Taxi reforms urgently needed as licensed driver numbers hit record high, although Harrogate has bucked the trend

4 November 2019

Outdated and flawed taxi laws need urgently reforming as new figures show the number of licensed drivers and vehicles have hit a record high, the Local Government Association has said.

The LGA is calling on the Government to strengthen taxi and private hire legislation – some of which dates back to 1847 and horse-drawn hackney carriages – to improve passenger safety in light of the proliferation of app-based taxi and private hire vehicle (PHV) companies and increased out-of-area working.

It comes as the latest figures show:

  • The total number of licensed taxi and PHVs in England increased to 291,800 in 2019, an increase of 58 per cent on the 184,500 licensed vehicles in 2005 when comparable records were first collected.
  • These figures have largely been driven by a surge in licensed PHVs, which have risen to 221,200 in 2019, a staggering increase of 83 per cent on the 120,400 PHVs in 2005.
  • The number of people licensed to drive taxis and PHVs also increased substantially over the same period, rising by 50 per cent, from 242,000 people to 362,000.

The LGA is warning that due to outdated legislation and new technology, councils cannot take enforcement action against the rising numbers of unlicensed drivers operating in their area.

Councils argue that revamped taxi laws could make enforcement easier through introducing a common set of licensing standards and be updated to reflect new technology which would help reduce the risk of child sexual exploitation, improve passenger safety, and create a level playing field for drivers by tackling out-of-area working.

The LGA is also calling for national minimum licensing standards for drivers of taxis and PHVs, and a mandatory national database of all licensed taxi and PHV drivers.

In order to strengthen licensing processes, the LGA last year launched its own national register of taxi and PHV licences which have been refused or revoked so councils can check new applicants against the database and update it with their own information.

But whilst updated statutory guidance for councils around taxi licensing is a positive step, it says ultimately the best way to strengthen safeguarding measures and ensure a level playing field for all drivers is for government to update taxi laws.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

Updating outdated and flawed taxi licensing laws has never been more urgent to provide safer journeys for the public and fairer business for drivers.

The Government must stick to the commitment that was made earlier this year to reform taxi legislation.

Reforms are needed to reflect the increasing use of mobile phone apps to book taxis and private hire vehicles and to give councils national enforcement powers so they can take action against any vehicles operating in their areas irrespective of where they are licensed.

Safeguarding legislation needs to be strengthened following well-documented child exploitation cases where taxi and PHV drivers have abused the trust placed in them.

Undue delay risks public safety.

Harrogate Borough Council say they broadly support the Local Government Association’s call for reform to the laws governing taxis and private hire vehicles.

Legislation has not kept pace with technological change and does need reviewing, especially where change would contribute to safer – and fairer – journeys/services for passengers.

Harrogate has not seen an increase in applications for licences for vehicles or drivers in the district. Apart from the odd minor fluctuation, the figures have been consistent for the last 15 years or so.

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