Councillors at Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire District Councils have unanimously backed a motion calling on the government to introduce new measures designed to improve safety standards for taxis.
Councillors Alison Jenner (Vale) and Anne-Marie Simpson (South) proposed the motion at their respective council meetings on 12 and 20 February following significant concerns that national laws and safeguards are no longer fit to serve the current taxi and hackney carriage industry, potentially putting passenger and driver safety at risk.
Taxi licensing regulation was first introduced under the Town Police Clauses Act (1847), a time of horse drawn carriages. Even allowing for the introduction of the Local Government Act (1976), they believe the laws have failed to keep up with changes in technology, meaning they fail to address the fact that many people now book taxi journeys via smartphone apps.
They point out that the current legislation is also inconsistent, with greater requirements placed on private hire vehicles than on hackney carriages. For example, a person who takes bookings for a private hire vehicle must be licensed, but there is no similar requirement for someone who takes bookings for a hackney carriage. This can put passenger safety at risk and makes it very difficult to investigate allegations of improper conduct by drivers of hackney carriages.
Currently, private hire operators who have lost their licence are free to continue to trade using hackney carriages and there are no legal means to stop this from happening or to control their operations. They reference examples of recent issues including hackney carriage ‘operators’ pressuring drivers to work excessively long hours with no proper breaks, and those who fail to maintain their vehicles properly meaning they continually fail safety checks.
They highlight that there are also significant limits on how information can be shared across local authority areas. This means drivers or operators who are facing enforcement action in one area can easily apply for, and be granted, a licence elsewhere in the country. This undermines the purpose of the licensing system and has the potential to put lives at risk.
Following approval of the motion, Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council and Cllr Sue Cooper, Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council, will now write to their respective district's two Members of Parliament, and to the Minister for Transport, to request that the following action be taken:
1 - The Government should move forward without delay on the three key measures recommended to achieve a safe service for passengers in the Taxi and PHV Licensing Task and Finish Group report, namely:
The introduction of a national taxi licensing database;
Some form of cross border enforcement for local authorities;
National minimum standards for licences.
2 - The Government should provide an update in respect of how they propose to deal with cross-border working;
3 - The Government should legislate to require any person taking bookings for more than 1 vehicle to be licensed as an operator, with national standards for the information recorded by licensed operators in respect of bookings.
Cllr Alison Jenner said: “The overriding aim of any licensing authority is to protect the public. The way things currently operate prevents us and our colleagues around the country from having all the tools in place needed to do this. Therefore, we are asking the government to introduce new minimum standards to cover all taxi licensing, along with a national system which allows authorities to access licensing information from across the country.”
Cllr Anne-Marie Simpson said: “We are aware of a number of instances where people’s safety has been put at risk by drivers or operators who are not sufficiently covered by current legislation which undermines the entire industry by treating private hire vehicles differently from hackney carriages. This is neither fair to the drivers and operators involved, or to the public who will expect both the taxi and the driver to be safe and licensed.”