Westminster Hall debate: Private Hire Vehicles
29 April 2014
Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs) form an essential part of the transport network, particularly for older or disabled people who rely on taxis and PHVs as their main form of transport. It is therefore vital that regulation of taxis and PHVs continues to ensure that the drivers and vehicles to deliver this service are thoroughly checked to provide the best possible protection and care for passengers.
The Government used the Deregulation Bill Committee Stage to bring forward new clauses on taxi and PHV regulation in advance of the publication of the Law Commission’s in-depth review of Taxi and PHV legislation. Doing so pre-empts the outcome of this more detailed review of all related legislation. As set out in our recent Rewiring Licensing1 proposals, the LGA believes that changes to regulations should be considered in the context of the legislation as a whole, rather than in piecemeal fashion.
We are disappointed that the LGA was not made aware of these proposed clauses until they were brought before the Deregulation Bill Committee. The failure to discuss these proposals with councils in advance of the Parliamentary process significantly reduces the opportunity for councils to provide constructive input on the feasibility of the proposals and their potential impact.
The three new Clauses introduced to the Deregulation Bill by the Government are detailed below along with the LGA’s position.
CLAUSE 8 – PRIVATE HIRE VEHICLES: CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH DRIVER’S LICENCE REQUIRED
We understand the rationale behind this proposal, which seeks to balance professional and reasonable personal usage of a car by PHV drivers and their families. However, we believe that it goes too far and undermines the fact that drivers of PHVs are in a responsible and privileged position and users of these vehicles therefore need to be assured that drivers are thoroughly checked. The LGA therefore believes that this clause is fundamentally flawed as drafted and should be withdrawn.
The clause as it stands permits anyone to drive the licensed vehicle. Should anyone be able to drive a PHV, it would therefore be impossible to be assured that the person driving a vehicle is in fact the person who has been through the proper vetting process for licensed drivers.
The reverse burden of proof in the Clause does not provide the necessary protection and assurances for passengers, as it relies on the vehicle being stopped once the passengers are in it. Unfortunately, licensing officers do not have the power to stop moving vehicles, meaning the opportunity for intervention is limited only to when the passenger is embarking or disembarking. We understand that the Law Commission work may contain a proposal to remedy this, but in the present circumstances councils' ability to maintain safety is seriously undermined if this clause were introduced as drafted.
In principle, we believe the nomination to the council of a specific family member as alternate driver would achieve a more appropriate balance between the greater flexibility for families that the new clause aims to achieve with the need to reduce risk and provide assurances for passengers.
If this clause is amended, it will need to consider a number of important areas of risk. For instance, the investigation and enforcement of traffic offences will be complicated as licensed drivers could claim that their nominated driver was responsible, thereby avoiding a review of their licence to operate as a PHV.
Similarly, vehicles are clearly marked as licensed vehicles and, in many areas, it is not possible to remove these markings to distinguish between times when the vehicle is actively available for hire and when it is not. There is therefore a great risk that people will enter the marked vehicle in the belief that the driver has been through the proper vetting process for licensed drivers. This could be addressed through a strengthened enforcement system, but only limited action could be taken with the present system.
Separately, insurance companies have advised us that many vehicles will not be covered for additional drivers, or for driving outside limited geographical areas, and that the costs may outweigh the benefits for many PHV drivers.
CLAUSE 9 – DURATION OF LICENCES
We support this proposal as drafted, as it is consistent with existing legislation and in line with the principles of a ‘licence for life’ set out in the LGA’s Rewiring Licensing.
It is important that councils are able to retain valid checks on drivers. The reformed Disclosure and Barring Scheme (DBS) now offers the opportunity for councils to be alerted to new convictions when they occur, but only if the individual driver voluntarily signs up to that service. If the driver does not sign up to that additional service, then it may be appropriate to retain more frequent licence renewals to ensure that drivers do not persist in driving after they have been convicted of a relevant offence.
Although courts should already notify councils about any convictions affecting licences, many local courts have failed to ensure this notification system is effectively implemented. We urge government to work with local courts to ensure that this important check is properly implemented
CLAUSE 10 – SUB-CONTRACTING
The LGA opposes this clause on the grounds that the necessary measures to protect the public are not in place. A member of the public may place a booking with a PHV firm for many reasons, including a positive previous experience or familiarity with a local firm. Sub-contracting across licensing areas would mean that the passenger would have no idea of the quality or, in some cases, the name of the company that arrive to deliver the service.
There are also questions about who would retain responsibility in the event that the sub-contractor was unable to deliver the contract (for instance, in the event of a breakdown or puncture), as well as consumer protection issues surrounding the question of how a passenger can identify and complain to the correct licensing authority, which could be on the other side of the country. This is a serious concern, as the legislation currently limits enforcement to a designated officer of the licensing authority, leaving enforcement officers from other councils powerless to intervene even where a journey takes place in a different local area.
The above issues are further complicated by the failure of the clause to specify the number of times that sub-contracting could take place. In theory, the booking could be passed on 5 or 6 times, leaving the passenger with virtually no understanding of who was providing the service, or how to trace the correct route for redress or complaint if something goes wrong.
We understand that the Law Commission proposals for reform may address this issue, enabling this clause to be brought forward again as part of any wider necessary reform. We strongly believe that work on cross-border sub-contracting should wait until the Law Commission has reported.