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UBER-SIZED: Decline in licensed PHV operators shows the few remaining are getting bigger



The transport industry in England is facing a significant decline in licensed PHV (Private Hire Vehicle) operators, according to recent data released by the Department for Transport (DfT).

The figures reveal what could be considered as a concerning drop in the number of licensed operators, indicating potential challenges for the industry.

According to the DfT data, the number of licensed PHV operators in England has decreased by 5.7% to 14,200, compared to the previous year. This decline is also 13.8% lower than the peak number of operators recorded in 2009, which stood at 16,500. The figures indicate a continuous downward trend in the industry over the past few years as smaller locally based operators struggle to compete both on price and in coverage against global ride hail giants like Uber, FREENOW and Bolt .

Specifically, PHV operators in London saw a significant decline of 12.3%, with the number of licensed operators falling to 1,700. Meanwhile, PHV operators outside of London experienced a decrease of 4.7%, with the number dropping to 12,500.


These findings might at first raise concerns over the long-term future of the ride-hailing industry, as the decrease in licensed operators could potentially impact passenger availability, service quality, and overall competition within the market. However, the number of PHV drivers licensed continues to increase, meaning those operators that remain are growing bigger and more powerful in the sector.

In the year ending 31 March 2022, only 1,900 applications were made by new PHV operators, including both new companies entering the industry and existing operators seeking licences from specific licensing authorities.


While the reasons behind this decline are not explicitly stated in the DfT data, it is believed that factors such as increased competition from ride-hailing giants and changes in market dynamics may be contributing to the decrease. The rise of alternative transportation options, such as electric scooters and bike rentals, may also be impacting the demand for licensed PHV operators in some areas of England.


As the decline in licensed PHV operators continues, industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and policymakers must work together to address the challenges faced by the PHV sector.

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