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Taxis, minicabs and mobile apps: Law Commission publishes controversial proposals for reform of taxi and private hire regulation

The Law Commission has finally published its recommendations for the reform of the law relating to taxis and private hire services, write Jack Parker and Rory Clarke.

Against the background of a complex and piecemeal regulatory system, much of which pre-dates the invention of the motor car, and at a time when mobile phone technology, in the form of apps such as Uber and Hailo, threatens to revolutionise the industry, everyone is agreed that reform is much needed. While not the root-and-branch reform some were hoping for, these proposals are likely to be controversial, imposing increased regulation and stiffer penalties on some, and removing restrictions on others.

The key elements of the proposals are:

  • The two-tier system, which distinguishes between taxis (which can be hailed in the street or from ranks) and private hire (which must be pre-booked), is to be maintained.
  • The creation of new offences to distinguish more clearly between taxis and private hire vehicles, in order partly to deal with the advent of mobile phone apps which have blurred this distinction. The imprecise concept of "plying for hire" is abandoned and a prohibition of carrying passengers for hire without a licence, alongside a new offence making it unlawful for anyone other than a local taxi driver to accept a journey starting "there and then" is introduced.
  • The introduction of a statutory definition of pre-booking in order to create a clear distinction between a taxi in its licensing area and a private hire vehicle. For private hire vehicles, advance price information must be available on request, whereas taxis can be hailed for a journey beginning there or then with no need for arrangements in advance.
  • Private hire operators will no longer be limited to using drivers and vehicles from their own licensing area, nor will they be limited to bookings within that area.
  • National standards will be introduced to ensure uniformity of regulation and address the disparities which currently exist between licensing authorities. The national standards will continue to be administered by local authorities, which can also decide to impose additional conditions, subject to proper consultation. Fares will also be left to local authorities to decide.
  • Councils will still be able to limit the number of taxi licences they issue subject to a new test of "public interest" in place of the old "unmet demand".
  • Increased powers will be given to licensing officers to improve enforcement, including a power to stop a licensed vehicle on the road without a police officer present.
  • The procedure for hearings and appeals will be standardised across England and Wales.

The licensing team at Cornerstone Barristers has a particular interest in the reforms because two of the team, Philip Kolvin QC and James Findlay QC, were part of the Expert Panel which advised the Commission.

For a copy of the full report, please click here.