Council chiefs have called on the Government to reform ‘existing outdated’ taxi laws in order to strengthen safeguarding measures.
The proliferation of app-based taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) companies, as well as an increase in cross-border hiring, has outstripped the legislation — some of which dates back to 1847 — used to regulate the industry.
Under current legislation, councils are unable to take action against taxi drivers licensed by other authorities operating in their area. Cross-border hiring might create unfair competition for local drivers who may have to comply with more rigorous licensing standards.
The lack of minimum national licensing standards or a national register of taxi and PHV licences which have been refused or revoked also poses safety risks for passengers.
The Government has set up a working group to look at the issue over the Autumn.
The Local Government Association (LGA) is urging the group to support new legislation in order to modernise the licensing system for taxis and PHVs, improve passenger safety and create a level playing field for drivers.
‘Councils have long argued that there is a need for the existing outdated taxi laws to be updated,’ said Cllr Clive Woodbridge, deputy chair of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board.
‘The legislation governing aspects of taxis and private hire vehicles pre-dates the motor car and is simply not fit for purpose in an era when mobile phone technology is significantly changing the way people access private hire vehicles.’
‘In recent years, we’ve seen a number of child sexual exploitation cases that have involved taxi and PHV holders abusing the trust that has been placed in them, so there are strong safeguarding reasons for strengthening current legislation,’ Cllr Woodbridge continued.
‘The onset of mobile phone booking apps for PHVs is causing concern about whether drivers are able to compete on a level playing field and has led to numerous and costly legal challenges which local licensing authorities are being forced to spend public money on.
‘Local licensing authorities are trying to work out how new models fit within a legislative framework drafted before mobile phones were even invented, when what is really needed is clarity on a new legislative framework that allows for a 21st century way of doing things fairly for passengers, councils and drivers.’
Responding to the LGA’s call, transport minister John Hayes said: ‘Public safety is our priority. The taxi and private hire sector has changed rapidly in recent years and continues to do so. That’s why my determination to protect all passengers will be enshrined in our working group which will look at how the sector can be better regulated.
‘We expect all councils to carry out criminal record checks for every driver and check they have the licences they need to carry passengers.
‘The Government wants to do its bit and I have asked local authorities to be partners in this work as I know they also want to do more to make taxi licensing as good as it can be.’