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CROSS BORDER: A new precedent set for taxi and private hire licensing authorities?

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

In a pivotal legal decision at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court, taxi operators Christopher Hall and 57 Taxis Ltd, under the brand ‘Drive’, won a landmark case against the City of York Council. This ruling, delivered on 11 March 2024 by District Judge (Magistrates’ Court) Lower, seemingly has significant implications for taxi licensing authorities across the nation, particularly regarding cross-border hiring regulations.

The crux of the dispute lay in the additional conditions imposed by the council on Hall's operator licence, which were deemed to violate the principles of natural justice. These conditions, aimed at aligning external drivers with York's stringent safety standards, were introduced without sufficient notice or consultation, leaving Hall and his business at a disadvantage.

Judge Lower’s ruling highlighted a critical oversight in the council's decision-making process, emphasising the lack of transparency and rationale behind the supplementary conditions. This was seen as a departure from the legal norms established under the Deregulation Act 2015, which supports cross-border hiring practices. The judgment not only mandated the revocation of these conditions, but also ordered the council to reimburse the appellants' legal expenses, totalling £18,500.

This case highlights a broader debate within the taxi industry about the 'right to roam' for operators and drivers, challenging local authorities' attempts to restrict operations to their own licensed vehicles. The decision serves as a cautionary tale for other licensing authorities, potentially curtailing their ability to unilaterally impose additional requirements on out-of-area operators.

Moreover, the verdict comes at a time when regional leaders, like Greater Manchester's Mayor Andy Burnham, are seeking more stringent regulations to ban non-local private hire vehicles (PHVs) in pursuit of environmental and safety goals. Burnham's call for a ban on out-of-area PHVs highlighted a growing concern over the practice of cross-border hiring, which Burnham refers to as the 'Wolverhampton Problem', where drivers licensed in one jurisdiction operate predominantly in another.

Labour's pledge to enforce minimum licensing standards and potentially ban out-of-area PHV operations if elected, as stated by Mayor Burnham and supported by shadow transport minister Louise Haigh, indicates a political will to reform cross-border hiring practices. This willingness is not however shared across the Conservative political divide.

The Harrogate Court's decision not only vindicates Hall and 57 Taxis Ltd, but also sets a precedent that could refocus the regulatory landscape for taxi and private hire operators across England. Any future challenges on the cross-border practice is likely now to come from a central Government level, rather than from reform regionally.


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