Law Commission Consultation On Taxis & Private Hire Services
May 10th, 2012 by Louise Humphreys
Posted In: Licensing
In July 2011, the Law Commission agreed to undertake a law reform project on the law of taxis and private hire vehicles. The Commission has just published a consultation on proposed changes which will run until 10 August 2012.
The Commission's stated aim is "to clarify and simplify the existing law on taxis and private hire vehicles and to promote more consistency in bottom-line safety standards across England and Wales, including better provision for disabled passengers". Another key aim is identified as "to deregulate aspects not linked to protecting public safety in order to encourage more competitive services".
The Commission is not proposing major changes to the way in which licensing is administered and enforced. As now, local authorities would be responsible for issuing licences, and for taking action (with the police) against those who break the law. In respect of taxis, local authorities would continue to have a standard setting role, over and above the national minimum safety standards. In addition, matters such as topographical knowledge, fares and local requirements (such as the turning circle requirement in London) could continue to apply.
The main changes that might follow from the provisional proposals include:
- National minimum safety standards for both taxis and private hire vehicles.
- Changes to standard-setting: additional local standards, above the national standards, would continue to apply to taxis (for example, topographical knowledge and vehicle requirements). However, for private hire vehicles, only the national standards would apply and there would be no scope for additional local standards.
- It would be easier for private hire services to operate on a national basis. It is suggested that private hire operators would no longer be restricted to accepting or inviting bookings only within a particular locality; nor to only using drivers or vehicles licensed by the same licensing authority. Subcontracting would be allowed, as is already the case in London.
- London would be regulated under the same flexible framework as the rest of England and Wales.
- Licensing authorities could no longer limit the number of taxi licences.
- More enforcement powers for licensing officers against out-of-borough vehicles and drivers.
- Disability awareness training for drivers.
- Introduction of a statutory definition of "plying for hire" (but without changing it in substance).
- Weddings and funeral cars would no longer be exempted through primary legislation.
- Allowing leisure use of taxis and private hire vehicles.
- Bringing more vehicles within the licensing system (including for example limousines, motorbikes and pedicabs) - but giving the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers power to make exclusions, and to set separate standards, in respect of different categories of vehicle.
- Clearer exclusions for volunteers and other services where transport is not the main service provided, such as childminders.
- Powers for government to issue binding statutory guidance to create greater consistency in how taxi and private hire legislation is applied.
In addition, the Commission is also seeking views about the following:
- A new category of wheelchair accessible vehicles;
- Extending operator licensing to taxi radio circuits;
- Possible use of the term "taxi" in respect of private hire services if used in phrases like "pre-booked taxi only";
- Reintroducing a (revised) contract exemption;
- Improving the enforcement powers of licensing officers; and
- A new "peak time" taxi licence that could only be used at particular times of day as decided by the licensing authority.