Taxi regulations need to be updated to reflect new technology, help reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation and create a level playing field for drivers, says the Local Government Association (LGA). This is in light of the proliferation of app-based taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) companies and increased cross-border hiring.
Taxi and private hire legislation, much of which dates back to 1847 and horse-drawn hackney carriages, needs strengthening to improve passenger safety, says the LGA. Taxi and private hire vehicle legislation is primarily concentrated in the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
Councils cannot currently take enforcement action against the rising numbers of taxi drivers licensed by other authorities operating in their area. The LGA said this is causing frustration to councils and local drivers who, depending on what the local rules are, may have had to comply with more rigorous licensing standards.
The government has set up a working group to look at the issue over the autumn. The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, said it wants the group to look at the issue of national minimum licensing standards for drivers of taxis and PHVs, a national database of all licensed taxi and PHV drivers, and cross-border hiring.
It is urging the government to support new taxi legislation on taxi and private hire vehicles in order to modernise the licensing system for taxis and PHVs, improve passenger safety and create a level playing field for drivers.
The LGA has recently commissioned the development of a national register of taxi and PHV licenses that have been refused or revoked so councils can check new applicants against the database and update with their own information. However, the LGA says the best way to strengthen safeguarding measures is for government to update taxi laws.
Clive Woodbridge, deputy chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Councils have long argued that there is a need for the existing outdated taxi laws to be updated. The legislation governing aspects of taxis and private hire vehicles pre-dates the motor car and is simply not fit for purpose in an era when mobile phone technology is significantly changing the way people access private hire vehicles.
“In recent years, we’ve seen a number of child sexual exploitation cases that have involved taxi and PHV holders abusing the trust that has been placed in them, so there are strong safeguarding reasons for strengthening current legislation. The onset of mobile phone booking apps for PHVs is causing concern about whether drivers are able to compete on a level playing field and has led to numerous and costly legal challenges that local licensing authorities are being forced to spend public money on.
“Local licensing authorities are trying to work out how new models fit within a legislative framework drafted before mobile phones were even invented, when what is really needed is clarity on a new legislative framework that allows for a 21st century way of doing things fairly for passengers, councils and drivers. The need for reform is now urgent. Councils are doing what they can to strengthen licensing processes, such as commissioning an LGA national register, but we have always said that the best way to strengthen safeguarding is to update legislation, which only government can do.
“It’s encouraging that the government has recognised the need to look at this issue as a matter of urgency, following minister John Hayes’ announcement of a working group to look at this over autumn and report back to him. The LGA looks forward to being part of the working group and is urging government to follow it up by supporting or bringing forward new taxi licensing legislation which benefits passengers, councils and drivers as it is brought before Parliament.”
Transport minister John Hayes, said: “Public safety is our priority. The taxi and private hire sector has changed rapidly in recent years and continues to do so. That’s why my determination is to protect all passengers will be enshrined in our working group, which will look at how the sector can be better regulated. We expect all councils to carry out criminal record checks for every driver and check they have the licenses they need to carry passengers. The government wants to do its bit and I have asked local authorities to be partners in this work as I know they also want to do more to make taxi licensing as good as it can be.”
The LGA is supporting Labour Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner’s Private Member’s Bill, Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill 2017-19, which calls for the prevention of cross-border hiring by taxis. It was presented to Parliament on 19 July 2017 and is due to have its Second Reading on 2 February 2018.
The LGA has also updated its handbook for councillors to provide best practice in taxi licensing, and commissioned the development of a national database of taxi and PHV license refusals and revocations in which councils can record details of individuals who have been refused or revoked. Other councils will be able to check new applicants against this register.
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