Transport Committee Select Committee Announcement

REPORT: Taxis and private hire vehicles: the road to reform

Replace outdated taxis and PHV regulations

Rules governing taxis and private hire vehicles need urgent and wholesale reform, say MPs.

The problems posed by taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) operating outside of the district in which they are licensed – the phenomenon called ‘cross-border hire’ – cannot be solved without new legislation says the Transport Select Committee in a report published today.

Launching the report, committee Chair Louise Ellman said, “The rules for taxis date back to 1847 and still refer to horse-drawn carriages. The rules for PHVs were set down in 1976 and are now out-of-date due to the growth of mobile phones and the internet. The age of this legislation and the complexity of case law accumulated in this area makes the need to overhaul the law on these matters irresistible.

“The Government wants to refer the matter to the Law Commission. We believe a more effective approach would be for the Government to work with the trade, local authorities and user groups to develop and bring forward new legislation within the lifetime of this parliament.”

The following principles should underpin new legislation, says the Committee:

* Listen to the views of users: particularly vulnerable groups such as the disabled who rely on taxis and PHVs;

* Keep it simple: Combine the legislation on taxis and PHVs in one Act. The distinction between taxi and PHV services could be maintained by providing for two types of vehicle licence under the same legislation.

* Keep it local: Licensing should remain a local function. Taxis and PHVs should however feature more prominently in local transport plans and Government should issue guidance to local authorities about how to ensure they do.

* Permit tighter restrictions on cross border hire: Make it possible for licensing authorities to impose a condition that requires private hire vehicles and drivers to operate principally from within their licensing district. Permit local authorities to issue fixed penalty notices to out-of-town drivers found to have worked/sought work for a specified period of time within a district where they do not hold a licence. Likewise, with due warning, make it easier for authorities to prosecute operators sending vehicles to work in areas for which they hold no licence.

* Increase the potential for local authorities to work together to create larger licensing districts.

* Develop national licensing standards on certain issues which relate to public safety, notably for CRB checks, the road-worthiness of vehicles, and the ability of drivers whose licenses have been revoked by one authority to seek a new license in a different area.

Fulani Herdsmen Orders Cows To Kill…

a cow yesterday

Two Fulani herdsmen, who allegedly caused their cattle to chase and gore a man killing him on the spot, have been arrested by the Begoro police.

The body of the man, identified as Noah Tetteh, a 57-year-old farmer, has been deposited at the Begoro Government hospital mortuary and the two Fulani herdsmen, Mohamadu Sambo, 35 and Osmanu Bawa, 30, would be put before the Begoro Magistrate Court today. The eastern Regional Police Commander, ACP Kwabena Gyamera-Yemoah told the Times newspaper that on July 15, this year at about 7:30 pm, one Robert Kwesi Owusu, a taxi-driver whose car registration number is GR 151Q was driving some passengers from the Begoro to Obuo, a town in the Fanteakwa District.

He said, Owusu on reaching a spot met bout 150 cattle being shepherded by a number of Fulani herdsmen. Owusu’s taxi hit one cattle but it did not die. ACP Gyamera-Yeboah said the Fulani herdsmen then allegedly made a strange sound and the cattle responded to it and started attacking the passengers on board the taxi.

He said the passengers together with the driver then ran into a nearby bush for safety but they were still chased by the two angry cattle. Unfortunately, one of the men was chased by the two cattle, who gored him to death. ACP Gyamera Yeboah said the Begoro police rushed to the scene to the scene upon a tip off and succeeded in arresting Sambo and Bawa

Ageing Newport taxis win reprieve from axe

A PROPOSED ban on licensing city taxis 15 years old or older looks set to be dropped.

William Routley, Newport council cabinet member for regulation, said he would not include the age restrictions in a consultation on taxi regulations because of the current economic climate.

The city’s licensing committee has recommended a new set of rules on taxis, which included plans to stop cars 15 years or older being licensed as a hackney carriage or a private hire vehicle, be put to people in the city.

Cars already licensed were due to be exempt from the age restrictions.

However the final decision on what goes out to consultation is down to Mr Routley, who says he will not move ahead with the taxi age idea.

“What we are trying to do is taken the burden of price away without jeopardising safety,” said Mr Routley.

“We have enough checks in place to ensure the safety of all vehicles, as much as any other authority.”

Mr Routley said they are also looking at plating cars just once every 12 months, as opposed to the two tests a year done currently.

He said that an idea to test vehicles over ten years old three times a year would remain in the consultation, which would he said would be launched when he was satisfied with the documentation on the regulations.

But he added: “There’s nothing written on tablets of stone.”

Lionel Morris of the Newport Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Association said he’s happy the taxi age limit proposal has gone: “I would prefer it not to happen because of the economic situation at the moment.”

But he added he would like to see the three-yearly test idea dropped as well: “Welike to see cars plated once a year.”

However he said he didn’t knowanything about the taxi age proposals until the Argus first published them on July 4, but said he has spoken to Mr Routley about them since then.


Tendring cabbies will be forced to smarten up

CABBIES could be forced to smarten up and take a local version of the London drivers’ Knowledge test.

Tendring Council has drawn up plans to improve the district’s taxi service introducing a new dress code, knowledge tests, plus new exams and character reference checks.

Drivers who fit the bill, or surpass expectations, would be in the running for a best driver award, with a year’s free taxi licence as the prize.

Colin Bennett, of Tendring District Taxi Association, welcomed the proposals.

He said: “I’ve always been of the opinion you should be smart, polite and have your car clean and tidy and in tip-top condition.

“I’m in favour of anything positive which will enhance the Hackney carriage trade in the eyes of the public in Clacton and Tendring.”

Under the proposals – to be discussed by councillors next week – all taxis would be painted white, with green boots and bonnets and the council’s crest on their front doors.

The council says the aim is to make Tendring’s the best taxi service in Essex.


Taxi industry set for huge changes

IMMINENT changes to legislation in Northern Ireland are causing concern among taxi operators across the rest of the UK.

Three years on from the passing of the Taxis Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 in the assembly, the implications of the new rules are about to be felt by local drivers — with taxi drivers in other regions expressing fears of a similar shake-up.

The changes will bring about a “single tier” taxi licensing system, leading to customers being able to hail private hire cabs in the street. Under existing legislation, it is illegal for a private hire taxis to pick up a fare that hasn’t been pre-booked.

Belfast’s public hire (black taxi) drivers are vehemently opposed to the changes, claiming they will be forced out of business.

Many taxi driver web forums in mainland Britain have published concerns that the changes will threaten their own livelihoods once established in the province.

“If the UK’s mainland taxi industry thinks this is an ‘across-the-water’ issue and they shouldn’t worry about it, well, perhaps they should think again,” is one typical comment.

Following a recent consultation with all relevant stakeholders at Stormont, the changes are expected to be rolled out within months, with all aspects of the bill introduced by 2015.

Environment committee chairwoman Anna Lo said the changes are “good news for consumers” and have come about as a result of complaints from customers.

“Once this system is implemented, then you can put your hand up to any taxi coming down the road and hail the taxi — this will increase the number of available taxis all over Northern Ireland,” the Alliance MLA said.

“Also, there will be meters for all taxis and there will be a maximum fare so that disabled people will not be told there is an extra charge for putting in an extra bit of wheelchair.”

Kevin Doherty, of Disability Action, said the bill is an important piece of legislation that “makes sure people with disabilities can no longer be discriminated against when using taxi services”.

“Disability Action welcomes the fact that the environment committee has asked the department to ensure that people with disabilities are treated fairly in regard to fares and access,” he said.

Proprietor of Fon a Cab private hire company, William McCausland, explained that requests for specific kinds of vehicles can lead to varying charges but said there was no question of disabled customers being overcharged.

“As far as I am concerned, the more regulation and the more enforcement, the better for everyone,” Mr McCausland said.

A spokeswoman for the Consumer Council acknowledged the “important role” played by taxis and said: “We strongly support the objectives of the Taxi Act to raise service standards within the industry, deter unlicensed taxiing and to improve consumer protection, safety and accessibility.”

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the minister “is very aware of the potential impact of the proposals, and will in particular listen to the environment committee, taxi drivers and operators”.

Taxi tout squad hit three terminals

HUNDREDS of cars were stopped in a taxi tout operation at Heathrow terminal’s 1, 3 and 5 resulting in three arrests.

The joint multi agency operation targeted licensed private hire and illegal taxi trades with around 600 vehicles stopped on June 21.

Three drivers were arrested for providing an illegal minicab service hours after the drive began, in a continuous effort by officers to clamp-down on the unlawful action.

In addition, 77 drivers were reported or received a warning for minor licensing violations found by the councils, 33 people were reported by the Public Carriage Office (PCO) for not having their badges, and 16 drivers were held accountable by the police for a range of offences.

Also bailiffs recovered £3,000 in unpaid fines while one vehicle was seized for no insurance and four drivers were reported for having unfit vehicles.

Kersten Peters, tout squad officer, said: “These operations clearley show that by working together in partnership with other agencies we can reassure the traveling public and the legitimate licensed trade of our continued commitment to monitor offenders and take positive action when required.”

Seven police departments, 15 councils and two national enforcement agencies were outside the terminals between 5am to 9pm conducting the operation.

The teams circled the drop-off and pick up zones to carry out the stop and check procedures ensuring drivers were in full compliance of the rules and regulations set out by the Public Carriage Office (PCO) and councils.


Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Investigates Surcharges in the UK Travel Industry

Are Surcharges on Debit and Credit Cards Legal? The OFT investigates

The UK travel industry is under the scrutiny of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) as the legality of surcharges levied on debit and credit card transactions is called into question.

Across the entire travel industry, the airlines are the worst offenders (and are taking much of the media flack!), but a ruling in this area could change booking processes in other areas of the travel industry.

Mark King from the Guardian investigates the issue.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to tackle “rip-off” surcharges levied on debit and credit card transactions by travel companies, particularly airlines which it said raked in £300m through this in 2009.

Following an investigation into the passenger transport sector, the OFT found considerable evidence of companies using “drip pricing” practices, whereby charges are added only after consumers have filled in a number of web pages during their purchase. It said this is “particularly prevalent” in the airline sector, but fell short of naming individual companies.

It has threatened passenger travel companies with enforcement action if they do not change such misleading debit and credit card surcharging practices.

Earlier this year consumer rights group Which? lodged a super complaint with the OFT to try and stamp out the practice, claiming that the actual cost to the retailer for processing card transactions was no more than 20p for debit cards and no more than 2% on credit cards.

It found that a family of four booking a return flight with Ryanair would be charged £40 to pay by debit or credit card; train booking site the Trainline added a £3.50 charge for paying by credit card; and Eurostar charged £4. London cab firms Dial-a-Cab and Radio Taxis added 12.5% to the cost of their fares for paying with a debit or credit card, and Addison Lee charged £4.40.

In early June, Monarch Airlines scrapped all debit card booking fees and said payments by credit card would trigger a flat fee of £10 a booking. Monarch chief executive Conrad Clifford said the charging shake-up was intended to provide an “upfront, transparent and simple to understand” policy.

The OFT is now calling on the government to ban debit card surcharges, but said companies could still impose credit card transaction fees as they are more costly to process, provided they meet minimum transparency requirements.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the OFT’s goods and consumer group, said: “You can’t buy online with cash and people are frustrated about being asked to pay for paying. Consumers find it harder to shop around and find the best deal if they have to invest time and effort in discovering surcharges. This also weakens competition between retailers which is bad news for the UK economy.

“Many traders already meet the minimum standards we expect under the law and we have secured a clear commitment to change from others. However, we will take enforcement action against any businesses that do not respond to today’s announcement and instead continue to use misleading surcharging practices.

“We believe there is also a strong case for a change in the law so that the cost of using a debit card – the almost universal payment method for today’s online consumers – is always included within the headline price.”

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, said the announcement was a “victory for consumers”: “Thousands of people have told Which? that hidden or excessive card fees are unfair, and we’re delighted that the OFT supports this view.

“We want to see the measures recommended by the OFT put in place as quickly as possible, and finally put an end to the practice of card surcharging. While we understand that some of the regulatory changes will take some time, we urge the OFT to take steps immediately to ensure that consumers know the true cost of their purchases upfront.”

But critics argued that the OFT had not gone far enough. Labour MEPs said the government should act under EU law to outlaw all unfair credit and debit card charges, not just those applied to debit cards. Catherine Stihler, Labour’s spokesperson in the European parliament on consumer affairs, said: “Consumer laws agreed by the European parliament last week make it clear that unfair surcharges for all means of payment must be made illegal in the UK before 2014.

“It is one thing to pass a genuine additional cost on to the consumer, it is quite another to use surcharges and fees as a means of making additional cash by misleading consumers. The government should act sooner rather than later and bring in legislation to challenge all rip-off card fees as a matter of urgency.”

Martin Lewis of agreed, adding: “The OFT doesn’t have the power to force companies to actually change their pricing and make surcharges proportionate. What we need is a law that says for online transactions the core price advertised must be what you would pay by using a debit card.

“The current system of budget airline surcharges for both debit and credit cards is a scam – if charges are effectively compulsory, the budget airlines need to man-up and put them in the full price.”

An easyJet spokesman said the company would be unlikely to cease credit and debit card surcharges if its competitors continued to levy them. He said: “We’ve built our reputation on making airline prices simple and transparent. While we are happy to support a move toward making charges fairer – and legislation would be a step towards this – if we move unlitaterally we would put ourselves at a disadvantage. Many of our seats are sold by third parties and we would be at a disadvantage if they continued to add surcharges and we did not.”

What charges is the OFT targeting?

Some companies add surcharges to transactions when customers pay by credit or debit card. Often, these charges are not immediately apparent because if a company allows a niche payment system such as Visa Electron to be free, they can then legally exclude the surcharges from their core price. Worse, it often takes customers until the fifth or sixth web page in the booking process before they are presented with the additional fees.

Who is doing it?

Many companies charge customers for credit card transactions because they incur costs as a result (though the amount they pass on to customers varies wildly), whereas fewer impose debit card fees. Which? estimates debit card transactions cost companies no more than 20p, meaning any charge to the customer is clearly unfair. It is debit card fees the OFT is seeking to abolish.

Who are the debit card offenders?

Disneyland Paris charges UK customers a whopping £9 to pay by debit or credit card – arguably a tax on family fun with the summer holidays approaching. EasyJet charges £8 to pay by debit card unless customers use a Visa Electron card – highly unlikely as only 11% of the UK adult population owns one.

Similarly, Ryanair charges £6 for debit transactions unless customers use a MasterCard prepaid debit card, but less than 5% of the adult population has a pre-paid Mastercard.

By contrast, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Eurostar do not charge anything for debit card transactions. A Eurostar spokesman said: “Companies should not a charge a surcharge for debit card bookings and they must be fully transparent about any credit card surcharges they apply.”

Are credit card fees as high?

Which? claims companies incur costs of no more than 2% of the total transaction value for processing bookings made by credit card, so this surcharge is at least understandable if equally unwelcome. EasyJet slaps an £8 fee on credit card transactions plus a further 2.5% of the total transaction value (with a minimum charge of £4.95, whichever is greater) if customers use a Visa credit card, Mastercard, Diners Club, American Express, Carte Bleue or UATP/Airplus card. This is disproportionately high. By contrast, Ryanair charges £6, British Airways charges £4.50, Virgin Atlantic asks for 1.5% of the total transaction value and Eurostar charges £4.

Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Investigates Surcharges in the UK Travel Industry


Newport taxi age plan returns

NEWPORT council is again looking at putting age limits on taxis almost two years after it lost a court case on the same issue.

Under the proposals laid out in a council report, cars 15 years old or older could not be newly licensed as a hackney carriage or a private hire vehicle.

Newport licensing committee will look at the draft proposals next week as part of a new set of regulations.

Newport council tried to introduce age limits in 2009, with tighter restrictions of 12 years for hackney carriages and eight years for private hire cars.

But the same year the Newport Hackney Carriage Drivers Association won a judicial review against the plans, forcing the council to re-consult over changes to its regulations.

The new report is intended to prevent older cars being used.

But drivers who already have a vehicle licensed would be exempt until they change their vehicle or the licence is transferred to a different proprietor.

As well as the age limits, the council will also look at alternatives including testing vehicles over ten-years-old three times a year.

Other proposals include new checks on drivers to make sure they have the right to work within the EU and criminal record checks on drivers.

The proposals will be put to licensing committee tomorrow.

Eco backing for Smart “private-hire” idea

Peterborough City Council chiefs plan to slash red tape to allow a one passenger-only ‘private-hire vehicle’ to operate in the city.

The move comes after bosses of Green Leaf Cars, in Lynch Wood, Peterborough, applied to have their environmentally-friendly Smart Cars – which carry only a driver and one passenger – licensed to be used as private hire vehicles in Peterborough.

The eco-friendly firm, which has been operating in the city for a month using a hybrid Toyota Prius, hopes to attract passengers to the smaller ‘private-hire vehicles’ by being able to introduce a smaller fare.

But before they can take to the road, Peterborough City Council will have to change licensing regulations to allow the Smart Fortwo to be used as a ‘private-hire vehicle’.

Current regulations say a private hire vehicle should have five doors and an engine size of 1300cc, while the Smart has just 799cc. However, it will travel about 85 miles on a gallon of fuel and has carbon dioxide emissions of only 87 grams per kilometre

The application would see the Smart used for single passenger journeys only, but there would be enough room in the car for luggage or a wheelchair.

Tod Howard, owner of the firm, said he hoped the cars would be on the road by the end of the summer.

Mr Howard said: “We are the first company to run a hybrid vehicle in Peterborough, and we will be the first to run a Smart if we are successful in our application.

“Because of the cheaper running and purchase costs, fares could be reduced by up to 20 per cent.

“We have had a great reaction from people since introducing the Prius, and we are sure the Smart will get a similar reaction.

“We have chosen Peterborough because of its environmental capital aspirations.

“We work very hard to be as environmentally friendly as possible. We were looking at possibly using electric vehicles in our fleet, but there are not enough charging points available.

“Often you see dozens of ‘taxis’ waiting in the city, and it is not very green – we hope that in the future more firms will switch to cars like a Smart.”

Ian Robinson, the city council’s enforcement regulatory officer, said: “Statistics from the National Travel Survey suggest that depending on the time or day, around 40 per cent of all taxi and private hire journeys involve a single passenger.

“Using a Smart car for these single passenger journeys is better for the environment than a larger vehicle, and supports our ambition to be as clean and green as possible in every aspect of our work.”

Kim Coley, green business officer at Peterborough Environment City Trust, said: “Green Leaf Cars, which is working towards top level green accreditation, is doing everything possible to be the greenest private hire company in Peterborough.

“It drives some of the greenest vehicles on the market and does not use paper in the office. Being the greenest private hire company in Peterborough is an amazing statement for Green Leaf to make. Its businesses like these that will build a great reputation for themselves and be promoted throughout the city.”

People are being invited to comment on the proposed change in licensing requirements.

Comments should be made in writing to the Taxi Enforcement Office, The Bungalow, Bridge House, Peterborough, PE1 1HU, by July 31.

Wakefield taxis face massive shake up

Licensing bosses in Wakefield are lining up a sweeping review of the city’s taxis.

The changes will include a rise in fares, the introduction of a knowledge test for drivers and a new requirement for all operators to have held a UK licence for a minimum of two years.

The measures will be debated at a meeting of the licensing sub committee tomorrow.

Introducing a knowledge test would mean hackney carriage and private hire drivers would have to sit a test which would include basic literacy and numeracy, local knowledge and customer care.

A report to the committee says the knowledge test would apply to new applicants, drivers who have had a substantiated public complaint and any licence holders who have asked for an interpreter at any formal meeting with the council.

The report adds: “The test will be set to the appropriate standard ensuring that all applicants have the same knowledge of the Wakefield district enabling them to provide a consistent level of customer service to both citizens of Wakefield and those persons visiting irrespective which form of transport they use.”

At the same meeting, the committee will also consider a fares increase for council controlled hackney carriages. Increases would include a rise from £2 for the first part mile to £3, 6am to midnight, and £3.50 from midnight to 6am.

Each subsequent 10th of a mile up to five miles would go up from 10p to 14p, 6am to midnight, and 16p, midnight to 6am.

A “soiling charge” of £30 would also be introduced.

The committee will also discuss the introduction of new regulations that would mean all newly applying private hire and hackney carriage drivers would need to have held a driving licence for a minimum of two years.

A report to the committee recommends the measures “to ensure that those persons making application to become a private hire or hackney carriage driver within the district are competent in their driving ability”.