In December 2021, the High Court has clarified the definition of “plying for hire” in relation to minicabs working for licensed operators.

In the case of United Trade Action Group Ltd, R (On the Application Of) v Transport for London (Rev1) [2021] EWHC 3290 (Admin), Lord Justice Males and Mr Justice Fraser were asked to make a declaration on whether, in order to comply with the provisions of the 1998 Act, a licensed operator must accept a contractual obligation to the passenger as a principal to carry out the booking (“the Operator issue”). 

Lord Justice Males and Mr Justice Fraser said:

“In our judgment the 1998 Act plainly contemplates that acceptance of a booking by the operator will create a contract between the operator and the passenger and, furthermore, that this will be a contract by which the operator undertakes an obligation as principal to provide the transportation service, that is to say to provide a vehicle and driver to convey the passenger to the agreed destination. That is what is meant by a “private hire booking”.”

By way of illustration, they continued:

“If the passenger’s only contractual relationship is with a driver he or she has never heard of and who is in any event unlikely to be worth claiming against, any claim is likely to be practically worthless. Conversely, if the obligation must be undertaken by the operator, the operator will have a powerful incentive to ensure that the drivers it uses are reliable and, if something does go wrong, a remedy against the operator is likely to be worthwhile.”

In accordance with this judgement, Transport for London (TfL) amended the Private Hire Vehicles (London) (Operators’ Licences) Regulations 2000 via the Private Hire Vehicles (London) (Operators’ Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

The new Regulation 9(14) of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) (Operators’ Licences) Regulations 2000 states:

“The operator shall enter into a contractual obligation as principal with the person making the private hire booking to provide the journey which is the subject of the booking and any such contractual obligation must be consistent with the 1998 Act and these Regulations.”

What does this mean in practice?

In order to operate lawfully, under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (the 1998 Act) a licensed operator who accepts a booking from a passenger is required to enter as principal into a contractual obligation with the passenger to provide the journey which is the subject of the booking. 

It is contrary to London private hire vehicle (PHV) operators’ statutory role, and against the interests of public safety, for London PHV operators to transfer responsibility for the provision of private hire services onto others, such as drivers.

In order to comply with the 1998 Act, London PHV operators must therefore contract directly with passengers and must do so on their own behalf as opposed to on behalf of someone else (e.g. a driver). Contracting with passengers as “principal” means that operators must be legally responsible for the provision of the journey (or transportation services).

Operators can also refer to TfL’s guidance.  

Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.

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