I’d rather be playing golf
General thoughts on the Deregulation Bill
The views expressed in this column may (definitely aren’t) the views of the National Taxi Association
My position in respect of taxi and private hire law has been very consistent; I didn’t and still don’t believe any change should occur. The law is perfectly straightforward, despite its age.
Local authorities have every tool available to effectively police the taxi and private hire industries – sadly some local authorities have absolute tools working for them, but that article is for another day.
I suppose in many respects taxi and private hire law is like buses, you wait 150 years then two arrive at once.
Back in 2011 the Law Commission (LC) were invited (and paid some 1/3 of a million quid) to look at, change and modernise taxi and private hire licensing law. The results of this enquiry were initially due earlier this year – but through one thing or another, their thoughts and final views didn’t surface until May.
During this time, the Department for Transport (DFT) carried out (in January) what is known as a ‘quickie’ consultation, giving selected stakeholders a minimal time to respond and (considering how the taxi trades views have been treated, the term is quite apt).
For whatever reason, but most presumably, because they could, the DFT chose to add three things to the Deregulation bill. This was obviously in despite the imminent deliberations of the LC being revealed.
The changes proposed were / are as follows;
Allowing private hire operators to sub-contract bookings to operators licensed in a different district. This change will improve operators’ ability to meet passengers’ needs. And it will help to make the passenger’s experience so much more convenient
Allowing anyone with an ordinary driver’s licence to drive a private hire vehicle when it is “off-duty”. The principal benefit of this measure is that a PHV could be used as a family car, freeing up many families from the need to run a second car and saving them money.
Making the standard duration for all taxi and PHV driver licences three years; and five years for all PHV operator licences. Shorter durations will only be granted on a case by case basis, where it is justifiable for a particular reason. This will reduce the financial and administrative burden of having to make more frequent licence renewals.
The above changes went with seeming lightening speed through the House of Commons, this was in despite of being called “ill-thought through” and “reckless” by the opposition. Indeed Labour’s bid to block changes to the taxi-licensing regime was subject to a vote, and was subsequently defeated by 285 votes to 206, a majority of 79.
At the time of writing, the bill has had its second reading in the House of Lords; it is now to go to the Committee stage – this is a line-by-line examination of the Bill, which is yet to be scheduled although likely to be in the autumn.
Naturally, I would expect many of you to wonder what all the fuss is about. At face value the proposed changes wouldn’t appear to be overly harsh, indeed they seemingly bring the rest of the country (except the Peoples Republic of Plymouth) into line with legislation already in place in London.
Of course, you are presuming that everything in London is fine and dandy. I mean there were 111 reported rapes by minicab drivers in London during 2010 alone – The Havens, a network of specialist sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) located across London, estimate that only 10-20% of rape victims actually report that they have been attacked – the truer figure is likely to be actually horrific.
Indeed, those holding London up to be the leading light of all things licensed always appear to neglect to mention the touts, the illegal minicab ranks and seemingly ‘blind eye’ turned by the authorities that are regularly reported via the excellent taxileaks blog.
So what could possibly go wrong allowing non-licensed drivers to drive licensed vehicles?
If you then consider the government is to allow sub contracting across district borders – then consider some local authorities will give a PH Operators license to a operator who basically has a one vehicle fleet, where jobs are accepted via the mobile phone – it could well transpire that local authorities with the least onerous conditions will be sourced.
Now before you start saying Casey, you’re losing the plot, you’re a scaremonger, a similar thing currently happens with Hackney Carriages where some silly councils issue licenses knowing the vehicle and driver will never be seen anywhere near the area of the license. In doing so they also know the driver and the vehicle will not be checked – because carrying out an enforcement operation 100 miles away is a lot more difficult than carrying out an enforcement operation 100 yards away (and that is seemingly difficult enough for some LA’s).
So in theory, a situation could arise where a vehicle is licensed in Kent and works in Carlisle. Nobody (except for a rozzer) has the power to stop the vehicle, and if nobody stops the vehicle, nobody will know who’s driving it – but that doesn’t matter anyway because the law has been changed to allow anyone to drive it (for non work purposes only though….nudge, nudge).
Of course we have large private hire operators who are wanting these changes – we in the taxi trade were after all sternly told by the private hire lobby, with a pointy wagging finger;
“In a modern Britain there should be no ‘invisible borders’ or ‘barriers to free trade’, as protectionism and outdated thinking belongs to yesterday.”
These same people now see the likes of global apps such as ‘Uber’ as a massive threat, they accuse these companies, with a straight face, of ‘not playing by the rules’. Pardon me whilst I just shed a tear.
The icing on the cake is the 3-year driver badges and 5-year operator licenses.
Considering between Carlisle and Newcastle there are four speed cameras (Corby Hill, Low Row, Greenhead & Hexham) – I could lose my license with interest going there and back – yet if I don’t inform my local authority I may not be checked for another three years. Yeah, they’ll make it a condition that I tell them if I commit any offence and yeah, if I tell them they’ll revoke my badge – but what if I don’t? I mean its not as if this hasn’t happened before.
Indeed, what if I commit a more ‘serious’ offence and don’t tell them – I don’t inform the court of my occupation and spend 6 months in jail for burglary. Is there a system in place with the correct checks and balances where my council is informed? Especially if I live in say, Manchester and license my cab and good self many miles away in Rossendale?
On the other hand, will they have to wait until my new DBS check comes back in two and a half years time?
Yes I realise some local authorities already issue 3 year driver licenses, yes I know this matches up with medicals and DBS checks – but surely this is a matter of the locals being the ones who are best placed to decide? Surely public safety comes before driver and operator convenience?
Ironically, if Uber does take off, and facing facts its currently worth $19 Billion and going up in value on a daily basis, the five-year operator license would be a speculative punt at best because drivers will (and are) leaving private hire operators in their droves into the open arms of Uber.
I don’t know if PH operators are completely silly – I presume they aren’t because I’m the poorest person in England, and they’re all as rich as Lannister’s. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if a PH operator in say Newcastle upon Tyne brings out an app – the chances are it will be used – but predominantly by their own customers. They won’t really attract new customers, because they’ll already have an app with their own favourite private hire company.
Indeed, the cross border issue, which I am very much against, could well work out to be of greater benefit to Uber than it is to the large private hire cartels that rather foolishly want it – after all it makes the global apps potential pool of drivers a lot larger.
The danger of the deregulation bill, or perhaps godsend (I am undecided which is worse), is that the Law Commission’s proposed laws will never come to fruition. For the many flaws of what the Law commission propose, I will give them credit in so far as they have discussed and sometimes been persuaded by argument – the DfT to their discredit have not.
The Law Commission for example see it as imperative that national standards are in place and that all licensing departments have power to check vehicles (and drivers) within their districts – whether or not they license them.
To this end, even though I disagree with some proposals – I acknowledge they do have a vision for their creation. Whereas it is difficult to see what the DfT and their deregulation bill has a vision of, if anything at all, but to satisfy the greed and egos of a few large operators.