Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Debate on whether Clause 10 should stand part of the Bill..

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I understand that the Minister has something new for the Committee, which it may be better to hear before we proceed any further.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Kramer) (LD): My Lords, as you will know, the Government introduced three measures into the Bill earlier this year relating to the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles. Although an extensive review of the legislation has been carried out by the Law Commission and its recommendations are being considered, the Government decided that three measures could be taken forward separately to help reduce burdens on businesses more quickly. This clause is one of those.

Its purpose was to allow the use of private hire vehicles for leisure purposes. Noble Lords will be aware that, outside London, a person who is licensed as a private hire vehicle driver cannot use the family car and therefore has to purchase a second car. At £20,000 or £30,000, or the lease equivalent, that is a barrier which denies people employment. It is an issue that we need to address at some point. It also means in particular that in a number of rural areas there is, frankly, a shortage of private hire cars and taxi services. Bringing in more of those vehicles and their services for local people could be helped by removing this barrier.

However, after the Government listened closely to issues raised about the way in which we have presented this clause, we have decided that listening, as we always do, is important, and concluded that although we can still see arguments for tackling this underlying problem—I think that there is general agreement on that—it would be better done as part of the package of measures recommended by the Law Commission in a broader reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing than through this clause.

It is therefore my intent—although I am not sure how the procedure works—to withdraw this clause, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so.
Clause 10 disagreed.

5.45 pm
Clause 11: Taxis and private hire vehicles: duration of licences

Debate on whether Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for withdrawing Clause 10 and I hope she will feel that Clauses 11 and 12 deserve the same treatment, given that the Law Commission has been asked to look into the current legislation. We are very glad that Clause 10 has been pulled from the Bill, but Clause 11 has problems and Clause 12 is just as dangerous as Clause 10.

Clause 11 will end annual licence renewal and set a three-year standard duration for licences. The annual licence renewal helps licensing authorities to recognise changes in a driver’s convictions or medical status. The reform is likely to make it more difficult for licensing officers to monitor behaviour, ensure that drivers are fit and proper to drive and take action when necessary. 

Effective implementation of this clause will require local authorities to sign up to the Disclosure and Barring Service’s updates service and receive information about convictions during a licence term. This is a relatively new service and it is not yet known how it will work in practice. It is clearly important, so I hope that the Minister will explain why this matter cannot also wait.

Clause 12 will enable PHV operators to subcontract a booking to another operator who is licensed in a different area. We and many others believe that passenger safety will be undermined because only licensing officers from a licensing authority where a vehicle and driver are registered currently have the power to take enforcement action. The Law Commission has recommended that licensing authorities would have the power to enforce standards in respect of out-of-area vehicles, which will be crucial for their safety. 

The public, and vulnerable passengers in particular such as women or disabled people, may call specific operators because they feel that that operator is reliable and safe to travel with. This reform means that the public will lose their right to choose which operator they travel with. If someone calls operator A, their preferred choice, operator B may turn up.

The Law Commission’s work was undermined in January 2014 when the Government announced a 10-day consultation on these three measures of PHV deregulation. 

In March, they were introduced as last-minute amendments in Committee in the Commons.
21 Oct 2014 : Column 593

The clauses aim to meet the Red Tape Challenge. The challenge is not about putting people in unsafe situations and Clause 12 does just that.

Richard Burden MP’s office contacted the Department for Transport on 1 October to ask whether an impact assessment had been prepared. The impact assessment was published online on 2 October and was signed off by the noble Baroness. 

Page 11 revealed many of the issues that have allowed Clause 10 to be withdrawn. 

Page 16 of the impact assessment states:
“There has been minimal analysis”,
due to what has happened. The analysis, it continued, was, “based on the data provided by the PHV trade associations. Due to time constraints there has not been a significant amount of analysis”,
to justify these clauses being in the Bill. 

The Government have tripped over themselves to fulfil, as I said earlier, the Red Tape Challenge of bringing in deregulation. In this case, it means that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

The reason that Clause 12 is so important has been brought to our attention by a number of organisations, including some student bodies, Milton Keynes Council and Alexis Jay in her report into child sex abuse in Rotherham, in which she highlighted significant concerns about taxi licensing. We have spoken to her personally about this and she is very worried about the implications that these changes have. Her report says that, at a number of council meetings, “One of the main items for discussion … was safe transport”.

When asked about minicabs,
“there was an immediate and consistent response from … young women and men”,
on all occasions. In fact, all of them avoided taxis “if at all possible”. 

People do not have any choice in remote areas late at night but to use taxis. If someone finds a safe taxi company—there are ones who focus particularly on women—they do not want someone to turn up whom they do not know and who may not be the appropriate person to drive them.

Our experience in Milton Keynes, where serious errors by a sub-committee of councillors on licensing led to an inexcusable decision to allow a convicted sex offender to operate a private hire vehicle, illustrates the importance of getting the balance of this regulation right. The leader of Milton Keynes Council has written to us personally, asking us to oppose the clause.

Warwick Students Union wrote to us, saying that its primary concern on Clause 12 is the effect that it would have on preferred suppliers. It says:
“We are working with local authorities to put together a tendering document for a preferred private hire service—using our strong collective consumer power to stipulate better standards of service, safety and fares. Lots of other Student Unions do this such as Leicester and Birmingham to protect their members”.
We know that two women students were raped in Warwick because they got into a minicab—possibly they should not have done so, but that is what happened. 

The student union continued:
“We feel that this Clause would largely undo the work done by Students’ Unions across the country to ensure the safety of their members”.

It is quite clear that the Government need to take this away and think again. That is what we are asking them to do. I am sure that the Minister would not want to have students and disabled people finding themselves in unsafe situations, but this is what we think the impact of the clause will be.

Lord Bradshaw (LD): I support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Anybody who knows anything about the taxi trade knows that some parts of the trade are of questionable integrity. The annual licensing inspection by the local authority where the taxi is based is the best safeguard that we can have.

On the Minister’s point that this saves people buying a second car, saving them £20,000 to £30,000, I can assure noble Lords that most private hire cars are nowhere near that standard. In fact, I can reminisce about my time in Manchester, when I was being driven to the airport in a private hire car. We passed a very used car depot. I said to the driver that his car was very old. He said, “Yes, it’s got a few months to run on its MOT. When its MOT is up, I just go into the car auction and buy another one with a few months on its licence”. He was talking about spending £200. I think that is much nearer the truth.

I also dispute the view that many rural areas do not or cannot get taxis. I live in a rural area with big rural surroundings and there are plenty of opportunities to get taxis if one thinks about it and phones them up beforehand and that sort of thing.

Students and all women are very vulnerable when they get into a taxi where the driver has not been properly licensed and had his credentials inspected—indeed, if the vehicle itself has not been properly inspected. When I was on Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City used to call in its taxis or private hire cars every six months because they have a high mileage and the annual check does not show up the defects. If we are talking about people having a licence to operate a taxi, an awful lot of things can happen in three years. Extending the situation so that a taxi could operate in an area where the driver is not licensed is potentially dangerous.

I do not see this as much in the way of deregulation. Local authorities do not spend a huge amount doing this work and the drivers have to pay a fee for it. However, I think it raises considerable dangers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has referred, and it would be far more sensible if the Minister were to take this away and carry out some more work on it. The Bill has some time to run. 

The protests I have received from local authorities and organisations that are concerned with the welfare of people—notably, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust but lots of others—are that people are genuinely concerned about safety. That is what I believe should be taken properly into account.

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sits down, I wonder whether he can educate me. If the hired car driver of which he has just spoken replaces his car for a short period, surely that replacement car would also need to be licensed. It would be very helpful for me and perhaps the rest of the House if he could explain that point.

Lord Bradshaw: I think that most people who are in this position make proper provision to have their car serviced so that it is safe. It is their responsibility to provide a safe car. If he is unable to produce one, I do not think he should be carrying passengers. I have had experience of this in Oxford, where the inspectors—there are not many of them—find a car with defective tyres. Well, I am sorry, but if the driver has chosen to drive a defective car, it is hard luck if he has to wait for it to be repaired. He is supposed to keep the car in a good and safe condition in which to carry people.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I really must protest. That was a beautiful answer, but unfortunately not one to which I was addressing my question, which was whether the council would or would not license the driver in the new car.

Lord Bradshaw: The answer to that is yes, it would. If the driver was able to produce a better car—it may not be a new one—and he went to the local authority and says he has given up using car A and is going to use car B, yes, it would. Local authorities are not, as sometimes painted in your Lordships’ House, absolutely unfeeling and draconian bodies.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Bradshaw I can see a great deal of merit in these clauses, but like him I hope, since we are at an early stage in the Bill, that the Minister will say some soothing words and agree to consider these matters further. It would be unfortunate to take this to a vote today and simply reject these clauses and not be able to bring things back later. There are really serious concerns here on the part of lots of reputable organisations, and local authorities and their representatives around the country.

I should declare an interest as a member of a taxi licensing authority, Pendle Borough Council. I should also say that taxi licensing and taxi operator licensing is something I keep as far away from as possible because it is one of the biggest cans of worms in local politics, especially in an area such as mine. I do not have direct, hands-on experience of this and I have not prepared anything to say today so I may be wrong in what I am saying. Would the Minister agree with me that there is some confusion about the discussion here?

As I understand it, Clause 11 refers to the licensing of people—either operators or drivers—and not the licensing of the vehicles themselves. Therefore, there are two separate things here. The Minister is nodding, so I shall continue with more confidence than I had when I started my speech. There is the question of whether individuals are sufficiently proper, upstanding and reputable to run a taxi business and whether individuals are appropriate to drive a car in the very intimate circumstances of taking passengers whom they do not otherwise know. That is obviously a situation where people have to be proper and upstanding.

Then there is the question of the licensing of vehicles, which is another great can of worms. As I understand it, the Government are not proposing to make any changes here and it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that when she replies. Any reduction in the powers of local authorities to check vehicles and make sure that they are in good condition would be appalling.

So far as individuals are concerned, travelling in a taxi is a very personal thing. If you hail a taxi in London, it is a black cab and you drive around London with people all around you. The layout of the black cab is less personal than that of an ordinary sedan-type car. 

You have to rely on the driver, first, to be a competent and safe driver and, secondly, to be trusted not to do things that they should not do—not to cheat you when they tell you how much to pay, not to molest you in some way and not to behave in a generally unpleasant and deplorable way. 

That is very important, and there are complaints about those things all the time—some obviously more justified than others. However, it seems to me that the idea of reducing the opportunity to question people and to check that they are appropriate as drivers needs to be thought about very carefully.

I am more concerned about a private hire firm being able to subcontract a fare to another private hire firm. This needs to be looked at very carefully, although there are clearly circumstances where that is sensible. 

If you ring up your normal taxi firm and it says, “Sorry, our vehicle adapted for your disability is out of action and we would like to subcontract to somebody else. They’re a good firm”, and explain where they are from, that is obviously a sensible arrangement, but it is up to the person who has called the taxi firm to decide whether it is sensible from their point of view.

 However, I would be concerned about a taxi firm being able to do that without telling the customer. If a firm turns up at your door when you are expecting a different one, you cannot be sure whether the cab has come from the firm from which you ordered the cab. 

You might think that someone has overheard the call and is trying to steal the fare, which is the kind of thing that goes on.

I am simply saying that there are circumstances in which it is sensible for fares to be subcontracted in this way but it has to be done by giving clear information to the person asking for the ride and it has to be with their absolute consent. If the Government want to make this change, we want some clear assurances, preferably written into the legislation, that it will be done on that kind of basis and that very clear safeguards will be in place. At the moment, it seems that those safeguards are not there and that there is an opportunity for people to make these arrangements willy-nilly. I am not happy about that.

There may be people here who are wondering what on earth we are talking about. They may be asking why we believe that these safeguards should be there, and why we believe that some taxi firms are better than others and that some are firms that we would not under any circumstances ever use again. I can think of at least two occasions when I have been catching a taxi to the station to come to your Lordships’ House and I have come near to death because of the incompetence of the driver. I would not under any circumstances want to use those firms again, but there are other taxi firms in which I have great confidence.

Some people hire taxis on a regular basis. They may live in a village and want to go to the town, and they need a taxi because there is no local bus service, or they may have a large family and know that going in some sort of private hire vehicle is cheaper than going on the bus, as is the case nowadays in many places. If you are in this situation regularly, you build up a personal relationship with the drivers. When you phone the firm, you tell them which driver you want. 

You might say, “I don’t want him again but I’ll have her. She was very nice”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, in some cases women will want a woman driver, and who is to say that they should not? Therefore, it is a personal relationship, and allowing a firm to subcontract in a willy-nilly way is not acceptable.

There is a huge amount of concern about this around the House and in different parts of the country, and I think that it would be very sensible for the Minister simply to say, “We understand these concerns. We’ll go back and talk about it and then perhaps come back at a later stage of the Bill either having changed our mind or with some assurances”.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the comments just made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but let us be clear: these are deregulatory measures. The annual licence fee for a taxi is a cost on business, and extending the period would be deregulatory and welcomed by taxi firms.

I challenge the assertion that under Clause 12 individuals will be placed at greater risk. Of course, those of us who use taxis prefer to use our regular firms. As someone who has a very keen family interest in disability, the last thing I would wish would be for any individual to be put at greater risk. However, we are not suggesting in Clause 12 that unlicensed taxis be used. 

These are taxi firms that have been licensed by a neighbouring authority, so they have been subject to the same licensing process as the firms to which the request for a cab has been made. In my own case, like other noble Lords I use taxis from time to time. If my preferred taxi firm is unable to transport me to the station or the airport, I have to go further afield and find another firm. That taxi firm then loses that business and maybe will lose my future business because I have transferred my allegiance to another firm.

This is an opportunity to free up the market for taxi firms and to allow them to operate outside their immediate geographic area. It is something that we should support.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not being present at Second Reading, but perhaps I may be allowed to comment on Clause 12, which I believe is a fair and reasonable measure that will bring improvements for customers.

At the moment it is only outside London that a private hire operator cannot subcontract a booking in a different district. Is there something peculiarly wicked about provincial private hire firms that does not apply in London? A London-based private hire firm can subcontract, as can a foreign unlicensed company, and this gives it a huge advantage. It puts private hire firms outside London at an iniquitous disadvantage, but it also leads to perverse, inconvenient and even unsafe consequences for customers. I shall give your Lordships a real example.

There is a private hire firm in Birmingham that has a contract to transport any staff with minor injuries from Jaguar Land Rover’s plants to hospital. As the firm cannot subcontract a booking to an operator in another district, if the injury occurs in the Wolverhampton plant, the car does a 55-mile return journey to take the person to a hospital 2.6 miles from the plant. For most of that round trip the car is empty. Jaguar Land Rover wants to deal with a single operator, but this is the result.

Another real example is of a private hire operator in Derby asked by a customer to collect an important client in another district. It must refuse the job, and refuse to arrange it with another firm in that district. The firm appears unhelpful to its customer. I have a third real example. A private hire firm in north Tyneside has a member of staff with a terminal illness. 

He would like to continue working, but from home. Since he lives just outside the north Tyneside border, that is illegal. I have another example. People often hire private minibuses to do long journeys for groups of up to six or eight people—to an airport, for example. That vehicle must return empty. If it breaks down en route, the operator is breaking the law if he asks another firm in the district where the breakdown happens to take the customer on. This measure would reduce congestion, pollution and noise a little, too.

Please note that the beneficiaries of this change in the law would include people with disabilities. That is because a wheelchair-enabled vehicle that has taken a customer from his home in district A to a hospital in district B would now be able to collect a different customer at the hospital and take him back to district A. As far as I can tell from Hansard, when exactly these measures were discussed and passed in this House in 1998 for London, one organisation that was widely praised in the debate for its support of the measures was the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. 

It therefore surprised me to hear today that it is against this measure. If this rule is good for London, it is surely good enough for the rest of the country. Can it be that London-based private hire firms are worried about competition from firms based outside London? This is an excellent and sensible measure that has benefits for customers.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, Clauses 11 and 12 cover separate, different but sensible measures. Obviously, a thought for safety penetrates all of our thinking as we address this range of issues.

To pick up on the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and explained by others, particularly my noble friend Lord Greaves, the amendments do not in any way change the rules on vehicle licences. Those are tough and carried out by local authorities and there is absolutely no change. If my noble friend Lord Bradshaw knows a firm that thinks it can run a £200 car for successful private hire and meet the standards, I suggest that he call the local authority. It would be extremely difficult for a car that has that kind of market value to achieve the standards that are rightly required by local authorities in licensing those vehicles.

Clause 11 aims to reduce the administrative and financial burdens on some taxi and private hire drivers. The measures we have included in the Bill, which I will address in relation to Clause 12, will also help to improve the experience of booking taxis and private hire vehicles.

I join with others in saying that in making his case my noble friend Lord Greaves prayed in aid London. Both the measures in Clause 11 and Clause 12 are already the status in London. Indeed, when we turn to London as the example that we are trying to copy, that is exactly what Clauses 11 and 12 do. It means that we have a good history of the way in which Clauses 11 and 12 function.

Clause 11 will standardise at three years the duration of both taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences; and at five years the licence for a private hire vehicle operator. Shorter periods would be permitted only where there are specific circumstances around a particular application. For example, a local authority might decide that a probationary period was necessary. Typically the duration would be three years for the vehicle driver licence and five years for the operator licence. Frankly, it means that those people will not have to renew their licences as frequently as they do in some areas.

The Department for Transport carries out a biennial survey of licensing authorities. Our 2013 survey showed that nearly half of licensing authorities grant taxi and private hire driver licences for three years, so this is not a sudden revolution. A number of local authorities use a shorter term but we can see by comparing safety records that there is nothing to suggest that those local authorities that grant their licences at three years have an inferior record. 

That is important to note. When it comes to the operator licences, a number of licensing authorities routinely grant private hire operator licences for five years although the substantial majority do less than five years. Again, there is nothing to suggest that there is a difference in safety between one authority and another on the basis of those differences in licensing terms.

The Government therefore consider that this is an area of taxi regulation that would benefit from deregulation. By setting a standard duration of three years for taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences and five years for private hire vehicle operator licences life will be made a lot simpler and substantially cheaper for licence holders. We estimate that the measure will save drivers around £8 million per year and operators around £1 million per year. People who are in this trade are not wealthy people. They find it tough to make a living and any little help we can offer is valid when it is not putting safety at risk.

I appreciate that some stakeholders have expressed concern about safety implications. There may be a slight misconception. It is now the case that many licensing authorities that grant annual licences actually carry out criminal record checks only every three years. Although the licence is annual, the criminal records checks—the issue that has noble Lords exercised—are typically a three-year process. Of course, we are now saying that the standard for criminal records checks will be three years. 

That would be a relatively small change for most authorities. They will continue to do those formal checks. As I said, we have examples in London and in the many local authorities that already use that three-year cycle that it is not associated with additional risk.
Clause 12 will allow private hire vehicle operators to subcontract bookings across licensing boundaries. Again, this is a capacity that has been available continuously for London. 

The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made the case extremely well and illustrated the many situations in which this is an extremely important measure and the extent to which car hire companies outside London are put to a disadvantage compared with London operators. One of the main motivators behind this measure is that it is so difficult when people call a taxi firm that cannot provide a taxi and are then turned away. I have a relevant personal experience, which could have turned out to be extremely difficult. I was in Gloucestershire and going to visit an elderly friend in a nursing home. I got to the station and there was no one around. 

I looked at the board and started calling taxi firms and car hire firms and not one could supply a car. They explained to me that they could not call someone else because they would have to call out of the area and they could not do that. In such cases one would hope to have a mobile phone that is smart-enabled to get onto the web to try to find other firms in the area to call. I was glad that I was not a mother with three children, that it was not getting dark and that it was not raining. It seems unreasonable not to allow the taxi firm to subcontract in order to be able to meet the booking.

We are often concerned about young people out late at night who try to find a taxi to take them home safely. In that situation, we do not want them having to track down one company after another. They should be able to call an operator who they have confidence in who can find them a taxi, even if it is subcontracted from out of area. 

You can already subcontract in area, and I should make that clear to those people who may have used subcontracted taxis or private hire vehicles and were not aware of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that he was concerned about disabled people. Surely that is the group which has the most to benefit from this change. 

Most car hire companies have a limited number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and there may be circumstances where a disabled person needs to travel in a particular kind of vehicle. It is all very well to say that disabled people need to make advance bookings, but I want people with disabilities to be able to live their lives as freely as the rest of us can and not always have to think about things in advance—or, frankly, have to do without. 

We have a mechanism here which gives an operator the scope to reach out of area and subcontract to someone else who has a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to meet a need. That is exceedingly beneficial.

I want to make it clear that the initial operator who takes a call and makes a booking remains liable to the passenger who made the booking. 

He is the person with whom the contract has been established. If someone chooses to call a particular operator, that operator retains the liability for the subcontractor, so the terms and conditions, the recording of the booking and the fare, if it has been agreed, all remain with the operator who the customer has contacted.

Baroness Thornton: I should like to ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, has she taken into account the fact that enforcement works differently in London, with TfL working in conjunction with the police on street enforcement, yet there is still a huge problem of sexual assault involving licensed minicab drivers? Secondly, how many disabled groups has she consulted about this deregulation and can she tell us what they had to say about it?

Baroness Kramer: I personally have engaged more with disabled individuals rather than with groups, which were approached by the Law Commission as part of the consultation. But the Committee will understand the reality of what I have just described. 

Many Members of the Committee will have friends with disabilities or indeed may themselves have them, and they will recognise what I have just described. It is for the Committee to make its decision, but I think that noble Lords will recognise the particular set of problems and will empathise with those who have a disability.

Enforcement against an operator continues to be the responsibility of the local authority which licensed that operator. Where there is an issue of enforcement against a driver, again it is for the local authority which licensed that driver to enforce. However, to make life easier and help things to work more smoothly, in some places around the country local authorities have concordats between each other so that they can delegate enforcement powers and thus make the process more simple and straightforward. Liverpool and South Bucks already do this, and I would think that it is a logical direction for many local authorities to go, not because enforcement is difficult but because it is even easier if ongoing relationships with neighbouring areas where subcontracting may take place are developed. We already have vehicles from out of area coming into area. When you order your private hire vehicle, you may be sending it out of area, so cross-boundary issues arise on a regular basis even as it is. As I say, some areas have decided that the sensible way to deal with this issue is to work together with a concordat between them.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised one issue which I thought was interesting and is one that I will take away and think about, and that is the issue of disclosure; that is, where an operator looks at the cars he has available, cannot find a vehicle available in his own company, and therefore looks elsewhere. That is something I will take a look at. However, I want to make it clear that there are real anomalies which we have to deal with. At the moment we have a silly situation in some parts of the country where related companies cannot subcontract to each other.

Although they may be part of the same company, one branch will be licensed in one area and the other in another area. That, quite frankly, is one of the silly anomalies that we want to get rid of. Also, because the company you call and the individual you call is liable throughout, in order to uphold its reputation the company will make sure that the people it subcontracts to meet its own standards and are reputable. 

We have just heard today that very many people will turn to a company which they consider to be reputable. The notion that such a company would subcontract to drivers who let the company down, drive customers away and ruin its reputation is, I suggest, reasonably far-fetched. Under all circumstances, the driver to whom the business has been subcontracted has to meet licensing standards, and that is something we should not forget.

These are, frankly, two relatively small measures. The subcontracting issue is particularly helpful for someone with a disability who needs to call for a vehicle when many of a company’s cars within the area are already taken. We have to take that seriously. I go back to the issue on licensing. 

The three-year period is a reasonable standard that is used by many local authorities. It delivers the same level of safety that we see in other local authorities so why not relieve of an extra burden those who function at the margin in terms of income, if there is no safety price to pay?

Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Private hire vehicles: sub-contracting
6.23 pm
Division on whether Clause 12 should stand part of the Bill.
Contents 221; Not-Contents 175.
Clause 12 agreed.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Barring private hire from London's bus lanes is legal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Allowing London's trademark black cabs to use bus lanes while excluding other minicab companies does not constitute illegal state aid, an adviser to the highest European Union court found on Wednesday.

The opinion is the latest stage in a longstanding dispute between the British capital's transport authority and Eventech, which owns a minicab fleet used by the cab firm Addison Lee. 

An advocate general, who advises the European court in Luxembourg, found that Transport for London's (TfL) policy of only allowing black cabs to use the city's bus lanes did not constitute an unlawful transfer of public resources -- essentially a subsidy -- to registered taxis.

"Where state authorities make a bus lane on a public road available to black cabs but not to PHVs (private hire vehicles) during the hours of operation of that bus lane, that does not involve a transfer of 'state resources', provided that all comparable undertakings are granted access on equal terms," Advocate General Nils Wahl said in his opinion.

Opinions from advocates general are respected by the court in a majority of cases.

The dispute comes at a time when alternative taxi providers, such as the car-sharing service Uber, have clashed with traditional cabs concerned about what they call unfair competition. The conflict has led to Europe-wide taxi strikes and temporary bans on Uber in Germany.

Eventech had argued that TfL's bus lane policy was an infringement of the freedom to provide services and also amounted to illegal state aid to the benefit of black cabs.

But Wahl rejected those claims, saying that under EU state aid rules it was not necessary for member states to demand payment for access to public infrastructure, such as bus lanes.

"If...state aid rules were interpreted as generally requiring member states to charge for access to public infrastructure or state-controlled resources, this might deter states from creating or opening up areas to which there has previously been no, or only limited access," Wahl said.

Eventech had also argued that exempting black cabs from paying fines for using the bus lanes amounted to an illegal transfer of public money to their benefit, a claim again rejected by Wahl.

The dispute began in 2010 when two of Addison Lee's drivers were fined for driving their cars along a bus lane in central London. Eventech challenged the fines but lost before the High Court, leading to its appeal to the EU's top court.

High Court Bus Lane Conclusion.... Round one.

Below is the conclusion of the case currently going through the Europian Court, appertaining to private hire use of bus lanes.

It would seem that today, addison Lee have lost the first round.

It is now up to the licensing authorities in the membered states to show that Taxis and Private Hire do not have comparable need to use Bus Lanes.


 In light of the foregoing, I propose that the Court respond to the questions referred by the Court of Appeal (England and Wales) (United Kingdom) as follows:

On a proper construction of Article 107(1) TFEU, where the authorities of a Member State make a bus lane on a public road available to taxis but not to private hire vehicles during the hours of operation of that bus lane:

–        this does not involve a transfer of ‘State resources’, provided that access is granted on equal terms to all comparable undertakings; and

–        this does not amount to ‘favouring certain undertakings’, provided that those authorities show 
(i) that taxis and private hire vehicles are not legally and factually comparable, owing to objective considerations relating to the safety and efficiency of the transport system, and 
(ii) that such a measure is suitable for achieving that objective and does not go beyond what is necessary in order to achieve it.

It is for the referring court to determine whether that is the case in the circumstances of the main proceedings. If that is not the case, the mere fact that the right to use the bus lanes is conferred in the context of a local traffic policy does not, in itself, exclude the possibility of trade between Member States being affected, which also falls to be determined by the referring court.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Uber, Unlicensed Minicab Firm? By Jim Thomas.

It has come to our attention that on the 22 May 2014, Uber London Ltd moved to a new registered operating centre on the first floor of Focus Point, 21 Caledonian Road Islington, from the former Winchester House Old  Marylebone Road.

It would appear (referring to the TfL private hire checker) that Uber are licensed to operate from registered offices within the City of Westminster. After checking TfLs PH licence checker again, we found that Uber have no such licence to operate from within the London borough of Islington. 

Either TfLs website is incorrect, or Uber hasn't submitted a PHV/106 variation application form. 

The private hire act 1998
The legislation contained within the PH Act of 1998 is very clear on this issue. If A licensed PH company is operating from unlicensed premises, their licence should be immediately revoked (Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998.s.16 and also the TfL staff manual  10.5)

The legislation does not say TfL should give them a period of time to sort the issue out, it clearly states their licence should be immediately revoked. 

We have written to Sir a Peter Hendy outlining this complaint and due to the serious nature of this issue, we expected a swift reply.
As of today, we have received no reply. 


Taxis and private hire vehicles: the road to reform - Transport Committee Contents Dec 2010

Written evidence from London Suburban Taxi-drivers' Coalition (TPH 35)

In response to the above consultation, we would like you to take into consideration the following items regarding the London Suburban Hackney Carriage issues.

(1)  Publish documentation to define where London Suburban Hackney Carriage drivers can accept pre-booked work when outside of their licensed sector, but are still within the Greater London Authority's controlled licensing zone.

Luke Howard, Senior Strategy & Integration Manager, TfL Taxi & Private Hire was asked this question about a year ago, including "What Act of Parliament prohibits suburban drivers from doing so".

His reply was "...As I said, the prohibition on drivers accepting bookings outside their area is a matter of how 'plying for hire' should be interpreted in this context. There is no paperwork as it is simply the advice of our legal team—we do not think this has been tested in court."

We were not shown what the legal advice was or even if it came in a written form.

We believe it is time to properly define this matter once and for all so that the ambiguities of the law are removed. As you know many suburban drivers are prosecuted for out-of-sector violations and the law must be clarified. Suburban Taxi drivers should not be playing "Russian Roulette" when they go out to work. If the law is unclear or untested it is surely time to review, amend or draft more up-to-date legislation to cover this aspect of their working lives.

The Office of Fair Trading state in their Legal framework of taxi and PHV licensing in the UK, Annexe A, November 2003

1.10  Taxis can pick up passengers that have pre-booked without needing a separate PHV licence.

"A campaign to reduce the number of women sexually attacked in minicabs over Christmas was launched, in the wake of a 54% increase in serious sexual assaults including rape and a 50% decrease in detection/conviction. The scheme aims to warn Londoners about the dangers of getting into minicabs without pre-booking and to help them get home safely."

However, leaders of the Safer Travel at Night (STaN) scheme say women are putting themselves in danger by getting into minicabs (licensed and unlicensed) that line up outside pubs and clubs and are given an 'air of respectability' by TfL in doing so. This is clearly wrong and needs to be addressed. Reports from the "Havens Rape Crisis Centres" have shown much higher figures. They also state that most rapes go unreported, so the true figure could be even higher.

We believe that if London Suburban Hackney Carriage drivers were allowed to pick up the pre-booked hiring's when outside of their licensed sector, but still within the Greater London Authority's controlled licensing zone, then this would go, not only some way to reducing the serious sexual assaults, including rape, but also reduce the carbon emissions issue by utilising those taxis to bring passengers back into their licensed sectors with a better utilisation of these vehicles.

(2)  We would like to have rescinded or amended the 12 mile (or one hour's duration) rule in respect of suburban drivers. It is most unfair that London Suburban Hackney Carriage drivers are the only licensed drivers in England and Wales that are compelled to accept a 12 mile hiring which in most cases take them well outside their licensed sectors.

We believe that this issue is a restrictive practice and places an unfair disadvantage on London Suburban Hackney Carriage drivers as a whole as their sectors are much smaller than that of the All-London (Green Badge) drivers, who in many more instances can do a 12 mile hiring and still be well within the area for which they are licensed.

Being compelled to accept a hiring from a smaller sector makes having to accept a hiring so far away from where they are permitted to ply for hire is indeed unreasonable compared to their Green Badge counterparts. It would be more tolerable if this 12 mile compulsion was reduced to eight (8) miles or even to the previous six (6) miles. It is our understanding that this ruling was changed due to problems of "refusal" that arose primarily in the All-London area and the consequent changes placed an unnecessary burden on suburban drivers when the rule was changed under Ken Livingstone's Mayoral term of office.

There is a precedent for a differential in the compellable distance where it was amended to 20 miles in respect of hiring's from Heathrow Airport several years ago.

There are more issues that really do need to be discussed in relation to the London Suburban Taxi service we provide, but as requested we need to keep this letter short, but would appreciate it if we could meet and present our views to members of the Transport Select Committee in the near future.

(3)  We believe it would be helpful if the terms "minicabs", "licensed minicabs", "unlicensed minicabs" and Licensed Private Hire were more clearly defined as there is a lot of confusion at present even in the literature that TfL provide.

If it confuses those in the trade it must be quite perplexing to the travelling public who may be the victims of unclear definitions.

This does not occur with licensed taxis as ANY taxi is by its very nature "Licensed". There is no such thing as an "unlicensed" taxi even though the newspapers AND the TV media often talk about misdemeanours by a taxi driver (to make the headline "sensational") but in reality the driver often turns out to be a minicab driver (whatever that is).

TfL must bear the brunt of this criticism through poor descriptive terms in its documentation. If any person trying to get through to a Taxi operator and gores on the Internet they are almost always directed to a Private Hire company in spite of the fact that these companies are contravening the Licensed Private Hire (Vehicles) Act 1998 to advertise in this way, and in spite of the warnings not to do so by TfL.

December 2010


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998.s.16 : Power to suspend or revoke licences.

Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998.s.16

Power to suspend or revoke licences.

(2)A London PHV operator’s licence may be suspended or revoked where—
(a)the [F1licensing authority] is no longer satisfied that the licence holder is fit to hold such a licence; or
(b)the licence holder has failed to comply with any condition of the licence or any other obligation imposed on him by or under this Act.
s. 18 Variation of operator’s licence at the request of the operator.

(1)The [F1licensing authority] may, on the application of a London PHV operator, vary his licence by adding a reference to a new operating centre or removing an existing reference to an operating centre.

(2)An application for the variation of a licence under this section shall be made in such form, and include such declarations and information, as the [F1licensing authority] may require.

(3)The [F1licensing authority] may require an applicant to furnish such further information as he may consider necessary for dealing with the application.

(4)The [F1licensing authority] shall not add a reference to a new operating centre unless [F2the authority] is satisfied that the premises in question meet any requirements prescribed under section 3(3)(b).

(5)An applicant for the variation of a London PHV operator’s licence under this section may appeal to a magistrates’ court against a decision not to add a new operating centre to the licence.

s. 19 (1)The [F2licensing authority] may—
(a)suspend the operation of a London PHV operator’s licence so far as relating to any operating centre specified in the licence; or
(b)vary such a licence by removing a reference to an operating centre previously specified in the licence,
if [F3the authority] is no longer satisfied that the operating centre in question meets any requirements prescribed under section 3(3)(b) or for any other reasonable cause. 

(2)Where the [F2licensing authority] has decided to suspend the operation of a licence as mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or vary a licence as mentioned in subsection (1)(b)—
(a)[F3the authority] shall give notice of the decision and the grounds for it to the licence holder; and
(b)the decision shall take effect at the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the licence holder is served with that notice.

(3)If the [F2licensing authority] is of the opinion that the interests of public safety require [F3 authority’s] decision to have immediate effect, and [F3the authority] includes a statement of that opinion and the reasons for it in the notice, [F3 authority’s] decision shall take effect when the notice is served on the licence holder.

(4)If a licence is suspended in relation to an operating centre, the premises in question shall not be regarded for the purposes of this Act as premises at which the licence holder is authorised to accept private hire bookings, until such time as the [F2licensing authority] by notice states that the licence is no longer suspended in relation to those premises.

(5)The holder of a London PHV operator’s licence may appeal to a magistrates’ court against a decision under subsection (1).

London Taxi an Private Hire Staff Manual. 

10.5 Change of/acquisition of new operating centre 
If an operator wishes to change the address of an operating centre or add an operating centre to his licence he must submit a PHV/106 variation application form. Arrangements will be made for the new operating centre to be inspected before the licence is changed. A licence will not be varied to add reference to a new centre until that centre has been approved by a Compliance Officer following an inspection. The operator must not begin trading from the new address until it has been included on his licence. 

If an operator is found to be trading from an operating centre not specified in his licence he should reported for prosecution, told to cease trading from that premises and submit a variation application immediately. In most cases this should not preclude the variation application being considered favourably. However, if an operator is found trading from a nightclub or other late night venue (see section 10.15) that is not specified as an operating centre in his licence any subsequent application to vary the licence to include that centre should be refused. 

If TfL becomes aware that an operator has started trading from a centre not on his licence on more than one occasion, consideration should be given to revoking his licence.

If, having been told to cease trading, an operator continues to trade from the unlicensed premises and fails to submit a variation application within 14 days of the visit from a Compliance Officer, consideration should be given to revoking the licence.

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