The government “will be issuing statutory taxi and private hire standards shortly” according to a leading Government MP.
Nusrat Ghani made the announcement during a transport topical questions debate in the House of Commons on 30 January.
The taxi industry and local authorities have been calling on the Government to strengthen taxi and private hire legislation - some of which dates back to 1847 and horse-drawn hackney carriages - to improve passenger safety in light of the explosion of app-based taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) companies and increased out-of-area working.
Latest figures show the total number of licensed taxi and PHVs in England increased to 291,800 in 2019, an increase of 58% on the 184,500 licensed vehicles in 2005 when comparable records were first collected.
These figures have largely been driven by a surge in licensed PHVs, which have risen to 221,200 in 2019, a staggering increase of 83% on the 120,400 PHVs in 2005.
In November 2019, the Local Government Association (LGA) argued that revamped taxi laws could make enforcement easier through introducing a common set of licensing standards, and be updated to reflect new technology which would help reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation, improve passenger safety, and create a level playing field for drivers by tackling out-of-area working.
The LGA is also calling for national minimum licensing standards for drivers of taxis and PHVs, and a mandatory national database of all licensed taxi and PHV drivers. In order to strengthen licensing processes, the LGA launched its own national register of taxi and PHV licences which have been refused or revoked, so councils can check new applicants against the database and update it with their own information.
But whilst updated statutory guidance for councils around taxi licensing is seen as a positive step, the LGA say that ultimately the best way to strengthen safeguarding measures and ensure a level playing field for all drivers is for government to update taxi laws.
Wes Streeting, Labour MP for Ilford North, asked the House of Commons last week: “Given that nearly three years have passed since the all-party parliamentary group on taxis laid out the case for reform of legislation governing the taxi and private hire industry, and a year has passed since the Government accepted that case, when can we finally expect them to legislate for the reform we need?”
Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) and Government Whip, responded by saying: “I know that the hon. Member has been working incredibly hard, along with members of the Transport Committee.
“We put together a task and finish group to ensure that taxi services up and down the country are far more equal in their service, while providing security and safety for passengers.
“We will be issuing statutory taxi and private hire standards shortly. Having had many conversations with the hon. Member, I think he can be quite confident that most of the issues raised will be addressed.”
The Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing was established in September 2017. The group's remit was to consider evidence relating to the adequacy of current taxi and private hire vehicle licensing authority powers, as set out in legislation and guidance, and to make recommendations for actions to address any priority issues identified.
The Chair of the group, Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, submitted his report to the Secretary of State for Transport on 9 July 2018.
In February 2019 the Government responded to the report, but there has been little movement since then with some claiming Brexit debates as a reason for the lack of progress made.
Image credit: Ross Campbell