Major shake-up proposed for “out-of-touch” private hire licensing

Sweeping changes to private hire licensing could be introduced under proposals set out by the Law Commission for England and Wales, which is reviewing the current laws relating to taxis and private hire vehicles.

Among proposed changes outlined in a consultation document are national standards for private hire licensing, and mandatory licensing of stretch limousines, bicycle rickshaws and motorcycle taxis as part of new national minimum safety standards.

These new standards would stop local authorities imposing additional local requirements such as local knowledge tests or specific vehicle standards for private hire vehicles, though these would remain in place for hackney carriages. The commission said separate regulatory systems for taxis and private hire vehicles should remain, as the different vehicle types would not both easily fit into any single regime.

Ministers should set national safety standards for taxis and private hire vehicles, a move the commission said would prevent drivers “playing the system” by obtaining a license in an areas with lower requirements. National standards would also make it easier for enforcement officers to take action against defaulting vehicles registered in another area, the commission said.

The Law Commission also proposes that taxi numbers would no longer be restricted by local authorities. Taxi numbers should not be regulated on the basis of “a bureaucratic assessment of un-met demand”, the commission said, and the market could determine how many vehicles were needed.

The consultation document said: “It is difficult to justify, from a regulatory perspective, restrictions on the number of people entitled to trade as taxi drivers on the basis of a lack of un-met need. If there is un-met need, we would expect new entrants to come into the market until the point at which needs were met. It is difficult to see a justification for determining demand on the basis of a survey and a subsequent bureaucratic decision, rather than a market mechanism.”

The commission’s report also examines the terminology used to describe taxis and PHVs, and asks whether PHV operators should be able to use terms such as “taxi” or “cab” in advertising provided they are only used in combination with terms like “pre-booked”.

Exemptions from private hire licensing for wedding and funeral cars would also finish, however, and volunteers who drive elderly people or childminders who collect children as part of their work would no longer be at risk of being caught by licensing rules.

Frances Patterson QC, the commissioner responsible for the review, said the proposals would streamline and improve taxi and private hire legislation. The law on taxis and private-hire vehicles is “fragmented, complex, and out of touch with 21st Century life”, he said.

The commission has reviewed the current laws, some of which date back as far as 1831, and the consultation on its proposals will run to August 10. A draft bill for changing the laws could be before parliament by November 2013.

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