New data reveals how Wolverhampton dominates UK private hire licensing

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The extent to which Wolverhampton has become the UK’s taxi capital has been revealed by new licensing data from private hire insurance provider Zego.

In the 12 months from April 2023 to March 2024, Wolverhampton council issued 32,169 Private Hire Vehicle licenses, a rise of nearly 8,000 from 24,375 the previous year. This gives – on paper – Wolverhampton the greatest density of PHVs per head of population, at 85.3 vehicles per 1,000 people. This figure is five times higher than the second-placed location, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

But earlier data reveals that 95.5% of drivers applying for a Wolverhampton license do not live there, and are merely taking advantage of the city’s lower costs and faster processing to obtain a license, which they then use to operate legally in other towns such as Birmingham or Manchester. In 2023, Wolverhampton council issued licenses to 20,375 drivers living outside Wolverhampton, with only 813 licenses for local drivers.

This cross-border operating principle is enshrined in the 2015 Deregulation Act, though dissenting voices – including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham – have started calling for the act to be overturned.

Data revealed in 2023 showed that nearly 9,000 drivers with Wolverhampton licenses lived in Greater Manchester, citing a significant price difference between authorities as the reason. In 2023, Manchester City Council was charging £255 to register as a new private hire driver, plus costs for tests, and between £222 and £342 to register a vehicle, depending on its age.

Wolverhampton Council’s application fee for a new private hire driver was £49 for a one-year license or £98 for a three-year license, while it cost a mere £95 to register a vehicle under 10 years old.

Last month, a Transport for Greater Manchester spokesperson said: “A change in the law is required to make sure that anyone who drives or operates a taxi or private hire vehicle in Greater Manchester meets high safety standards and is licensed in our area.”

However, a Wolverhampton Council spokesperson said: “While Wolverhampton Council has never actively encouraged applications from drivers outside the city, existing legislation requires that if an application is submitted and requirements are met, then the application must be granted. The council may not refuse an applicant simply because they live in a different area and it is illegal for licensing authorities to impose a limit on the number of private hire licenses it issues.”

The spokesperson continued: “Our early adoption of digital technology has allowed us to offer a simple and efficient online application procedure, with the requirement that drivers attend in person for training and strict assessment before an application can be processed. Public safety is of paramount importance to us. We expect drivers and vehicles licensed by us to always maintain the highest standards. This is irrespective of the administrative boundary within which they are operating at any particular time.”