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Why can’t the growing number of private hire vehicles be capped?

Image credit: DALL.E (AI Generated)

The escalating number of private hire vehicles (PHVs) on UK roads has become a contentious issue, drawing significant attention from both industry stakeholders and the public. Despite increasing calls for regulation to cap the number of PHVs, the current legal framework remains unaltered, leaving many to question why such measures have not been implemented.

Paul Elliott from the Department for Transport (DfT) recently addressed this issue, highlighting a critical distinction in the licensing powers available to authorities. Elliott explained that licensing authorities in England are not permitted to limit the number of PHVs they licence. In contrast, authorities outside London can restrict the number of taxis, although this is a power that is rarely exercised. The DfT views such restrictions as potentially harmful to passengers, as they can reduce availability and increase waiting times.

Hackney carriage legislation allows licensing authorities to impose limits if they determine that the current number of licences sufficiently meets public demand. This provision is not extended to PHV licences, which must be pre-booked through licensed operators rather than hailed on the street like hackney carriages.

The proliferation of ride-sharing apps has significantly increased the number of PHVs, leading to intensified calls for new regulatory caps. Industry representatives and taxi drivers have frequently questioned why PHV licences cannot be capped

similarly to hackney carriages. However, the Roads Traffic Act 1985 explicitly states that licensing authorities can only refuse to grant hackney carriage licences if there is no significant unmet demand for such services within their jurisdiction.

Section 16 of the Act outlines: "The grant of a licence may be refused, for the purpose of limiting the number of hackney carriages in respect of which licences are granted. If, but only if, the person authorised to grant licences is satisfied that there is  no significant demand for the services of hackney carriages (within the area to which the licence would apply) which is unmet."

This provision grants authorities the power to manage the number of taxis in operation, ensuring that supply meets demand without exceeding it. However, no equivalent measure exists for PHVs. The absence of similar regulatory powers for PHVs means that their numbers continue to grow unchecked. This unchecked growth poses several challenges. Firstly, it affects the traditional taxi industry, where drivers often face decreased demand and increased competition. Secondly, it raises concerns about urban congestion and environmental impact, as more vehicles flood the roads.


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