The public wants a safe, regulated taxi service and the industry wants to provide it. But almost incredibly, taxi licensing outside of Greater London rests on the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847. Its highly localised nature makes the legislation in urgent need of a complete overhaul.
What the law and the public mean by ‘taxis’ can be different. In law, ‘taxis’ are also known as ‘hackney carriages’, ‘taxi cabs’, ‘black cabs’ or just ‘cabs’. They can be hailed on the street, operate from a rank, or be pre-booked, and they must have metered fares which a council can choose to regulate.
Private hire vehicles (PHVs) are different, and can also be known as ‘minicabs’, ‘executive cars’ or ‘chauffeur services’. They can only be pre-booked, and set their own rates. In comparison to cabs, their licensing is quite modern: it ‘only’ goes back to 1976! This of course still significantly pre-dates the mobile phone and the internet, which is critical to their business. It was written for a world where radio signals only covered the licensing authority area.
The government has not acted on various recommendations to rewrite the legislation around taxis and PHVs, leaving councils to cope with all sorts of problems. International businesses such as Uber have crashed the party, providing a slicker booking and payment system for what is just another PHV service. Their attractiveness is now exacerbating congestion in London and New York.
The distinction between taxis and PHVs is blurring, now that it’s more convenient, and typically quicker, to book a PHV than hail a taxi or walk to a taxi rank. PHV drivers can register in one licensing authority and operate in another, making monitoring and enforcement difficult, and raising concerns for passenger safety. The public urgently needs the government to step up and bring the legislation and licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles into the current century.
Cambridge’s own MP, Daniel Zeichner, has been active on this, but we need the government to support its own working groups. It’s absurd for the UK to still have taxis regulated by laws which were in place when Dickens wrote: “From my earliest youth I was taught to regard cabmen as birds of prey.”
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 10 October 2018.