When does the law permit a taxi (hackney carriage) driver to refuse a fare?

In law, there are essentially two options available to drivers:

  • Taxi journeys that start and end in the area where that driver is licensed (controlled district) cannot be refused without reasonable excuse.
  • Taxi journeys that start in the controlled district but end outside of that area can be refused as there is no statutory duty on the driver to accept a booking outside of the controlled district.

S.53 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 states:

“A driver of a hackney carriage standing at any of the stands for hackney carriages appointed by the commissioners, or in any street, who refuses or neglects, without reasonable excuse, to drive such carriage to any place within the prescribed distance, or the distance to be appointed by any byelaw of the commissioners, not exceeding the prescribed distance to which he is directed to drive by the person hiring or wishing to hire such carriage, shall for every such offence be liable to a penalty not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale.”

A driver of a taxi (or hackney carriage) can only refuse to carry passengers within a controlled district if he has reasonable excuse to do so. What constitutes “reasonable excuse” is ultimately a matter for a court of law to determine.

In reference to the coronavirus, what is certain is that fares cannot be refused simply based on the nationality or ethnicity of a passenger.

It would arguably be reasonable if they, or any other person, appears to be presenting symptoms.  It can, in practical terms, of course be hard to make this decision particularly as taxi drivers are not medical experts.

What could also be relevant is acting on national advice.  For example, a taxi driver may feel more comfortable with carrying a single person or perhaps a couple as opposed to a large group.

The legal test and therefore overriding consideration remains whether the decision to refuse the fare would constitute a “reasonable excuse”.  Under the circumstances it would be very difficult for a licensing authority to show beyond reasonable doubt that a cautious approach or one based on official advice was unreasonable unless it is clear that the decision to refuse the fare was purely based on the passengers nationality or ethnicity.

Stephen McCaffrey

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

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