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The two-tier taxi and private hire system is largely supported by most and is here to stay. However, whilst those working within the industry can distinguish between the two easily, there is growing concern that the public struggle to tell the two apart.

For many, anything with a plate or sign attached to the vehicle that was present on a previous vehicle they’ve used to hail down or order for a journey is a taxi. A plate or roundel with a licensing authority logo gives the public looking for a car a sense of verification that the vehicle is authentic. The problem is that they don’t always fully understand the rules around plying-for-hire and pre-booked, and why should they quite frankly.

As a result, the Government is now looking to make taxis MORE visible and distinctive and PHV less visible.

Within the proposed Best Practice Guidance, a revamp of taxi and PHV signage has been signalled to help the public better identify taxis.

According to the consultation it says: ‘There are a number of factors to consider in relation to vehicle signage and identification: safety, competition, commercial arguments and the fact that there are a wide variety of approaches taken by licensing authorities.

‘The government’s view is that safety should be the prime consideration and the recommendations in the best practice guidance reflect this.

‘The intention is to try and make taxis the most noticeable and distinctive vehicle to members of the public who want to engage a taxi or PHV and to make it clear that only taxis can be hired without being prebooked.

‘Increasing the differentiation between taxis and PHVs, so that taxis are easy to identify and PHVs are less visible would simplify safety messaging to the public that they should only get into a vehicle that looks like a taxi unless prebooked.

‘Operators should provide information that enables the passenger to identify the driver and vehicle allocated.

‘Licensing authorities could promote this personal safety messaging to ensure that residents understand the distinction between taxis and PHVs and how each service can be legally and safely engaged.

‘This also supports the distinction between the two elements of the trade and reduces the opportunity of unscrupulous drivers (licensed or not) from illegally standing for hire.

‘An approach that says PHVs should not display signage other than the licence plate or disc and a prebooked only door sign means it’s easier for drivers to work with more than one operator.

‘A requirement to display operator details means, at best, that drivers would need to carry multiple sets of magnetic signs and, at worst, replace adhesive stickers multiple times per shift.

‘Magnetic signs may be stolen from, or possibly shared by, the licensed trade. If PHV signs continue to be required, the use of magnetic signs also increases the risk of passengers unknowingly using unlicensed drivers and vehicles. A vehicle with a sign may be assumed by the public to be a taxi.

‘There may be instances where a driver and vehicle proprietor has an exclusive relationship with an operator and both parties may agree that they want to display the operator details.

‘In these circumstances, the licensing authority could allow the operator details to be displayed discreetly, for example, through small branding on the rear of the vehicle, so as not to undermine the overall objective of enabling the public to easily differentiate between taxi and PHVs.

‘Many licensing authorities already exempt some services from their PHV signage requirements.

‘Executive hire services are licensed as PHVs and licensing authorities should assure themselves that, given the signage on private hire vehicles may be negligible, there is sufficient justification to exempt these vehicles from a requirement to display a small plate or disc in the absence of an effective means to

prevent the vehicle from being used for normal private hire work.’

So, what could we see happen?

In cities that have traditionally recognisable ‘black cab’ shaped vehicles, there’s not much more that can be done other than to have one uniformed colour and no taxi livery adverts. The iconic shape of these vehicles and a distinctive orange ‘For Hire’ light should be enough.

There is an argument that PHV do not need to be distinctive in any way. Without any form of signage, the public looking to hop into a taxi cannot make that common mistake. As all minicab journeys are pre-booked via an operator, the vehicle’s registration should be all that’s needed to identify the car on arrival.

What about digital distinction? Should PHVs be visible on an app?

It has been argued that those vehicles displaying a Transport for London (TfL) roundel are in fact displaying their availability to passengers who have ride-hail apps available on their device.

Recently Trevor Merralls, General Secretary of United Cabbies Group (UCG), called London’s minicabs a ‘ghost taxi fleet’ because of the advertised availability of the vehicles.

Trevor Merralls said via social media: “Private Hire vehicles are driving around for the purpose of being hailed pan London via an app. These vehicles are identifiable to the public via their TfL Roundels, gone are the days of the sticker that said these vehicles must be prebooked.

“Acting like a ghost taxi fleet.”

This month the United Trade Action Group (UTAG) entered the High Court to argue the trade’s exclusive right to ply-for-hire with a heavy focus on the ‘digital hail’. More will then be learnt from the results of this case.


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