Support is growing for a legal register that ensures local authorities are in the know about drivers seeking a licence in their areas, despite previously being banned or refused a licence elsewhere.
Councils have led the way on this issue, developing a voluntary database of licence refusals and revocations, and are backing the bill’s call for this register to become mandatory.
The Local Government Association (LGA) has consistently called for a taxi licensing regime “fit for the 21st Century” and believes that this bill could be an essential first step towards updating Britain’s outdated and unfit-for-purpose licensing laws for taxis.
Local Liberal Democrat campaigner James Moore said: “Some taxi laws date back to 1847 and the era of horse-drawn hackney carriages, and the current patchwork of outdated laws leaves councils with restricted powers to enforce taxi licensing requirements in their area.”
In particular, if a driver has been banned or refused in a particular area, it is difficult for councils to be able to stop that person from gaining a licence somewhere else if the driver does not disclose their previous history. The LGA is hoping this new bill will make it easier for local authorities to share this information, building on the register that the LGA has already commissioned.
The Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill 2017-19 is due to continue it's second reading in October, and will extend safeguarding measures to taxi drivers. The Bill will require authorities to record all refusals and revocations on a national register, as well as requiring them to cross-reference new applications against the register, to stop rogue drivers securing licences elsewhere.
Alongside safeguarding worries, the LGA has concerns that a failure to update cab legislation:
- Takes no account of the increase in app-based taxi services such as Hailo, Uber, and other companies, which has led to concern over how new models fit within the outdated framework and results in legal challenges which are costly and disruptive for councils, residents, and industry.
- Has opened the floodgates for drivers operating across licensing authority borders, with councils unable to take enforcement action against taxi drivers licensed by other local authorities, even if they are operating in their areas.
- Has undermined the level playing field between different parts of the cab industry and drivers licensed in different areas.
As a result, the LGA is throwing its support behind the bill which it says will help protect both passengers and reputable drivers.
James added: “This bill would be a positive first step towards the licensing regime for taxis that is desperately needed for the 21st Century”.
Councils do all they can to prosecute those who break the law, and several successful examples of councils doing so are below. However, the LGA is concerned that the lack of updated legislation means successful prosecutions are just the tip of an iceberg, and the below examples illustrate the seriousness of the need for more updated legislation.
Walsall Council had to take action against a man who impersonated his brother in order to obtain a taxi driver’s licence. Between 7 February and 16 March 2017, Moshin Zeb carried out over 500 pre-booked taxi journeys for profit, despite being uninsured and disqualified from driving. A member of the public tipped off the council and under questioning from local licensing officers discovered Zeb had been fraudulently using his brother’s identity. Zeb was charged, found guilty, and sentenced to 28 months for 5 counts of fraud. He was also disqualified from driving for 3 years and 6 months.
Wealden District Council brought action against a man who was operating an unlicensed taxi service that faced numerous complaints regarding a poor level of service, including many people left stranded and out of pocket from a failure to arrive to pre-booked appointments and airport runs. Despite having his taxi licence revoked and repeated council warnings, Ashley Hussey continued to drive his unlicensed taxi, and trade as “Village Cars”, with his vehicle logged in the vicinity of Gatwick Airport on more than 80 separate occasions. The Council were able to bring action against Mr Hussey, and he was disqualified from driving for 18 months and fined £4,700.