TFL admit Sexual Assults by Touts could be higher.


House of Commons                 

Transport Committee

Taxis and private hire                                              

vehicles: the road to

reform

Seventh Report of Session 2010–12

Volume II

Additional written evidence

Ordered by the House of Commons

to be published 11 and 25 January, 1 and 8 February, 8, 15 and

22 March and 26 April

Written evidence from Transport for London (TPH 46)

1. Introduction

1.1 Transport for London (TfL) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Committee’s inquiry into the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs).

1.2 TfL is the licensing authority for Taxi and Private Hire operators, vehicles and drivers in the Greater London area. TfL’s responsibilities include setting standards that operators must meet. London has about 22,000 licensed taxis and 50,000 licensed private hire vehicles, approximately 25,000 taxi drivers and 60,000 private hire drivers, and 3,000 private hire operators. London taxi services have been licensed in the current form for over 150 years, and licensing of the private hire trade was introduced following legislation in 1998.

1.3 The Committee is seeking evidence relating to cross-border hirings and other aspects of taxi and private hire licensing, particularly concerning passenger safety.

TfL wishes to consider two particular areas concerning passenger safety: the character checks conducted on licensed drivers through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB); and the role of taxi and private hire services in late night travel, including enforcement against illegal cab activities.                    

2. Cross-border Hire Problems

2.1 Cross-border hire, in which a taxi or private hire operator takes bookings for trips in an area in which they are not based, is not currently a particular issue in London. However, this could change, particularly as measures are introduced to address issues particular to London, such as those contained in the Mayor of London’s Air Quality Strategy.

2.2 The Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy, which was recently published after a wide consultation including with the taxi and private hire trades, contains a number of proposals designed to improve air quality. These include the introduction of mandatory maximum age limits for taxis and private hire vehicles in London. This requirement would apply to taxi and private hire operators based in London only, as TfL has no jurisdiction to the area beyond the Greater London Authority (GLA) boundary.

2.3 Each authority around the country must consider appropriate licensing conditions for taxis and private hire services, bearing in mind local circumstances such as environmental issues. It is reasonable that licensing conditions may differ from area to area, as the issues which authorities face also differ.  However, this may lead to circumstances in which it is economically attractive for operators to be based in one area but offer bookings in another area which sets higher standards.

2.4 The relevant private hire licensing regime is determined by the authority where the booking centre is

based regardless of the journey origin and destination. This raises the possibility of a “call centre” private hire operation, with the operating centre based in an area with low licensing standards; bookings taken by telephone, internet or email; vehicles and drivers physically based in London but licensed in the same area as the operating centre; marketing in London and providing London journeys, with a competitive advantage over operators that comply with London licensing requirements.

2.5 Within London, modelling undertaken for the Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy shows that action is necessary to reduce harmful emissions from road vehicles and taxis in particular. However, if the cost of providing London taxi and private hire services is increased as a result of these measures, it may be economical for private hire operators based outside London to compete for London hirings. This would present unfair competition to London’s taxi and private hire operators, and would weaken the impact of the measures taken.

2.6 Some scope for cross-border hirings is necessary; particularly to serve areas close to local authority boundaries. However, TfL considers that some measures would be appropriate to restrict the scope of operators in one location to undertake bookings in another.

2.7 TfL considers it would be appropriate for legislation to clarify the circumstances when cross-border hirings are allowed and restrict the opportunities for operators and taxis to choose to be based in one area but serving the market in another.

Transport Committee: Evidence Ev w61

3. Enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) Checks

3.1 TfL welcomes the opportunity to raise other areas of concern relating to taxi and private hire licensing.

3.2 TfL is responsible for licensing of all London’s taxi and private hire drivers and must ensure applicants are fit and proper persons that do not pose a threat to the travelling public. TfL currently has around 80,000 driver licensees and the licensing authority must be satisfied that the applicant meets the fit and proper person criteria in order to obtain a licence. As such, all applicants must undergo a CRB check. The disclosures assist TfL in determining whether or not public safety would be compromised by granting an individual a licence.

3.3 The CRB Disclosure process has two levels: Standard and Enhanced. Prior to using the CRB Disclosure service, TfL and other licensing authorities considered which level of CRB Disclosure would be appropriate for taxi and private hire licence applicants. TfL concluded that it would request Enhanced Disclosures for all applicants because taxi and private hire drivers can, at any time and without prior knowledge, be in sole charge of passengers who are less than 18 years old or are vulnerable adults. In addition, they often come into contact with other individuals, who legally may not be classed as vulnerable but may be so due to medical or social reasons, such as being under the influence of medication, alcohol or drugs. These individuals (at those times) need to be protected from predators who could take advantage of them whilst they are in a vulnerable state.

3.4 Enhanced Disclosures can include “soft intelligence” from the local Police services in certain circumstances. Soft intelligence reports can contribute towards decisions TfL take in regard to a taxi or private hire licence application. It is worth noting that intelligence obtained by this method includes information on alleged sexual assaults (including rapes), terrorist activities, organised crime and drug dealing.

3.5 In its position as the licensing authority TfL reviews information that is brought to its attention and takes a balanced view on whether or not to issue the licence. TfL assesses information provided by Enhanced Disclosures to not only consider applicants’ criminal histories but to also give consideration to `patterns of behaviour’, which may be illustrated by the “soft intelligence” provided. Taxi and private hire drivers can, by the very nature of their roles, be called upon to carry children or vulnerable adults at any time and often come into contact with other individuals who are under the influence of medication, alcohol or drugs, particularly at night.

3.6 TfL recently sought further clarification from the CRB following the introduction of the Vetting and Barring Scheme. The CRB Policy Department responded that that the CRB do not consider that taxi and private hire drivers meet the criteria for Enhanced checks and TfL should be requesting Standard disclosures.

3.7 Between 2002 and 2008, some 2,400 applicants for both taxi and private hire licences have been refused on character grounds. Of these, some 10% have been refused based on “soft intelligence” revealed by an Enhanced Disclosure. Not allowing TfL to access this information therefore poses a significant risk.

3.8 Under an Enhanced Disclosure, checks may be requested against Protection of Children (POCA) and

Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) lists in some circumstances. After seeking clarification from the Director of Operations at the CRB, TfL requested additional checks against both lists for all licence applicants. In 2008, TfL was informed by the CRB that it was not entitled to request checks for taxi and private hire drivers against the POVA list as this can only be obtained for those within the Domiciliary Care Agencies,Care Homes and Adult Placement Schemes. Accordingly TfL ceased requesting POVA checks, but continued to request checks against the POCA list as part of an Enhanced Disclosure.

3.9 TfL recommends that it should be permitted to request Enhanced Disclosures for every taxi and private hire licence applicant. In addition, TfL and other relevant agencies should be permitted to request checks of taxi and private hire driver applicants against the POVA list.

3.10 Similar issues arise in respect of taxi and private hire licence applicants services outside London and so TfL suggests that all licensing authorities should be permitted to request the requirement for Enhanced CRB Disclosures should be applied nationally.

3.11 There is also the issue of antecedent checks for applicants who immediately before their application for a licence lived and worked outside the UK. Although the Enhanced Disclosure gives good information on the character history of UK residents, information on those who have lived and worked overseas is less comprehensive. Applicants who have spent more than three months living outside the UK within the previous three years are required to provide additional information about their history and a Certificate of Good Conduct is sought from the authorities in the countries concerned. This is necessary for up to 10 per cent of new applications.

3.12 Not all countries provide a Certificate of Good Conduct, and where provided the information is generally of less detail than that contained in the Enhanced Disclosure. There is also concern that Certificates of Good Conduct from some countries may not be based on as thorough and rigorous checks as those checks conducted by the CRB. This leaves a risk that TfL may not be aware of convictions or misconduct by people who have lived overseas. In at least two cases, offences committed overseas have come to light in investigation of serious offences by licensed drivers, which would have been reason to refuse the licence applications had they been known.

Ev w62 Transport Committee: Evidence

3.13 Public safety could be improved by better arrangements for collaboration and information exchange between UK and international police agencies, and TfL would like to see the Government give priority to

this area.

4. Late Night Travel

4.1 Taxis and private hire vehicles provide important options for travel late at night, when rail and Tube services are closed and bus services are more limited than in daytime. A late night travel survey commissioned by TfL in early 2010 showed that 13% of journeys home after a night out were made by taxi or private hire vehicle (7% in taxis and 6% in booked minicabs) with an additional 5% in illegal hires (this includes unlicensed minicabs and licensed private hire vehicles touting illegally).

4.2 While London is safe for most people travelling at night there are major concerns over the dangers of travelling in unbooked minicabs picked up off the street. Despite significant progress over recent years, illegal cabs remain a serious problem in London and are an under-rated danger of the Capital’s night life. These cars are unregulated and uninsured for the purposes of carrying passengers and in some cases are linked to more serious crimes such as sexual assault, robbery and arms and drugs offences. There is also evidence of increasing issues with aggressive and violent touts who are intimidating to members of the public and law abiding taxi and PHV drivers.

4.3 In 2009–10, there were 143 reported cab-related sexual offences including 24 rapes although we expect the actual number to be higher given the significant under-reporting of sexual offences generally. Cab-related sexual offences account for over 10% of all sexual offences in London committed by offenders not previously known to the victim.

4.4 Touting and associated issues are being addressed through a partnership approach involving enforcement,education and improvement of legitimate travel options including licensing and regulation of the taxi and

private hire industry. TfL and the police use a broad menu of tactics to deter, disrupt and detect illegal cab activity.

4.5 TfL is also working with the police and other partners to educate the public about the law relating to taxis and private hire vehicles, raise awareness of the dangers of illegal cabs and provide the public with better access to safe travel options. While this multi-media campaign has been extremely effective in reducing female usage of illegal cabs (from 19% in 2003 to 5% in 2010) perpetrators continue to adapt their methods to avoid

police detection and deceive the public into believing that they are providing legitimate services, putting the public at risk.

5. Enforcement Against Illegal Cab Activity

5.1 Enforcement against illegal cab activity is a priority for TfL and the Mayor of London, highlighted in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. In 2008, the Mayor introduced tougher regulatory penalties for any licensed private hire vehicle driver convicted of touting, and to date, over 400 licensed private hire vehicle drivers convicted of, or cautioned for, touting have had their private hire vehicle licences revoked for a minimum of one year. Despite this, in many instances, these drivers merely return to the streets unlicensed.

5.2 The MPS Safer Transport Command’s cab enforcement unit has made over 6,000 arrests for touting and dealt with another 2,000 offences by way of summons since its inception in 2003.

5.3 There remain concerns, however, that the penalties for drivers found to be touting are still too lenient and inconsistent in many cases. The current maximum fine that can be imposed for touting is £2,500 and £5,000 for driving without insurance (which applies to any driver touting, as any hire and reward insurance is invalidated).

5.4 Sentences in individual cases are a matter for the courts, taking into account the circumstances of the offence, including all mitigating and aggravating factors in accordance with the Sentencing Guidelines. In 2004, TfL and the Mayor of London raised concerns with the Home Office about the inconsistency and leniency of penalties being imposed for taxi touting. The average fine after sentence is around £135, which is not considered high enough to be seen as a deterrent. In addition, the level of fine varies from case to case. The inconsistency of penalties continues to be an issue and we ask for the Government’s support in helping to address this.

5.5 The Mayor of London, TfL and its policing partners urge the Government to introduce tougher penalties for touting which will help to deliver more effective enforcement against perpetrators and will create a safer environment for the travelling public. Suggested measures include:— Increasing the penalties for touting and unlawful plying for hire offences including higher fines and immediate driver licence disqualification following conviction or acceptance of a caution for touting.

Transport Committee: Evidence Ev w63

— Powers to seize and dispose of vehicles used in touting and unlawful plying for hire offences (powers under Section 165A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to seize motor vehicles being driven without insurance or a valid driving licence do not extend to seizing vehicles being driven without valid hire and reward insurance, although this insurance is compulsory for hire and reward activity).— Clearer legal definitions for touting and unlawful plying for hire offences to improve regulation and enforcement.

December 2010

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