Steve Wright, LPHCA chairman

The main conference was followed by a special Licensed Private Hire Car Association update meeting, hosted by Professional Driver, during which LPHCA chairman Steve Wright highlighted recent, current and forthcoming developments.

Wright expanded on his earlier summary during the main Congress of the LPHCA’s recent unsuccessful court case against TfL, which he said showed that “when David takes on Goliath, unfortunately Goliath has some big clodhoppers he can use to swat David away.”

Tempering the disappointment, though, was the progress that had been made in getting access to TfL Commissioner Mike Brown and his staff, and also pushing back the proposed English language tests for drivers in the capital. Now it was necessary to build upon that achievement.

Wright also set developments such as the demands of the current banded licensing system in the context of the fact that TfL’s finances had developed a £700 million black hole.

Addressing the English language tests in more detail, Wright said that London Mayor Sadiq Khan had said that he would look at these and ensure that they were fit for purpose. Wright thought that if the tests had been pushed through in their originally proposed form, some 20,000 drivers would have dropped out of the industry.

Wright said that he was pushing for grandfather rights that would allow existing drivers to carry on working without taking the English language tests. There were precedents for grandfather arrangements but the LPHCA’s own legal advice (in favour) differed from TfL’s legal advice (against) when it came to the question of applying them in the case of the English tests.

The Association was also highlighting flaws in the licensing regime, under which, because of the banding structure, an operator increasing its fleet from 99 to 100 might end up paying an additional £54,000 a year in licence fees to add that single car to its fleet, as that would shift the operator up a band. Companies also needed to reapply for their licenses when moving to a new tier. Overall, costs of an operator’s licence had gone up from some £2,000 to £80,000.

Wright also explained that while the Association had been unsuccessful with the court case, where the banded licensing fee structure was concerned, it was looking at a variety of other options, such as going to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the National Audit Office (NAO) or the Small Business Commissioner.

Another approach had been to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out more about the background to TfL’s decisions on fees, with some, but not complete, success.

Questioned why the association had mounted the court challenge in the first place, Wright explained that he had been advised that judicial review would be a quick option but in fact it had instead dragged out far more than expected. Also, the court had interpreted its role much more narrowly than expected, concentrating on points of law rather than the questions of proportion, fairness and so on which were the main concerns of the Association.

The legal case had been put forward on seven separate grounds, of which the first judge had allowed two - failure by TfL to consult and “improper purpose”, but a second judge had decided not to allow these.

Wright also highlighted the difficulty of effective campaigning, given the LPHCA’s limited resources of only £150,000 per year, from which he did not himself draw a salary. Although the Association had been “punching above its weight”, it still needed more funding and more members in order to be effective. Nevertheless, there had been PR successes, such as getting the English language tests issue onto the front page of the Evening Standard. This was in contrast to the taxi trade, which Wright said spent £1 million on lobbying.

Wright also called upon members to engage more actively in campaigning activity. Recently, the Association had written to members to ask them to write to their London Assembly members but only ten had done so.

In response to a question from Jonny Goldstone of Greentomato Cars, speaking from the floor, Wright explained some of the modernisation measures the Association was taking, which included rebranding the website and a planned relaunch of the membership system which it was hoped would bring in more revenues. Fundamentally, there was still an need for more members, but it was difficult to keep numbers up thanks to mergers between companies within the membership base.

Turning to future developments, Wright explained that many members’ vehicles wouldn’t be able to meet the forthcoming ULEZ (Ultra Low Emissions Zone) requirements and there was also the possibility of members being subject to the congestion charge in future.

A further area of activity was the TfL consultation on safety, but Wright didn’t believe this was considered an issue in the industry. There was also talk of an advanced driving test and enhanced wheelchair testing but Wright questioned whether, in the case of an advanced driving test, it was really necessary to apply this retrospectively to existing drivers.

Another area was proposed signage requirements, with the taxi trade, which is already obliged to carry extensive signage, pressing for private hire vehicles to display more safety and other information.

The outsourcing of driver medicals was also under consideration, a move that might, it was feared, lead to increased costs.

Wright closed the Special Session by thanking Professional Driver magazine for hosting the meeting.