Something needs to be done to stop drivers and operators abusing out of town taxis loophole
Operators and drivers across England are abusing a “loophole” on mass. This is where licensed taxis can work for a private hire operator outside of the area they are licensed. Until 1831, when the London Hackney Carriage Act 1831 was enacted in relation to hackney carriages in the area now known as Greater London, there was no regulation anywhere in England and Wales in respect of any services that would now be recognised as those provided by hackney carriages and / or private hire vehicles.
Outside of London, the licensing of hackney carriages became possible in 1847 by the incorporation into Local Acts of the relevant provisions of a Clauses Act, namely the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. The reorganisation of local government in 1974 and thereafter, including that creating new unitary authorities in 2009, brought smaller administrative areas together as larger ones, save that in relation to hackney carriage licensing, such areas became individual hackney carriage zones within the area of the successor council unless, in accordance with the provisions of section 180 and Schedule 14 of the Local Government Act 1972, the council amalgamated its hackney carriage zones and extend hackney carriage licensing to any areas to which the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 had not previously applied.
The countrywide licensing of hackney carriages in England and Wales, which began in London in 1831, was only completed when section 15 of the Transport Act 1985 extended hackney carriage licensing under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 across the whole of England and Wales, outside of London to which there has always been separate provision since 1831.
The introduction of regulation of the previously unlicensed private hire trade did not commence in 1976 with the enacting of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, but in 1975 when Plymouth City Council enacted a Local Act, namely the Plymouth City Council Act 1975.
In summary, before 1831 anyone could engage in any activity, now recognised as being those of hackney carriage and private hire, anywhere in the whole country. Since 1831 there has been hackney carriage licensing in London. In 1847 hackney carriage licensing started to be introduced to the rest of England and Wales.
As legislation only regulated the hackney carriage industry, anyone could lawfully engage in private hire, until legislation was enacted in 1976 that enabled councils to regulate that industry. Hackney carriages, which were specifically licensed to “stand and ply for hire”, always had an “inherent right” to undertake pre-booked work and, as confirmed in the case of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council v Fidler and others  EWHC 2430 (Admin), retain that right to this day.
The problem stems back to a licensing official named David Wilson who worked at Berwick upon Tweed Council. In the Newcastle v Berwick case, the issues were whether a council could and should licence a hackney carriage that was going to be exclusively or predominantly used remotely from the area of the council for private hire purposes.
The court held that in the excise of its discretion, a council should not ordinarily licence a hackney carriage that was going to be used in such a way. However, at paragraph 39 of his judgment, Mr Christopher Symons QC, also acknowledged the need for “flexibility” when a proprietor wished to use their vehicle “in a number of different authorities’ areas”.
The failure to reform legislation has not only resulted in more complex and time-consuming litigation raising more questions than it answers, but has:
·unnecessarily constrained business growth and prosperity;
·prevented businesses from fully embracing technological developments to provide a more efficient and cost effective service to customers; and
·caused perfectly good vehicles, driven by appropriately licensed drivers, to unnecessarily travel billions of miles, wasting fuel and polluting the planet with many millions of tonnes of CO2 exhaust emissions.
However, this is not the biggest problem caused by out of town hackney carriages. Putting to one side the fact that the entire industry (hackney and private hire) is the one of, if not the worst regulated industry in the UK, the problem with out of town hackneys is a deliberate move by operators and drivers to avoid local regulations.
This may seem a strange statement to make, especially when considering hackney carriages are licensed no matter where they operate. But the truth is that these operators and drivers look for the weakest link in the system.
Take for example council A. This council has strict rules on vehicles including age restrictions. For the drivers they must undertake English and/or math exams and driving tests and abide by a rigorous application process. However, council B doesn’t have the same rules; therefore the driver can fill out a form, take a medical and pass criminal records check and can be given a licence. The rules regards the vehicles are much more relaxed with no age limits and a lower pass level, such as scratches and bumps and dints on the vehicle.
Due to the rules in place at council A it can take a driver 3-6 months before they are able to obtain a licence, whilst council B application process can take 6 weeks – the time required for a criminal records check to come back, if applicable.
To avoid the strict rules a hackney driver who intends to solely work as a private hire driver out of area on a full time basis can then look for the weakest link, the council with the lowest standards. Once you have decided which council to approach you then obtain your licence and then go and work in an area where you have passed no local tests or abide by any rules.
Therefore, you could be licensed with Rossendale, but be working in Stoke on Trent. You will rely hundred percent on your sat nav as you won’t have passed any local knowledge tests which in turn results in a poorer service for the consumer.
But the worst part is that the council in which you choose to work doesn’t have any jurisdiction over you as only the council where you hold the licence can take action against you. This results in these drivers operating with impunity which cannot be in anyone interest, specifically the public and local licensed trade.
However, the counter argument is that the current laws do restrict drivers from moving between councils without having to undergo the whole application process again. If you drive buses or a HGV you can operate anywhere in the UK and there is a national body charged with regulating you, but with hackney and private hire vehicles and drivers it is still on a local basis.
The government can close this loophole tomorrow by adding a few words to the current legislation. It is clear when the original law was written that it was intended to mean that a hackney carriage could work as a private hire (pre-booked) as long it was within the same area. But the wording was not specific enough, therefore it didn’t say you could or for that matter couldn’t.
Even following the court case ruling, it was made clear councils could circumnavigate out of town hackneys by making it a condition of the application process to ask where they intend to work. If it was clear it would be out of area then a council could refuse the application. But instead of doing this some councils saw a substantial revenue increase from hackney carriage vehicle and drivers licences, with some seeing them jump from less than 100 to in excess of 1,500. A nice little earner.
If you support the argument that these out of town drivers and taxis need to be stopped then you can sign the petition added to the governments’ website [sign petition here]. Currently, over 10,000 people have supported the petition which closes on 17 April 2017.