On 23 May the Law Commission for England and Wales presented its final report and draft Bill on Taxi and Private Hire Services.
It presented its recommendations to the government and awaits its response . Given the fact the UK goes to the polls next year, it is not very likely there will be much action on this front before then. This project received the highest amount of responses on a Law Commission review ever. It aims at keeping the distinction between taxis and private hire, suggests continuing local licensing including national quality standards and hopes to set standards and numbers for service to people with mobility handicaps.
The project reviewed the legal framework relating to taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) across England and Wales with a view to simplifying and modernizing it. Taxis and PHVs are an important part of local transport. They operate in highly regulated markets where safety and quality control are paramount. Licensing covers key areas such as the fitness of drivers, accessibility requirements, taxi fare regulation and restrictions on the number of taxi licenses issued.
The project started in the summer of 2011, as part of the Law Commission’s Eleventh Programme of law reform. The project had originally been proposed by the Department for Transport, which has policy responsibility in this area. The Law Commission published a consultation paper with provisional proposals for reform on 10 May 2012. It then invited responses to these proposals between May and October 2012. The Commission also had discussions with experts in the field, including an advisory group and an expert legal panel on ‘plying for hire’. The term ‘plying for hire’ is one of the core legal concepts used to describe the work undertaken by taxis under current law).
Spring 2013 the Commission published the responses it had received plus an interim statement in setting out the key policy conclusions in advance of the final report, published May 23, surprised by the large number of responses: “We received over 3.000 responses to our consultation, the highest ever number of responses to a Law Commission consultation. We are very grateful for the time and effort that stakeholders have put in to respond to our consultation. The responses are accessible on this project page. We divided the responses into separate bundles, each with an index. We also produced a general index covering all responses.”
Under current law, separate statutes regulate taxi and private hire vehicles respectively and different legislation applies in London and Plymouth. The final report and draft Bill set out a new single legal framework for the regulation of taxi and private hire services across England and Wales, including London and Plymouth. It recommend retaining the current two-tier system, distinguishing between taxis and private hire vehicles. Only taxis should be allowed to be hailed or pick up passengers from ranks.
The new regime would see the introduction of national standards for all taxis and private hire vehicles, set by the Secretary of State, with the power for local licensing authorities to set additional standards for taxi services only. Local authorities would, however, remain responsible for issuing licences and enforcement in relation to both taxis and private hire vehicles. The Commission’s recommendations would make it easier for providers of private hire services to work cross-border, and give licensing officers new enforcement powers to deal with vehicles and drivers licensed in different areas.
The Commission also recommends tougher penalties on touting (actively soliciting customers), including impounding. During consultation many stakeholders complained about vehicles operating at the fringes of licensing, or outside licensing altogether. Pedicabs and novelty vehicles, including stretch limousines, are examples that the Commission recommends bringing clearly within the scope of taxi and private hire regulation, such that they may be controlled as necessary. Following consultation, we were persuaded to retain the exemption that applies to wedding and funeral cars as part of primary legislation.
The responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining quantity controls in respect of taxis and the Commission was persuaded by the arguments. The final report recommends that licensing authorities should retain the right to limit the number of taxis working in their licensing area. One of the key recommendations is the introduction of mandatory disability awareness training for all taxi and private hire drivers. Among the measures designed to improve the accessibility of services for disabled people, the recommendation is that licensing authorities should have the power to introduce a duty on taxis to stop when hailed, to help address the problem of certain drivers passing by disabled people. Licensing authorities should also be required to review accessibility needs in their area every three years, and take accessibility issues into account when installing taxi ranks. Finally, in order to help address the lack of accessible vehicles, the Commission recommends that the Secretary of State should have the power to require large operators (or dispatchers, as they would referred under our reforms) to meet certain quotas of accessible vehicles which must be available to them.
• The Law Commission suggests keeping local licensing and the distinction between taxis and private hire.