Due to the lack of Government action, TfL must find its own “creative” solutions to up taxi & private hire standards in the capital to avoid “a race to the bottom”.

This is the conclusion of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee report “Raising the Bar Taxi and private hire services in London”.

The Assembly took evidence from a wide range of stakeholders to “assess how TfL is ensuring that Londoners are able to safely and comfortably access taxi and private hire services.”

On a number of occasions the Transport Committee found that the Government’s approach and view on certain matters was no aligned with that of TfL or the needs to the trade. To this end, the committee recommended that TfL seek its own “creative” solutions to finding solutions to the taxi and private hire industry’s difficulties.

Of note:

1. Supporting black cabs – Evidence submitted by the trade made it clear that “grave concern over the future of the black cab industry” remains an issue primarily because Government has been unwilling to, amongst other things, legislate to define “plying for hire” and “pre-booking” and to deal with cross-border hiring.

Since Government has been unwilling to do so, the committee recommended that:

“Given the ongoing challenges facing the industry, we believe that it is timely for the Mayor and TfL to refresh their action plan and provide evidence of progress. Given that the legislative measures set out in the action plan appear to be off the government agenda, TfL will need to focus on the other measures that can be taken, within existing powers, to boost support to the black cab trade.”

2. Private hire capping – TfL has previously proposed that Parliament provides it with new powers to cap the number of private hire licences it issues, and has lobbied the Government to bring forward legislation on this, citing the negative impact of the rapid growth in the number of vehicles on congestion and air quality.

On this point the Government, private hire sector and Assembly Members have expressed concerns citing potential issues with it being anti-competitive, a blunt tool that will not solve the problems it is intended to and will have other unwanted side effects. The Government has said it will not legislate to cap PH numbers in the capital citing potential problems with undersupply of vehicles, increase wait times and cause people to be stranded in vulnerable situations.

The committee therefore recommended that:

“The Mayor and TfL should therefore consider ‘smart alternatives’ to a numerical cap. This should include investigating how current and emerging technologies could be used to identify and mitigate the negative impacts of congestion and pollution at particular times or in particular locations.”

3. High-volume operators – The taxi and private hire sector in the capital has been changed irreversibly by the advent of the app-only companies such as Uber. The committee agreed that TfL has to date “failed to effectively evolve regulation and their capacity to handle a much more complex industry environment” because, as the committee found, that TfL “…has spent years attempting to force the square peg of Uber and other app-based operators into the round hole of private hire regulation and, in doing so, has ended up in a hole itself…”.

The committee’s solution is a “third tier of regulation” designed specifically for high-volume operators similar to an approach taken by licensing authorities in New York. To this end, TfL must consider “a new type of high-volume operator licence based on the number of journeys an operator carries out, rather than simply the size of its fleet.”

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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