The recently published Government response to the taxi and private hire task and finish group report lacks a real understanding of the trade’s day to day struggle.

From the outset, the Government made it clear that at the forefront of their deliberations are “the interests of passengers”.  It goes without saying that a safe transport system is very important and the entire purpose of the licensing system.  

 

However, there has been a real missed opportunity to address some of the real issues facing the trade on a daily basis.  However, with the focus being principally on the passenger’s interest, the Government has not seen it sufficiently important to take forward some of the task and finish group’s recommendation put forward by the trade representatives.

 Statutory definition of “plying for hire” and “pre-booked”

 The task and finish group recommended that the Government introduce legislation to define “plying for hire” and “pre-booked”.  Having these defined would have gone a long way to address some of the complex issues around ride-hailing and clarify the increasingly thin line between public/private hire. 

The Government however said that it has “…no reason to believe that the legal situation has hanged since 2014…” and that “…whether a vehicle is plying for hire in particular circumstances is a matter of fact and degree that the courts must consider.”  

The excuse that a statutory definition will remove the consideration of each case on its merits is baseless.  Every case before the courts, even where a statutory definition exists, will remain subject to the legal principle that the court must consider the individual merits of each case.  As has been evidenced in the recent Reading v Uber case, there is a sufficiently clear body of case law on what constitutes “plying for hire” to inform a statutory definition.  

The implication of the Government’s position on this is that the only avenue for the trade is expensive court cases. 

PHV journeys should start and/or end within their licensing area

Whilst the Government, in principle at least, seemed open to investigate this recommendation further, any legislation introduced will not go as far as the trade would prefer.  Any legislation introduced will be subject to a number of exemptions relating to certain activities (i.e. airport runs), geographical considerations and customer choice.

The Government has been clear that customer choice and benefits is of principle consideration and so if they can find less draconian measures they will opt for these instead.  Less draconian measures to address the safety concerns associated with cross-border hiring could be national standards and national enforcement powers. 

What the Government is not concerned about is the economic impact of cross-border hiring.  Towns and cities flooded by “out of town” vehicles take trade and business away from locally licensed drivers.  It is unfortunate that this was not acknowledged by the Government. 

I have for many years been an advocate for the taxi and private hire sector.  We are always happy to advise and provide assistance to local taxi and private hire licence holders and taxi/private hire associations on any licensing difficulties that may face, including appeals and judicial reviews.

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence.

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