|Consideration was given to a report on the financial position regarding the Transport Licensing Account and the fee structure that should be advertised.|
The licensing and administration / supervision of hackney carriage and private hire vehicles, drivers and operators was undertaken by the authority on a full cost recovery basis, the fees charged for licenses covered all staffing and operational costs.
The financial management was carried out by the use of a ring-fenced trading account in compliance with audit and legal requirements. Any surplus monies taken in licensing fees were maintained in the balance sheet to be used to offset any deficiencies that may occur in future years. From time to time the fee levels were adjusted to take into account the expenditure of the Council, which had been reduced by 5% for 2012/13, and the amount of balances held.
The last variation in fees was undertaken in 2008, since that date there had been changes in the structure of the licensing team and the processes used for the issue and supervision of licences which meant that it was appropriate to adjust the fee structure.
Attached to the report were proposals for a revised fee structure to allow for financial management of the account in accordance with the requirements of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP). There was a choice of two options provided for Members to consider and their impact on the MTFP was shown within the report.
The two proposed options were prepared following the quarterly Trade Meeting between Officers and the trade on 21st November 2011 where their initial thoughts were sought on a range of potential options before seeking Members approval on what fee structure should be published and formally consulted upon in accordance with Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. There were two prevailing views on how any reductions to the fees should be applied, the hackney carriage trade preferred an approach represented by Option 1 and the private hire trade preferred an approach represented by Option 2.
Option 1 passed the savings from reducing the number of renewable licensing plates on vehicles to vehicle proprietors and then applying a cut of around 2.5% across the majority of the licence fees. Option 2 took into account the shift in the amount of work undertaken in the various licence areas since the fees were last reviewed, resulting in a reduction in vehicle and operator fees and an increase in drivers' fees. This recognised the increase in the amount of enforcement work involving drivers that had occurred.
Wheelchair accessible vehicles had enjoyed a discount in fees for the last twenty years in order to promote their use on the fleet. It was proposed that a discounted fee for such vehicles be continued, this was generally supported by the trade. The Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy allowed for a discount of 20-25% for LPG, petrol-electric or compressed natural gas powered vehicle and it was proposed that this should also be continued. The preliminary options discussed with the trade proposed increases of vehicle test fees but Direct Services had confirmed that these increases could be avoided.
Sections 53 and 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 provided the statutory basis for the charging of fees and were attached to the report.
The option selected by Members would be advertised for at least 28 days with the proposed end date for any objections to be 3rd February 2012 and any objections to the variation would be considered before a final decision on the fee structure. If 5 or less objections were received the decision would be made by officers, if 6 or more objections were received this issue would be returned to the Licensing Committee for the final decision.
Mr Khazir (Secretary of Stockton Hackney Drivers Association) was in attendance at the meeting and spoke as the representative for the members of the Stockton Hackney Drivers Association. Mr Khazir reported that he had received 50 letters from members of the Stockton Hackney Drivers Association that supported Option 1. Mr Fidler (Tees Valley Cabs) was in attendance at the meeting and reported that he was representing the Private Hire Trade. Mr Fidler outlined that he had submitted a letter on behalf of the Private Hire Trade supporting Option 2.
Members then discussed the options at length and agreed that Option 2 be published as a proposed variation to the current fees in accordance with Section 70 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976.
|Consideration was given to a report that sought Member's comments on a review of the Council's current policy in respect of Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing with a view to producing a revised document for further consultation with the trade and interested stakeholders.|
At the meeting of Cabinet held on 5th March 2009, a consolidated Private Hire and Hackney Carriage Licensing Policy was approved with effect from 6 March 2009. A copy of minute 158/08 that referred was attached to the report.
At that time it was agreed within the policy that a full review would be conducted every three years and the purpose of the report was for Members to consider a draft revised policy document that had been prepared for consultation with the taxi trade and interested stakeholders.
Since its introduction there had been several requests to the Committee and officers to depart from the policy and challenges to parts of it in both the Magistrates and Crown Courts. The revised document had addressed these issues where appropriate and the main changes proposed were as follows:-
(a) Tinted Window Requirements
At the meeting held on 7 September 2009 after consideration of a request from the trade Members agreed that grandfather rights be granted to existing licensed vehicles which would otherwise fail the policy requirement in relation to tinted windows until the next review of the policy or three years whichever was the sooner. This allowance was also subject to the requirement that any replacement vehicle must comply with the policy as would any new vehicle and that any application to transfer the vehicle in respect of such a vehicle be determined on their merits by officers in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee (minute L 40/09 referred).
It was proposed that the requirement in respect of tinted windows be retained in the policy as in the recently published best practice guide produced by the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Inspection Technical Officer Group they recommend, with the exception of stretch limousines, vehicles should not be accepted with blacked out windows. Passengers being carried in the vehicle must be visible from the outside. In exceptional circumstances, tinted windows may be acceptable. The wording of the policy had been amended to reflect this view.
It was also proposed that the remaining 17 vehicles that did not comply with this requirement be allowed further grandfather rights until such time as the vehicle was changed or ownership of the vehicle was transferred at which time the vehicle must be complied with.
(b) Accident Damaged Vehicles
The policy of not licensing vehicles recorded as accident damaged on their V5 registration document was challenged by a licensed private hire operator by way of an appeal to the Magistrates Court against the refusal to renew several private hire vehicle licences operated by him. The appeal was not upheld and no further appeal was lodged. It was proposed therefore to retain this policy requirement.
(c) Driver Training Requirements
At the meeting held on 16 March 2010 following consideration of a report on changes to the funding arrangements for delivering the training courses Members agreed to suspend the mandatory training requirement of the policy pending the review or until changes to the funding regime were made, whichever was the shorter period (Minute L 84/09 referred).
The funding arrangements had not changed but the training courses had. The BTEC Intermediate Award - Transporting Passengers by Taxi and Private Hire was replaced in January 2011 by the new accredited BTEC Introduction to the Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver.
The BTEC covered all aspects of passenger transport using hackney carriage and private hire vehicles and consisted of nine units:-
Health and safety in the taxi and private hire work environment
Road safety when driving passengers in a taxi or private hire vehicle.
Professional customer service in the taxi and private hire industry.
Taxi and private hire vehicle maintenance and safety inspections
The regulatory framework of the taxi and private hire industry
Taxi and private hire services for passengers who require assistance
Routes and fares in the taxi and private hire vehicle industry
Transporting of parcels, luggage and other items in the taxi and private hire industries.
Transporting of children and young persons by taxi or private hire vehicle.
This nine unit qualification was tested by seven onscreen tests and an observation record/witness testimony to cover the practical assessment of two of the outcomes in relation to the unit covering Taxi and private hire services for passengers who required assistance.
This qualification also provided the underpinning knowledge for the Level 2 NVQ Certificate in Road Passenger Vehicle Driving (Taxi and Private Hire) (QCF).
In order to enhance the professional image of the private hire and hackney carriage trade and to enhance driver skills Members were asked to consider the proposal that all drivers and private hire operators (or a representative of the licensed company) who had not already successfully completed the BTEC Award in Transporting Passengers by Taxi and Private Hire or the NVQ Level 2 in Road Passenger Vehicle Driving should be required to successfully complete the new BTEC course at their own expense within three years from the grant or renewal of their next licence.
(d) Private Hire Operator Licence Conditions
Some of the Private Hire Operator conditions in relation to the keeping of records and notification requirements to the Council were challenged in the courts when on appeal to the Crown Court some of the conditions were considered to be unreasonable. These had been removed from the standard conditions which were attached as an appendix in the policy.
(e) Drug Testing Of Drivers
The proposal to introduce random drug testing of drivers was agreed by Cabinet on 5 March 2009 and at the meeting held on 2 February 2010 Members were advised on how this was to be conducted in house, using trained officers and on the procedure that was to be followed (minute L 72/09 refers). Tests had been carried on drivers during planned enforcement exercises, following receipt of intelligence, and on applicants with drug related convictions and cautions. 131 tests had been completed to date of which 3 had been confirmed positive by secondary laboratory analysis and 19 were deemed to be false positives (e.g. due to prescription medicines).
The issue of drug testing of drivers had been raised at meetings with the trade when its continuation had been questioned because of an alleged excessive amount of time taken to carry out the tests and the allegation that no other transport sector drivers were subjected to such tests. The trade were advised of the actual time taken to conduct a negative test, 10 minutes on average, and other sector drivers, including Stagecoach and Arriva bus companies, were tested. However it was agreed that Members would be requested to consider whether drug testing be retained as part of the policy and that until that review testing be conducted on an intelligence led basis only.
Since the original policy was introduced the Government had still not issued any mandatory proposals to improve taxi provision for people with disabilities.
The Department of Transport was proposing to undertake demonstration schemes in 3 licensing authority areas, to research the needs of disabled people when using taxis and private hire vehicles, how to tailor the fleet to demand and use patterns and how driver training could assist disabled passengers. The demonstration schemes would provide the basis on which they would be able to issue comprehensive guidance to licensing authorities to assist with improving the availability of taxis and private hire vehicles for disabled passengers. Until their work was complete they were still encouraging councils to introduce taxi accessibility policies for their areas.
Following previous consultations the policy contained a provision that all new applications for hackney carriage vehicle licences had to comply with the agreed specification for wheelchair accessible vehicles until the number of such vehicles reached 25% of the total fleet, which equated to 70 vehicles. As this had not been achieved and the number remained at 26 Members were asked to consider whether they wished to retain this target and if so whether to introduce a new proposal that all applications which would replace an existing saloon hackney carriage vehicle had to comply with the specification for wheelchair accessible vehicles until the target is met, when the policy would be reviewed.
(g) Equality Act
The Disability and Discrimination Act 1995 had been repealed by the Equality Act 2010 and the policy had been amended to reflect this.
The Council had agreed that it would maintain a list of designated vehicles, (that is, a list of licensed wheelchair accessible HCVs and PHVs) under the provisions of Section 167 of the Equality Act 2010 (when implemented) (Minute 49/11 referred). The consequence of being on this list was that the driver of the vehicle must undertake the duties to assist passengers who use wheelchairs, unless an exemption had been issued by the Council.
Licensed drivers were also under a duty under this legislation to carry guide, hearing and other prescribed assistance dogs in their vehicles without additional charge. Drivers who had a medical condition that was aggravated by exposure to dogs may apply to the Council for an exemption from the duty on medical grounds. A medical certificate must be provided at the driver's expense, from the driver's own GP stating the details of their medical condition. A register will be kept of those drivers exempted.
These new amendments/proposals had been included in the revised policy.
(h) Right To Work
At the meeting held on 23 August 2011 Members agreed that the proposed procedure for ensuring applicants for driver and/or private hire operator licences hold the right to work in the UK be introduced (minute L 24/11 referred). This had been incorporated into the revised policy.
(l) Horse Drawn Hackney Carriages
At the meeting held on 31 August 2010 (minute L 43/10 refers) Members agreed specifications and conditions in relation to the licensing of horse drawn hackney carriages. These had been incorporated into the draft revised policy.
(j) Vehicle Emission Levels
Since the introduction of the policy vehicle emission standards for new vehicles had improved with the introduction of Euro 5 in 2009 and with a higher standard proposed for 2014. Members were therefore asked to consider improving the Councils requirements to reflect this by moving our standards up a level so that any application for the renewal of an existing hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence would only be granted if the vehicle can meet Euro 3 emission standards and applications for new and replacement vehicles be expected to meet Euro 5 emission standards.
(k) Car Safety And Euro NCAP Ratings
Euro NCAP was established in 1997 to provide independent crash-test assessments of popular cars to inform the public which cars protected occupants best in typical crash situations, helping them to choose a safer car.
Cars were given a star rating for adult occupant protection (maximum 5 stars) and pedestrian safety (maximum 4 stars)
In 2003 the rating system was altered to include a Child protection rating (maximum 5 stars)
In 2009 the rating system was altered again to reward the overall safety of a vehicle out of a maximum of 5 stars.
Members were asked to consider in the interests of driver and public safety a proposal to include specifications in the policy in relation to NCAP ratings that any application for the renewal of an existing hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence would only be granted if the vehicle can meet 4 star standards, either as an overall NCAP rating or, for vehicles registered before 2009 a four star rating for both adult and child protection as a minimum.
The proposal for replacement and new vehicles would be stricter, when they would be expected to have an overall NCAP rating of 5 stars.
(l) Calendar Controlled Meters
When the Policy was introduced in 2009 the requirement that the new meter provision apply to all vehicles from 1 April 2012 was agreed. It was not proposed to amend this requirement in any way.
(m) Vehicle Standards And Testing
A Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle National Inspection Standards best practice guide had been produced by the Technical Officer Group of the Public Authority Transport Network. The guide, a copy of which was attached to the report, set out the procedures and standards for those who carry out inspections of hackney carriages and private hire vehicles and was freely available to proprietors and operators of vehicles. Whilst the guide covered most, if not all of the specifications currently in the policy, Members were asked to consider the proposal that the guide be endorsed as the minimum standard acceptable to the Council.
Members were respectfully reminded that the Government had confirmed its intention to review the legislation appertaining to taxi licensing so it was proposed to include a statement in the revised policy that the Council would review the policy in line with any changes to that legislation should they be introduced during the three year term of the policy.
A copy of the existing policy document with all the proposed amendments identified as track changes was attached to the report for Members information.
Members of the taxi trade were in attendance at the meeting and made the following comments:-
* With regard to Driver Training Requirements - Proper training firms must be used, do taxi drivers need a qualification, what if the taxi driver fails the course, there will be a large cost to the taxi driver.
* With regard to the Accessibility - There is a huge cost to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle, fuel costs are higher, insurance is higher, irresponsible to ask taxi drivers to find the money, disabled groups have not come forward to say that they need these vehicles, 5 drivers in the Borough have had their homes or vehicles repossessed as they could keep up with high repayments, taxi drivers will struggle to get a loan, older driver would not be able to pay the loan off before they retire, what evidence is there that SBC need 25% of the fleet wheelchair accessible vehicles, there is already a good quality fleet of wheelchair accessible vehicles.
* With regard to Vehicle Emission Levels - this will put a huge cost burden on the trade.
* Car Safety and Euro NCAP Ratings - 5 * rated vehicles are very expensive and expensive to run, Vectra / Skoda etc are only 4 * vehicles and most people are happy to use such vehicles on a daily basis.
* Vehicle Standards and Testing - The trade support the guide produced by Public Authority Transport Network.
Members were then given the opportunity to discuss policy document and made the following initial comments on the draft policy:-
* Tinted Window Requirements - Minded to agree with the proposal that the remaining 17 vehicles that did not comply with this requirement be allowed further grandfather rights until such time as the vehicle was changed or ownership of the vehicle was transferred at which time the vehicle must be complied with.
* Accident Damaged Vehicles - Minded to agree that the policy of not licensing vehicles recorded as accident damaged on their V5 registration document be retained in the policy document.
* Driver Training Requirements - Minded to agree that all drivers and private hire operators (or a representative of the licensed company) who had not already successfully completed the BTEC Award in Transporting Passengers by Taxi and Private Hire or the NVQ Level 2 in Road Passenger Vehicle Driving should be required to successfully complete the new BTEC course at their own expense within three years from the grant or renewal of their next licence.
* Private Hire Operator Licence Conditions - Minded to agree that some of the conditions that the Crown Court considered to be unreasonable be removed.
* Drug Testing of Drivers - Minded to agree that drug testing be retained as part of the policy and agreed that until the outcome of the polict review is finalised that testing be conducted on an intelligence led basis only.
* Accessibility - Minded to agree that the target be retained and a new proposal that all applications which will replace an existing saloon hackney carriage vehicle have to comply with the specification for wheelchair accessible vehicles until the target is met, the policy will be reviewed.
Vehicles Emission Levels - Members agreed that any application for the renewal of an existing hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence will only be granted if the vehicle can meet Euro 3 emission standards and applications for new and replacement vehicles be expected to meet Euro 5 emission standards.
Car Safety and Euro NCAP Ratings - Members agreed to include specifications in the policy in relation to NCAP ratings that any application for the renewal of an existing hackney carriage or private hire vehicle licence would only be granted if the vehicle can meet 4 star standards, either as an overall NCAP rating or, for vehicles registered before 2009 a four star rating for both adult and child protection as a minimum. The proposal for replacement and new vehicles would be stricter, when they would be expected to have an overall NCAP rating of 5 stars.
Vehicle Standards and Testing - Members agreed the proposal that the guide be endorsed as the minimum standard acceptable to the Council.
Members had been reminded that the Government had confirmed its intention to review the legislation appertaining to taxi licensing and agreed the proposal to include a statement in the revised policy that the Council would review the policy in line with any changes to that legislation should they be introduced during the three year term of the policy.