Bristol next city to join Birmingham in crackdown on Out of Town Taxi Drivers
Bristol city council is threatening to crack down on out of town taxi drivers after 100 local drivers protested outside the council offices.
Deputy mayor Asher Craig said Bristol would follow the example of Birmingham city council, which has taken a similar hard-line stance against drivers licenced outside the city.
In Birmingham, a police officer has been appointed specifically to enforce the rules and regulations involving taxis and private hire vehicles. The officer is detailed with catching taxis licensed from outside the city who ply for trade in Birmingham.
That offence is one of the biggest complaints made by taxi drivers in Bristol, who have recently mounted a series of protests against the council in recent weeks. Last month, drivers staged a go-slow protest outside Temple Meads station in Bristol in protest at the number of out of town licenced Uber drivers operating in the city.
Wellingborough revises taxi and PHV licencing
Wellingborough Council has introduced a revised policy for the operation of taxis and private hire vehicles in its area.
The revised policy and conditions cover safeguarding; disability training and assessments for all licensed drivers; enhanced medical checks; increased reviews of driver standards and a more detailed assessment of their fitness.
Further revisions include allowing the licensing of rear-loading disabled access private hire vehicles, allowing for larger powered wheelchairs to be transported.
Drivers can now only use a single Bluetooth earpiece in conjunction with a hands free mobile telephone and cannot smoke cigarettes in their vehicles.
Does Operating Cross Boarder Invalidate Taxi and Private Hire Insurance?
Cross border hiring is having an impact on both public hire and private hire drivers across the United Kingdom. London black cab drivers insist they see Uber drivers from cities as far away as Manchester and Sheffield operating at weekends in the capital.
Donna Short from the National Private Hire Association (NPHA) claims it’s a huge issue, “affecting most licence holders in the majority of licensing authorities’. Many of her association’s members have contacted the NPHA to ask if drivers are insured when carrying passengers outside the district their licence has been issued in.
We attempt to answer her questions and those of the drivers who have been in touch on social media regarding the intrusion.
THE DEREGULATION ACT 2015
It’s worth pointing out that the issue began when the Deregulation Act came into force on October l, 2015. The Act’s original intention was to enable people to work more efficiently by sub-contracting work to drivers in other licencing areas close-by. This allowed for other companies’ drivers to be used when they are closer to a booking request from further afield.
Instead of being a force for good, though, it has effectively allowed taxi and private hire vehicles to operate across the whole of England and Wales. Local council enforcement officers often have restricted powers to carry out spot checks on vehicles licensed elsewhere.
WHY DO PRIVATE HIRE & TAXI DRIVERS OPERATE ACROSS BORDERS?
The primary reason a driver will seek to operate across a border is to get a larger number of fares in busier areas for a higher rate of pay. For example, Uber regularly introduces surge charging in London during times of peak demand and when major incidents such as tube strikes occur.
London is easily the largest licencing area, but Transport for London (TfL) has no mandate to restrict the number of licences given out. This has greatly suppressed fares, and that, in turn, has done the same to the income of all drivers in London. Indeed, drivers who operate across licencing borders might well be attempting to avoid certain rules imposed by local councils to reduce their insurance costs.
If a private hire or taxi vehicle is working wholly outside the district that granted the vehicle its licence, does this invalidate its insurance cover?
Following the Deregulation Act, insurers cannot endorse a policy that states a driver can’t take a pre-booked job from an operator that is outside his or her area. So, the driver’s insurance in this case would not be void. Providing the booking went through the appropriate channels, or authorities do not deem it as touting, then the driver’s insurance would be enforced.
Many drivers get the benefits from this flexibility of cover when they collect a passenger in one of jurisdiction and transport them to an address in another. The majority of drivers would regard this as a positive thing, and would not seek to restrict the market to prevent this from happening.
Unfortunately, as it currently stands, even if a private hire or public hire taxi vehicle is being used for work wholly outside the district that granted the vehicle its licence, it would not be violating its insurance policy. However, if the driver did something which the authorities felt contradicted the rules and was deemed to touting, then the policy could be voided.
HOW CAN THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY HELP STOP CROSS-BORDER HIRING?
One area that insurance can really influence is cost. With insurance, there are many factors which make up the cost of your insurance. Age, vehicle, home postcode, operating post code, and licensing authority are the main essentials. A number of drivers operating solely or almost entirely outside their licenced areas have worked out that certain areas of the country pay less for insurance, and then fraudulently state that they are based in these areas.
Daniel Severin, sales manager at Plan Insurance, says: “Insurers attempt to combat this deception by asking where drivers live, where their licence is issued from, who they work for and where they get their bookings. He says Plan will then rate the policy based on these facts, However, we know a lot of our competitors do not obtain the full picture.”
HOW WILL CROSS BORDER HIRING AFFECT PRIVATE HIRE AND TAXI DRIVERS’ INSURANCE COSTS?
Plan Insurance claims that areas which have performed Well in the past, with regards to low claim payouts, are now being corrupted by drivers from areas that have not performed as well. Daniel Severin says if this trend continues; then these drivers operating across borders will end up increasing insurance prices across the board. “For example, people working and living in or around the Lake District pay a lot less than people who live or work in nearby urban areas, such as Blackpool, Blackburn and Manchester. If drivers from these areas continue to obtain licenses in areas like Copeland but really, they work in Manchester, then Copeland will end up having the same claim statistics as Manchester. As a result, insurers will have to treat Copeland in the same way that they treat Manchester.”
IS A NATIONAL PRIVATE HIRE AND TAXI LICENCING BODY NEEDED?
With local councils often unable to assert authority over drivers and vehicles licensed elsewhere, perhaps a national regulatory body for the taxi and private hire industries is required.
We already have the Driver and Vehicle Safety Authority (DVSA, previously known as VOSA), which licences and carries out vehicle checks. Could the DVSA take on the responsibility for taxi and private hire regulation across the UK?
If it did, standardised rules could be enforced nationwide. There would still need to be some regional flexibility such as in London where the Black Cab trade is subject to much stricter regulations to maintain required standards. If this went ahead, there would be much less confusion over rules relating to vehicle criteria, whether non-PH licenced drivers, such as spouses, are allowed to drive licenced vehicles: regulation of MOTS, licence costs, DBS checks and insurance requirements.
In addition to the DBS checks, a national body would be able to build a database of drivers. The intention of this would be to prevent drivers who have previously been deemed not to be fit and proper persons from requesting a licence in a different licencing area.
An example of this is when two drivers, Nasser Hussain and Nisar Abbas, received custodial sentences for perverting the course of justice by operating a ring in which drivers shared driving convictions to avoid being banned. Subsequently, their private hire licences were revoked by the local council.
Another area affected by cross-border issues is Bristol, where drivers are obtaining private hire vehicle licences to dodge their obligation to complete the council’s driving and topography tests.
UNINSURED DRIVERS ALSO AFFECT INSURANCE COSTS
Plan Insurance’s Daniel Severin believes more needs to be done about those drivers who don’t have appropriate insurance. “The regulators and local authorities need to be prioritising tackling this issue, There are thousands of drivers ‘acting’ as private hire that are not insured and this is having a massive inflationary effect on the cost of insurance for the industry.”
Meanwhile, Barry James, commercial director of insurance consultants Osborne & Sons, sympathises with operators and the frustrations they may be experiencing with regard to cross-border hires. “From an insurance perspective, it is not for us to regulate the Private/Public hire industry,” he says. “Although, over the years, I have been lobbied to try and enforce regulation through soft means using insurance as the backdrop for this. There is no legislation at present preventing insuring a vehicle and then using it cross-border, nor to my knowledge are there any insurers/brokers utilising specific wordings or endorsements to prevent cross-border working,” adds Barry. “Even if there were such wordings/endorsements in themselves, they could easily be challenged and unenforceable. Indeed, in the current legislative regime, the Road Traffic Act would mean an insurer would at least still pick up liabilities to a Third Party in any event, thus only part of a claim (if a client was insured for Third Party, Fire, and Theft or Comprehensive) could potentially be avoided. From a ‘treating customers fairly’ point of view this would not meet the current Financial Conduct Authority directive either.
He continued: “In my view, and the approach we take here at Osborne & Sons after consultation with our insurer partners, is we do not actively wish to insure persons/businesses openly operating outside their licencing authority, and, yes, we do check.
He concluded: “My staff are well trained and there is normally a common answer to one of our particular questions which is a good indicator if persons/businesses intend to work outside their licencing area. If we do choose to insure a driver,’ a business that openly admits they, for example, are licenced in London but operate in Portsmouth, then we must understand in which area they wish to operate and why. If we are happy, then we will insure them on a Third Party Only basis. However, over the forthcoming weeks/months I can foresee this will change to a total refusal to arrange cover for risks operating outside their licencing authority.”
Paul Wilson, Client Services Manager at SEIB Insurance, says his firm checks policyholders’ information to ensure the location and driver’s details are in line with the advised address.
“We rate taxi/private hire business on the policyholders’ address, but we also enquire as to the licensing authority, obtaining copies of badges to support this. Then we cross reference the policyholder’s address against the licencing district,” says Paul.
He adds: “As long as the policyholder adheres to the local licensing laws, both where licenced and where operating and irrespective of where they are operating, i.e. cross border, they should not be contravening an insurance policy, and cover would therefore be in place.”
However, Paul believes that a national Private Hire & Taxi licencing body would standardise the requirements. He also says it would give local enforcement officers equal authority over drivers, irrespective of where they are licenced, and would therefore control the sector to a greater degree.