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Law Commission Sets Out Early Thinking on Reforms
Following an extensive consultation on the regulations governing taxis and mini-cabs (private hire vehicles), the Law Commission has announced, in an interim statement, a change of direction on two key proposals: setting restrictions on local taxi numbers, and licensing for wedding cars.
The Commission initially proposed abolishing the right of licensing authorities to restrict the number of taxis permitted to operate in an area. But it has been convinced that the benefits of change are outweighed by the advantages of continuing to allow restrictions. On the one hand, the Commission accepts that restrictions can have a place in combating congestion and over-ranking, and supporting a viable taxi trade to maintain high standards. On the other, there is no compelling evidence that de-restriction reduces fares or has a significant effect on waiting times. It will also recommend that areas where numbers of taxis are now limited should be able to retain their traditional “plate value” systems. If new areas regulate numbers, however, licenses would not be transferrable, preventing plate values from accruing.
The proposal to bring wedding and funeral cars into the same regulatory framework as mini-cabs has also been revisited, and the Commission will be recommending that they retain their statutory exemption from licensing, rather than relying on the Secretary of State or Welsh Ministers to exempt them.
The Commission has restated its commitment to keeping the two-tier system that distinguishes taxis from mini-cabs. It will recommend retaining the local nature of the hackney trade, with only taxis being able to pick up passengers from a rank or on the street (“ply for hire”). Mini-cabs should continue to be restricted to offering a pre-booked service.
Frances Patterson QC, the Law Commissioner leading the project, says: “The legal framework governing the taxi and private hire trades is complex and inconsistent. The purpose of our review is to improve and simplify it, and ensure it is fit for purpose.
“We listened to a great many people during our consultation – drivers, operators, licencing authorities and passengers. They confirmed what we have always believed, that the two-tier system distinguishing taxis and mini-cabs should stay. And they convinced us that the trade and its passengers will benefit if licensing authorities continue to have the power to limit taxi numbers.”
The Commission is half way through its review and expects to make final recommendations for reform to Government at the end of the year. In light of the consultation, which brought in more than 3,000 responses, it has reached a number of other early decisions on what it will recommend, including:
― Applying a national set of standards for mini-cabs.
― Introducing compulsory disability discrimination training for all drivers, and making it a licence condition that drivers should not discriminate against disabled passengers.
Responses to the Commission’s consultation can be found on www.lawcom.gov.uk. The final report, with a draft Bill, will be published at the end of 2013.