2019 DfT statistics show that the growth in private hire licensing continues to dominate the growth in the taxi and private hire sector.

The DfT statistics reported that the “number of total licensed vehicles in England increased by 2.5% (7,200 vehicles) since 2018, to 291,800, the highest number since comparable records were first collected in 2005. This was driven by an increase in Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs).

In 2019, over three quarters (76%) of all licensed vehicles in England were PHVs.

The number of licensed vehicles increased by 2.5% from 2018. This was driven by a 4.4% increase in licensed PHVs from the previous year. Licensed PHVs in England outside London increased by 7.4% to 133,100.

In terms of PHVs, the biggest growth has been in the east and west of England with the following licensing authorities being singled out:

  • Wolverhampton 62.3% increase
  • Aylesbury Vale 64.3% increase
  • Lewes 91.6% increase
  • South Gloucestershire 54.5% increase

In contrast, taxis now account for only a quarter of licences vehicles.  The licensing of taxis across the country is down from 4.2% in London and 3% in England. 

 

The number of licensed taxis has been falling consistently across the whole country.  In contrast to this, PHV show consistent growth.

 

In my view, there are a number of important factors that is promoting the growth in the private hire sector, in some cases, at the expense of the taxi trade.

 

  1. Ride hailing – The private hire market is now dominated by ride hailing technology and this is now largely what the consumer expects. Whilst we have the big and well-known players local version of smart phone booking apps and ride hailing technology is springing up regularly.  The convenience of this technology is attractive and driving demand in the private hire market.
  1. Deregulation – There is no doubt that deregulation and the “right to roam” has been a major contributor to the growth in the private hire sector. Private hire operators are no longer geographically constrained and the freedom to move promotes business growth.  As operators grow and expand, so there is a requirement for an increased workforce in the form of private hire licence holders.
  1. Union representation – The private hire sector has been able to organise itself much better and more effectively in terms of strong representation at national levels. This has resulted in outcomes more favourable to the private hire sector as a whole.  Traditionally the taxi trade has largely found a voice in taxi associations and whilst in some cases this has been effective, in most others it has not. 
  1. Workers’ rights – The recognition of private hire drivers and employees (as opposed to contractors) is becoming increasingly prevalent. A number of very high-profile cases involving Uber and other big operators, where it has been ruled that private hire drivers should be seen as employees, has given confidence to the private hire trade.  Being legally recognised as employees comes with all the benefits of statutory protection, paid leave and sick leave benefits.  This shift from self-employed contractors to employees has provided increased levels of confidence and security that has attracted more people to the private hire sector.
  1. Government inaction – The Government’s unwillingness to act on a number of issues particularly affecting the taxi trade has also contributed to the continued growth in the private hire sector. The Government will not legislate to define “plying for hire”, to regulate ride hailing technology and legislate to mandate a “return to base” for example.  Cross-border hiring and the right to roam is now accepted as a statutory right and one the Government will not interfere with.
  1. Innovation – It is fair to say that the private hire sector has largely lead innovation in the industry as a whole. On the other hand, the taxi trade has not been quick enough to innovate which has left the taxi trade lagging behind.  Lagging behind in this respect is leaving the way taxis operate as increasingly archaic and not responsive to the way more and more customers choose to travel these days.

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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