Congress 2019 Panel 1 – Toward a national standard
Steve Wright – LPHCA
Joe Polley – Parker Car Service
Charlie Bowmont – Capstar
Mike Galvin - Karhoo
Greg Mendoza – Carey Worldwide
Chairman: Mark Bursa, Editor, Professional Driver
Chairman Mark Bursa opened the ProDriver Congress 2019 with a discussion about the new government report into the taxi and private hire industry by Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq.
He highlighted a number of issues arising from the report that were of particular relevance to private hire, of which the first was cross-border hires, with some local authorities such as Wolverhampton issuing licences “like confetti”.
Others included the subject of English language testing, which now looked as though it looked like it might be kicked into the long grass, and the question of whether Uber should regarded as a separate new category of player in the industry outside the usual division between taxis and private hire.
Mike Galvin of Karhoo felt that the industry’s response had to be to identify three to five areas where there was a reasonable degree of agreement in the industry and treat these as priorities. He was also in favour of a common standard of enforcement across the industry.
LPHCA chairman Steve Wright explained that he had been a member of the committee that had produced the report. He pointed to the wide degree of participation by twenty or so stakeholders and said that he agreed with about 80% of the report’s conclusions.
Although the app-only companies were still lobbying for a third way, Wright said they should be classified according to the current divide between taxis and private hire. There were some less favourable recommendations but he was in favour of national compliance, national standards and national enforcement - but national standards with caution when it came to companies operating far out of area.
Joe Polley of Parker Car Service pointed to the high licensing costs recently imposed in London - national standards could avoid that disparity. Also, most drivers were now satnav-based and didn’t require detailed local knowledge of a particular area.
Charlie Bowmont of Capstar drew a comparison with licensing of security guards in the security industry, although that industry was self-regulating and had fewer individuals requiring licensing.
Chairman Mark Bursa then moved the discussion on to the subject of ride sharing. Joe Polley said that his company used to offer ride sharing but couldn’t find enough customers who wanted to use such a service.
Greg Mendoza of Carey Worldwide added that his company had offered ride shares in certain US cities but had discontinued it from most locations because of a lack of volume. He wondered whether it would gain wider acceptance given British customers’ reluctance to share private space. There were also some safety concerns but finding the demand was main issue.
An interactive vote overwhelmingly rejected one of the main proposals in the Abdel-Haq report - that journeys should either start or finish in the area where an operator is licensed. Steve Wright said there was “not an ounce of sense in this idea”. He felt it was a protectionist measure favoured by those who wished to contain private hire, as well as being bad environmentally and from the point of view of efficient use of resources.
Capstar’s Charlie Bowmont thought such a measure would involve chauffeur companies turning down a vast quantity of work. Mike Galvin said there was some merit in the idea that taxis should only be capable of being hailed in their licence area but that it wasn’t appropriate for private hire. That said, some authorities were licensing large numbers of operators that were working elsewhere and while it would be difficult to “put the genie back in the bottle” there was probably a need to restore some red lines, especially in the interests of safety.
This prompted a discussion of the precise definition of hailing, with apps in particular blurring the line between hailing in the street and pre-booking. Steve Wright thought that the two-tier taxi/private hire split worked but that the app-based companies would love to create a third category in the middle that would give them all of the advantages.
Mike Galvin felt that overall, the Abdel-Haq report had been a good exercise, bringing together diverse stakeholders, including customers, under an independent chairman. On the other hand, there was still a need for more common standards with better enforcement. In particular a national database would ensure, for example, that a driver turned down in one area couldn’t slip through by making a new application in another area. Also, enforcement officers shouldn’t be restricted to their home areas in their enforcement activities.
Steve Wright felt that “national standards” shouldn’t be “minimum standards” but should aim somewhat higher. Charlie Bowmont of Capstar raised the subject of training and the English language tests. There was a lot of confusion about the precise requirements and under-resourcing at Transport for London was a problem as well.
Wright felt that one of the reasons that Wolverhampton, for example, had issued so many licences which were being used out of area was that certain other areas - for example Manchester authorities - had taken so long to licence drivers, up to a year in some cases. Again, a national system with two-tier regulation would help. The absence of a national system was behind so many of the industry’s issues.
Q1 Are you aware of the Department for Transport’s new report into the taxi and private hire sector?
Good awareness levels of the government report, with only 26.7% of participants unaware of it, though only one in five have actually read it.
Q2 Does the industry need national licensing or regulation, like PSV or HGV licensing?
Delegates are overwhelmingly in favour of national licensing, with fewer than one in 10 opposed to the concept. The question is now about whether to set minimum standards or something more prescriptive.
Q3 Should there be fixed prices for driver and vehicle licensing on a national or regional basis?
A split down the middle for fixed prices for driver and vehicle licensing nationally or regionally. Might an unwillingness to lose the ability to shop around be an obstacle to setting a national standard?
Q4 Should ride-sharing be allowed?
Thumbs-up for ride-sharing. Almost half the delegates thought ride-sharing should be allowed as part of private hire, and only around a third thought it should not be permitted at all.
Q5 The DfT report proposes that journeys should either start or finish in the area where you are licensed. What do you think about this?
An overwhelming 85.7% oppose one of the main proposals in the Abdel-Haq report - that journeys should either start or finish in the area where an operator is licensed. This most contentious of issues needs addressing.