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The role of the DfT in the taxi industry: What are the strengths and weaknesses in the system?

The role of the Department for Transport (DfT) in the taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) industry has long been discussed, but now a more definitive meaning has been provided as part of an intriguing new handbook for councillors.

The new handbook called ‘Councillor Handbook: Taxi and PHV Licensing’ was produced with the aim to help councillors understand more of the key issues concerning taxi and Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) licensing.

Included in the handbook produced by the Local Government Association (LGA) is a section which focuses on the work the DfT do within the taxi industry.

According to the LGA, the DfT’s role is that of ‘regulatory ownership and maintenance of the regulatory framework’ for taxis and private hire vehicles. The Department collects and publishes statistics on an annual basis and produces statutory and best practice guidance to assist local councils in carrying out their taxi and PHV licensing functions.

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced the power for government to produce statutory guidance in relation to taxi licensing to prevent harm to children and vulnerable adults. New statutory taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) standards were published in July 2020 replacing the previous best practice guidance. Licensing authorities must have regard to these statutory standards when exercising their functions.

The focus of the new standards is on safeguarding with recommendations centred on ensuring robust decision-making processes and procedures are in place for licensing drivers and operators, rather than on vehicle standards. The standards include a number of recommendations that the LGA has pushed for on behalf of its members, including enhanced driver safety checks and safeguarding and disability awareness training as well as recommending councils use the LGA’s national register of taxi and PHV driver licence refusals and revocations (NR3).

The DfT have also committed to updating best practice guidance that they issue to taxi and PHV licensing authorities soon.

The LGA then goes on to list some of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. The handbook reads:

“Councils have a wide range of powers that can be used to regulate taxis and PHVs, protecting the public and supporting local economies; but there are also some anomalies within the existing system.

“Local councils have the power to attach conditions to the licences of operators, taxis (vehicles), PHVs, and PHV drivers, but not the licences of taxi drivers. They can also influence the local context in which vehicles operate, and a range of licensing policies have been developed to do this by councils. However, over time this has led to a variety of different standards being applied and a lack of consistency.

“Many licensing authorities have reviewed and strengthened their licensing policies following high profile cases of taxi and PHV licensing being linked to child sexual exploitation. However, these efforts have been undermined by out of area working by drivers who have been licensed in other areas where the licensing requirements may not be as strict. For example, some councils have introduced a mandatory CCTV policy which drivers licensed with them are required to comply with, but out of area drivers can continue to operate without CCTV because they are subject to different licensing conditions.

“This has caused huge frustration to councils and local drivers who have complied with more rigorous standards, and the LGA has argued that this could be addressed by the introduction of greater national consistency through national minimum standards. Whilst we are pleased that the Government has published new statutory standards which may go some way to raising standards, this does not negate the need for wider reform.

“Out of area working has increased significantly partly due to new app-based models which make it easier for individuals to book a PHV that is licensed elsewhere. As well as varying driver and vehicle standards, another key issue for councils is the limited enforcement powers they have to take action against PHVs that are licensed by another authority.

“First and foremost, councils have no ability to stop vehicles, which leaves them only able to intervene when a vehicle is stationary, and unable to prevent it being driven off – only the police may stop a vehicle.

“Secondly, a council may only take action against a vehicle or driver that it has licensed, meaning that there is absolutely nothing that a council can do if a vehicle or driver licensed elsewhere is operating in their area, other than complain to the ‘home’ authority.

“The LGA has argued that enforcement officers should be able to take action against any PHV operating in their area. As set out later on, councils have explored and started to implement the use of joint enforcement or joint warranting agreements at a regional level, which allow licensing enforcement officers to enforce against vehicles which have been licensed in other areas, an approach that is recommended in the statutory standards. However, these agreements only extend to those authorities who agree this at the local level.

“The issues above highlight how outdated legislation is no longer fit for purpose and the LGA continues to call for new legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible. Whilst in the short term there is no commitment to a complete overhaul of the licensing regime, new statutory standards should address at least some of the key issues facing councils.”


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