Taxi and private hire matters certainly help keep most local licensing officials busy. ‘Licensing boards’, which also deal with pub, gambling and sex stores, among their other work, are in fact sub-committees of each local authority.
With almost 300 of these local taxi licensing authorities across the UK there are almost as many different approaches to taxi licensing! Many of these differences are relatively minor while others – particularly conditions of fitness for vehicles (see section 6, above) have a huge impact on the nature of the local taxi trade. There are three main types of license that relate to taxiing.
- Taxi driver license.
Every public and private hire driver must have a license issue by the relevant licensing authority. This results in some form of badge, usually work on a lanyard around your neck, which lets passengers see that you are an approved person. Clearly if you incur a road traffic conviction or otherwise breach the local taxi driver licensing regulations, you may be in danger of losing your cab driver license – and, with it, your livelihood. Some local authorities operate their own version of a ‘points system’, whereby minor breaches of their rules result in penalty points; if you reach the maximum, then your license is revoked. This said, more serious offences can always result in immediate loss of your taxi driver license.
- Taxi vehicle license. As mentioned above (section 6), local authorities can impose their own ‘conditions of fitness’ for public hire or hackney taxis. Your local licensing officer should be able to provide a list of vehicle types which have been approved for use in your area. Generally speaking, you have to choose one of the cabs included on this approved list. However, if you are interested in a different vehicle you are entitled to apply to license one. Your local authority will then be obliged to consider your request and to give a reasonable explanation as to why that vehicle is not accepted, unless they decide that it should be included.Some local authorities maintain a ‘cap’ on the number of vehicles that can be licensed as hackney cabs in their area. Councils have to justify regulation of the market in this way, which they can do by commissioning independent research to establish whether there is any ‘unmet’ demand for cabs in the area. This research has to be repeated at least every three years and aims to find out whether there are enough cabs to cope with passenger demand at peak times. If the survey shows that there are enough taxis the council can, if it wishes, continue to cap the number of licensed cabs. If, on the other hand, the findings show that there is a significant shortage of cabs at certain times, then the authority is obliged to remove or alter the cap limit.
Many authorities have moved away from regulating the number of taxi vehicle licenses in recent years. There is evidence, however, from numerous towns and cities to suggest that where the market is regulated, the overall quality of the taxi fleet is better. This is a direct result of higher earnings among local taxi operators and a more stable market. Where more and more cabs have flooded a local market, following ‘de-regulation’, it has often been the case that there is too little work to go round, meaning that cab owners have to cut the amount they invest in updating and maintaining their vehicle.
Local authorities also have powers to require cabs to be a certain colour – sometimes a particular colour of their own, as is this case with ‘Bristol Blue’, for example. Sometimes hackney or private hire vehicles have to be different colours, to help the public identify which is which. Another fairly common matter is taxi age limits. This may say that hackney vehicles can operate to a maximum age of, say, 12 years. Private hire vehicles may also have an age restriction, which is sometimes lower than that for hackney vehicles.
All taxi and private hire vehicles are subject to a specific inspection or ‘taxi test’, both on first being licensed and at regular intervals thereafter. The first time your vehicle goes for ‘test’ will mean it gets checked out to see that it meets your councils conditions of fitness – meaning that your vehicle is on their approved list of cabs. Once approved, you’re cab can be fitted with an official taxi ‘plate’ – hence the term ‘plated taxi’ – which carries the name of the local authority and the number of the vehicle’s taxi license. There’s usually an expiry date and some brief information about the vehicle and how many passengers it’s allowed to carry.
Thereafter you may have to go for a further taxi tests every year or possibly more frequently than that. Random spot checks can also be undertaken and certain local authorities carry out occasional roadside inspections, sometimes in partnership with the police and DVLA. If your cab fails any test item, either at a scheduled or random inspection, you will usually be given a period of time in which to return, having had the issue fixed. Normally you won’t be able to operate the vehicle as a taxi until this has been resolved.
Some areas – especially London – experience lots of trouble with people who have no taxi driver or taxi vehicle license trying to earn a fast buck by picking up people and charging fares. Often they lurk outside pubs and night clubs at closing time, when customers may be less fussy then they should be about how they get home. This practice of trying to operate as an unlicensed cab is known as ‘taxi touting’. It’s a criminal offense and something which local licensing enforcement officers should actively address, by getting out and about at peak times to catch touts and deter others. Many taxi drivers and associations feel that the police and taxi licensing enforcement officers should do more to crack down on taxi touting.
- Vehicle operator license. In addition to their drivers and vehicles being licensed, private hire taxi companies must hold a Vehicle Operator License. Lasting for up to five years (it can also be less), this is a bit like football club owner rules, whereby the local licensing committee has to decide whether the owner of a local taxi firm is a ‘fit and proper’ person.As with other aspects of taxi licensing aggrieved parties can appeal, in the first instance, to the local magistrates court.
Next Section: Taxi Insurance