The Coming of Age?
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the National Taxi Association
In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
The Department for Transport (DFT) state the following in their Best Practice Guidance in respect of vehicle age limits;
“Age Limits: It is perfectly possible for an older vehicle to be in good condition. So the setting of an age limit beyond which a local authority will not license vehicles may be arbitrary and inappropriate. But a greater frequency of testing may be appropriate for older vehicles – for example, twice-yearly tests for vehicles more than five years old.”
Considering the above, it is rather strange the cab trade around the country find themselves very often having to scrap perfectly good vehicles due to local authorities introducing age policies. Indeed, the Law Commission (LC) in last year’s riveting read appeared somewhat confused about age limits when they wrote the following , at 4.58 they stated;
“Age limits can operate as a proxy for governing the overall quality of a vehicle. It is more likely that an older vehicle may have mechanical failings, have damage associated with wear and tear, and be less environmentally friendly. A locality wishing to project a new and modern image of its public transport may regard its taxi and private hire vehicle fleets as a part of that strategy. However, an older vehicle may be well-maintained and in good working order. Department for Transport guidance suggests that the setting of an age limit may be arbitrary and inappropriate, although it may be appropriate to require more frequent testing for older vehicles.”
I am not too sure about the mechanical knowledge of the LC. As a wild and unqualified guess, I would say that whilst they may know a lot about the law – they know practically zero about the internal combustion engine and vehicle mechanics. It is therefore a worry that the LC presumes age limits actually govern the quality of a vehicle without any further qualification. They additionally add, older vehicles may have mechanical failings, quite, I suppose they are unaware of the recalls made to LTC vehicles due to a steering box problem that effectively bankrupted the company last year, or perhaps the great TX fires of 2008 – or indeed the 2.77 million Toyota’s that were recalled worldwide last year. Perhaps they actually meant older vehicles may have mechanical failings and may not have mechanical failings – a bit like every vehicle.
A simple google search will tell anyone with a computer the various recalls manufacturers have made – and looking through the list there have been lots – no manufacturer seems aloof – be they Rolls Royce or Peugeot, the Ford Mondeo has been subject to 20 recalls over a 10-year period.
Naturally, and as alluded to by the DFT, if a local authority has a decent testing regime there is little reason for a older vehicle to be mechanically less sound than a newer vehicle. Yet the LC appear to contradict themselves at 4.58 by stating “A locality wishing to project a new and modern image of its public transport may regard its taxi and private hire vehicle fleets as a part of that strategy” whilst adding in the next sentence “an older vehicle may be well-maintained and in good working order”. They go on to advise about the DFT advice.
The acknowledgement by the LC that a local authority may wish for its taxi and private hire fleets to project a new and modern image is something the cab trade is very aware, this projection has very little to do with the safe carriage of passengers, emission controls, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. If we consider the age of many buses used in public transport each day to carry passengers, with a local authority having no control over the age of a bus – it would seem the projection of “a new and modern image” only applies, as usual, to taxi and private hire.
It could be stated with a hint of sarcasm, the anticipated projection of the modern image falls down quite quickly, when the modern image includes antique buses and boarded up shops.
Most right-minded people would consider “A locality wishing to project a new and modern image” to be an “irrelevant consideration”. In a broadly similar way to how Mr Justice Beatson found Newport Councils consideration of the Ryder Cup irrelevent in Morris, R (on the application of) v Newport City Council  EWHC 3051 (Admin) (27 November 2009).
The LC last year described the following in respect of taxi quantity controls at 15:50 ;
“Quantity restrictions, discussed in detail in Chapter 9, are a blunt instrument.”
If quantity controls are a blunt instrument – what exactly are age limits? It is quite a paradox, the LC will seemingly close its eyes to restrictions on business in respect of vehicle age limits – yet follow the Chicago school doctrine when it comes down to limiting taxi numbers.
NTA members (Gods chosen people), were told by Richard Percival of the LC in Scarborough in 2011;
“A general point here is that this whole deregulatory move is based on the idea that, by and large, open competition in a capitalist economy is the best way of delivering goods and services.”
In effect what the LC appear to be suggesting is that everyone should have the opportunity to play cab owner, it’s just that if you want toplay – you should really have a few quid.
It would appear all that age limits actually achieve are a greater debt for the driver – a servitude is paid to a finance company, in some cases companies with foreign workers help arrange finance, this type of servitude is indentured. The vehicle – certainly a saloon vehicle – is worth a minimal amount once it retires to the big taxi graveyard in the sky. Harsh age restrictions ensure the cycle of debt is continual. Arguably, keeping a vehicle beyond an extended finance agreement almost certainly results in higher repair costs – therefore a fine balance needs struck between a running cost over new vehicle / new finance agreement scenario. -Either guarantees a driver has to work Victorian hours to avoid repossession – especially in those areas that are deregulated.
The occasional justification for age policies are based rather loosely around emissions – the theory is that older vehicles emit more pollution than newer ones. In order to justify emission policies the DfT advise in their guidance at 39;
Local licensing authorities, in discussion with those responsible for environmental health issues, will wish to consider how far their vehicle licensing policies can and should support any local environmental policies that the local authority may have adopted. This will be of particular importance in designated Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs), Local authorities may, for example, wish to consider setting vehicle emissions standards for taxis and PHVs. However, local authorities would need to carefully and thoroughly assess the impact of introducing such a policy; for example, the effect on the supply of taxis and PHVs in the area would be an important consideration in deciding the standards, if any, to be set. They should also bear in mind the need to ensure that the benefits of any policies outweigh the costs (in whatever form).
It would appear even the DfT are slightly sceptical about the overall impact of emissions controls in respect of taxis. Indeed, whilst a local authority can, given justifiable evidence, introduce AQMA, they can, given supporting evidence, also revoke AQMA. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) state on their website;
“Pollutant concentrations may vary significantly from one year to the next, due to the influence of meteorological conditions”.
If a local authority decides to invoke an AQMA, it may therefore only be a short term measure and may be due to “meteorological conditions” – it would therefore seem unreasonable and indeed, unnecessary, for taxis to be included given the potential for the limited time span for the original justification (for the age limit). At the time of writing, 111 AQMA’s have been revoked.
Further to the above, a rather mad friend of mine actually licensed a Toyota Prius as a taxi – as many of you will know – these environmentally friendly vehicles emit very little by the way of emissions – presumably this is because drivers spend more time pushing than driving them. Twisted humour aside, it appears quite mad for a local authority to introduce an age policy based upon emissions and still include such vehicles as part of the overall policy.
I feel we need to return to the policy justification because in my view, if the LC are right (and they seemingly condone), a council introducing age limits because they like shiny new vehicles, then such a policy just isn’t right – indeed its actually perverse. It plays to the ego of councillors whom like the Emperors of Rome decide upon fate – except for the fact they are more or less deciding a person must tie themselves to the world of finance to become a cab owner within their area and in most cases without any true idea of what they will earn.