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LONDON’S GHOST TAXI FLEET: More needs to be done to identify minicabs as PRE-BOOKED only

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

More needs to be done when it comes to identifying the PRE-BOOKED ONLY role of private hire vehicles in the capital, suggests taxi trade representative.

Private hire vehicles (PHV) in London can only be pre-booked in advance via an operator. The most popular way of ‘booking’ a minicab is via the instant digital hail systems accessed through mobile apps.

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.

Trevor Merralls, General Secretary of United Cabbies Group (UCG), called London’s minicab’s a ‘ghost taxi fleet’.

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. Support UTAG.”

What is being done?

The Government recently opened up a 12-week consultation to update vital Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) guidance supplied to local authorities to better cope with new digital ways of working following the boom in ride-hailing services.

The Department for Transport (DfT) first issued best practice guidance to licensing authorities in 2006 and this was refreshed in 2010.

Within the proposed guidance a revamp of taxi and PHV signage is expected.

According to the open consultation:

‘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.’


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