John Hayes, set up a taxi and private hire Task and Finish Group to deal with these issues in response to Wes Streeting‘s Westminster Hall debate in July 2017. The remit of the Task and Finish Group was to look at the taxi and private hire industry and how legislation can be reformed. TfL were invited to be part of that Task and Finish group and I have represented TfL. Other working group members include The LGA, taxi and private hire trade representatives, public safety groups and other government departments. As you can appreciate there are differing views around the table on topics with members having different ideas. What we have found is that everybody agrees that cross border hiring is a serious problem, although there are naturally differing views as to how to solve that problem. Ultimately the Chair will now produce the report with his recommendations going to Government to be considered. Separately TfL published a policy paper in February looking at the detailed issues of cross border hiring and contained our key legislative asks of Government. We provided this paper to the Working Group and we hope that our recommendations have been taken on board. 

John Hayes is no longer in his position, he resigned last year, will his successor Nusrat Ghani continue with the process that John Hayes started?

Only time will tell on that one, but we are hopeful Nus Ghani will continue with the work that John Hayes started. What I can say is that the chair is quite clear that these proposals are going to be his recommendations based on him listening to all the feedback.

His report will go to Nus Ghani and it is then up to her to consider the proposals and decide the next step forward which we hope will include primary legislative change in the areas we have been lobbying for.

Given the lack of a relationship between the Mayor and Chris Grayling, will any proposals be willfully scuppered by the Government in what may be seen as a points scoring exercise between a Conservative Government and a Labour capital?

We feel that the proposals we have put forward are sensible proposals aimed at addressing issues not just in the capital but across the country.

It’s not just the Mayor and TfL that are pushing for these changes, we've spoken to a lot of authorities across the country that are having the same difficulties that we face on London. There is a real groundswell of support across the country for reforming legislation relating to the industry. We've looked really closely at what we think would work, what we think wouldn't work, as well as the reasons behind it. We've looked at some of the challenges facing the industry and how we can avoid making proposals that may be too onerous. We want to make sure that the right standards are being followed 

A rumour has emerged on social media that you may be leaving TfL permanently, are you able to confirm or deny this.

I will be returning to TfL in October this year, after I have taken some of my maternity leave.

Does TfL accept Uber’s decision to define their own areas in relation to cross-border hiring, for example putting an area such as Windsor into their London area.

Changes to cross border hiring arrangements require changes to primary legislation and we are lobbying for this through the Task and Finish Group. This issue was raised in the recent court proceedings and the magistrate chose not to consider cross border hiring because it will require the Government to change the law.

If Uber fail to uphold any aspect of the conditions of their operator’s licence over the next 15 months, is there a one strike and you're out policy or will it be accumulation of non-compliance that could see Uber’s licence rescinded?

Like all other operators, Uber are required to fully adhere to their licensing obligations. The Magistrate agreed with our decision, as did Uber themselves, that they were not fit and proper at the time we refused them a licence. They have subsequently made a number of commitments to change and the Magistrate considered, at the end of the appeal process, that they are now fit and proper but has placed 14 stringent conditions on their 15 month licence. It’s now down to Uber to operate within the rules, including meeting the strict conditions. TfL will be closely monitoring them throughout the 15 month licence period. If we determine a condition has been breached we will need to consider the appropriate licensing action, depending on the nature of the incident.


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