London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport Val Shawcross has called on the Government to ensure the safety of taxi and private hire passengers nationwide by ending the potentially dangerous practice of cross-border hiring.
Currently drivers of taxis or private hire vehicles can work anywhere in England once they have secured a licence with a licensing authority. It means that drivers can apply to get their licences in an area where they perceive standards are lower, despite having no intention of working there.
This has led to a number of issues across the country including drivers with convictions for violence and sexual offences being granted licences elsewhere despite being refused one by a West Midlands licensing authority; a driver being refused a licence in Doncaster but working in the town after obtaining a licence elsewhere; and one authority licensing 1,000 drivers from their area but more than 6,000 from other areas.
Transport for London has called on the Government to introduce legislation to tackle this problem, and London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, has written to Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani to request a meeting at which cross-border hiring would be discussed. Now a report published today (9 March) by TfL has made clear the need to drive up national standards across the taxi and private hire industries.
TfL and licensing authorities across the country view cross-border hiring as a serious public-safety issue that undermines local licensing regimes. It can create a race to the bottom in terms of licensing standards and significantly restrict the enforcement capabilities of local licensing authorities, which only have limited powers to enforce against ‘out-of-town’ vehicles.
The scale of the problem has also been magnified significantly in recent years through developments in new technology. In London, more than 1,000 drivers have home addresses in Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield, and TfL suspects these drivers rarely, if ever, undertake journeys in the capital.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has made a series of recommendations in the report published today, which are supported by a number of licensing authorities across the country. They are:
To require all taxi and private hire journeys either to start or finish in the area in which the driver, vehicle and operator are licensed.
Set high national minimum standards to provide a consistent approach to customer safety and accessibility.
Create national powers to ensure authorities can enforce national minimum standards in their areas, regardless of where the operator, driver and vehicle is licensed. This would be supported by a provision for data sharing, for example licensing decisions and conduct of licensees, between licensing authorities.
Consider the impact of these issues in Scotland and Wales, and work with respective devolved governments to ensure any future requirements in England are not undermined.
The Mayor also continues to press the Government for the power to cap the number of private hire drivers in London, a statutory definition of ‘plying for hire’ and what constitutes a ‘pre-booked journey’ to help enforcement and prevent illegal activity. Sadiq has consistently called for urgent changes and through his Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan he set out a series of actions to ensure high standards in the industry and that passengers are protected.
Val Shawcross, London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, said: “Cross-border hiring is a serious national safety issue that must be tackled by the Government. It cannot be right that drivers can obtain a licence in an area where they believe standards are lower, and then go to work elsewhere in the country where they feel they can ignore enforcement officers. It’s potentially dangerous and must be stopped. We need the Government to pass legislation now that insists drivers start or finish their journey in their licensing authority and deliver a national minimum standard to help ensure safety of passengers.”
Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging, said: “The legislation governing taxi and private hire services was drawn up before the dramatic changes we have seen in the taxi and private hire market over recent years. It is no longer fit for purpose. We have made a number of recommendations to Government that will bring an end to cross border hiring and the perverse situation where a driver lives over 200 miles away from where they were granted a licence with no intention of working there. The reforms we are proposing such as national minimum standards, national enforcement capabilities and the need for journeys to start or finish where the driver is licensed, are urgently needed to ensure passenger safety nationwide.”
Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the LTDA, said: “Passenger safety is absolutely paramount, and yet the current licensing regulations mean that local authorities can’t control who operates in their area and protect passengers. TfL has put together a fantastic report with some strong recommendations which we at the LTDA fully back. London’s black cab industry provides a gold-standard service to our passengers, and we don’t want to see this undermined by minicabs from other areas that do not comply with TfL’s strict licensing requirements and crucially TfL is unable to enforce against. In London, while cross border hiring remains legal, TfL could set whatever high standards they want to, but a driver could be licensed in the Home Counties where the rules are weaker, and then legally ignore the additional regulations in London. TfL has rightly added additional requirements in London to ensure vehicles are zero emission capable, it cannot be right that a vehicle that does not meet these standards can work 100% of the time in London undermining the high standards expected of the local trade. It’s time the Government closed the loophole in the law and gave TfL and local authorities the powers they need to protect passengers when they get into a cab or a private hire vehicle.”