|Consideration was given to a report on the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy Review.|
Comments had been received from the trade and other interested parties following consultation on the proposed draft Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy with a view to producing a final document for approval by Cabinet and for Members to determine how pending applications for Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Driver, Vehicle and Operator licences shall be dealt with.
At the meeting held on 13th December 2011, Members agreed a draft revised policy document in respect of Hackney Carriage and Private Hire licensing and that consultation be carried out with the trade and other interested parties on the proposed policy changes. A newsletter was sent to all licence holders, an advert was placed in the Herald & Post and information about the consultation was available from the home page of the Trading Standards & Licensing website. A copy of the consultation document and revised draft policy document was attached to the report.
The consultation had been completed and a document compiling all of the comments received was attached to the report.
The main changes proposed at the last meeting together with comments from the trade and officers were:-
(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 refers).
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 is changed or ownership of the vehicle is transferred at which time the policy must be complied with.
Cleveland Police supported the proposals in the consultation document.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with a number agreeing with the proposals, some suggesting alternative levels of tinting being allowed and some disagreeing with the proposals. Additionally some thought that those vehicles currently on the fleet should not be allowed to continue with their grandfather rights.
Officers were of the opinion that the wording of the policy could be amended to allow applicants to seek approval from the Committee for tinted windows in exceptional circumstances and that the existing 17 vehicles are allowed further grandfather rights upon the condition that they cannot be transferred to another proprietor.
(b) 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 this review or until changes to the funding regime were made, whichever was the shorter period (Minute L 84/09 refers).
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 require 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 shall 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.
Cleveland Police agree with this proposal.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with a number agreeing with the proposals and a number disagreeing with the proposals. A number also suggested that these requirements should only apply to new drivers.
Officers had been contacted by Northumberland College, a training provider who does run the above course. They were able to offer the training to any driver who had not previously completed a Level 2 NVQ or higher in another subject at no cost to them. There would however be a charge of £100 to those drivers who had previously completed an NVQ. This provider could deliver the qualification outside of the college, in a suitable training room or they could offer a mobile training room if required. The course was delivered either in 10x2 hour sessions, with online or written exams to follow, or over 3 full days with exams to follow. The exams could be done online, or drivers could do written tests, whichever they prefer.
(c) Drug Testing Of Drivers
The proposal to introduce random drug testing of drivers was agreed by Cabinet on 5 March 2009 and at the Licensing Committee 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. 136 tests had been completed to date of which 4 had been confirmed positive by secondary laboratory analysis and 20 were deemed to be false positives (e.g. due to prescription medicines being taken). One driver had their licence suspended with a written warning by the Licensing Committee and was required to submit to two further random drug tests, these proved negative. One driver had their licence revoked, one application for a drivers licence was refused and one driver was suspended and would be reported to Licensing Committee in due course.
The issue of drug testing of drivers had been raised at meetings and by correspondence by the trade when its continuation had been questioned, amongst other things, 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 transport 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.
Copies of earlier correspondence from the trade, together with a response from officers to the points made were attached to the report.
Cleveland Police supported the retention of random drug testing.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with a number agreeing that both random and intelligence led drug testing, a number supporting intelligence led testing only and a number disagreeing with any testing at all.
Officers supported the continuation of random testing, but at a lower level, as it acted as a deterrent to those drivers who may otherwise use recreational drugs'.
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 completed they still encouraged 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 wish to retain this target and if so whether to introduce 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, when the policy will be reviewed.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with a number agreeing with the proposals and a number disagreeing with the proposals. A number of the trade thought that the requirement for new/replacement vehicles to be wheelchair accessible was inappropriate, some thought the percentage should be lowered and others thought the requirements should continue to apply to new vehicles but current saloon vehicles should be allowed grandfather rights.
A response had not been received from any of the disabled groups. However, the government had said it was committed to an accessible public transport system in which disabled people had the same opportunities to travel as other members of society. Taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) were a vital link in the accessible transport chain and, although disabled people were reported to travel a third less often than the public in general, they use taxis and PHVs on average 67% more often.
The Department for Transport would also be undertaking 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 can assist disabled passengers. The demonstration schemes would provide the basis on which the Department would be able to issue comprehensive guidance to licensing authorities to assist them with improving the availability of taxis and private hire vehicles for disabled passengers. The Department was also considering the wider legislative framework governing taxis and private hire vehicles to see whether there are any changes which could be made with the objective of enhancing provision for disabled people.
Officers would support the continuation of the current policy until such time that the Department of Transport issue their updated guidelines, at which time this part of the policy should be reviewed.
(e) 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 the 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 could meet Euro 3 emission standards, which was introduced in January 2001, and applications for new and replacement vehicles be expected to meet Euro 5 emission standards.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with a number agreeing with the proposals and a number disagreeing with the proposals, preferring the status quo to remain. A number also suggested that the requirements for new and replacement vehicles should be set at Euro 4 rather than Euro 5.
Appendix F in the policy provided the table of existing licensed vehicles by age which showed that there were 11 vehicles registered prior to 2001 which would not meet Euro 3 and 26 registered in 2001 some of which, depending upon the model of vehicle, would also not meet Euro 3 as standards varied between manufacturers and some models changed during that year. Officers were of the opinion that new and replacement vehicles should be required to meet the same Euro standard. Members of the trade had been aware since the policy was originally introduced of the authorities wish to lower emissions by increasing the level of Euro standard required and were able to plan for this when planning to change their vehicle.
(f) 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 could 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.
Cleveland Police agreed with this proposal.
The majority of the trade disagreed with this proposal.
Officers had the opportunity of analysing available information in respect of the existing 611 licensed vehicles. This showed that only 47% had an NCAP rating that would satisfy the above recommendation. 13% had no NCAP rating at all. Of the remaining vehicles, 94% had no rating for child protection and 8% did not meet the four star rating for either adult or child protection and of these 85% were based on a rating for an earlier vehicle model as no further testing had been carried out on later models. In addition not all new cars were subjected to NCAP testing and this includes wheelchair accessible vehicles.
On this basis it was considered that the original proposals outlined above were not achievable and should be removed from the policy and replaced with the proposal that information on the NCAP rating scheme be retained within the policy and that vehicle proprietors be encouraged to make use of the information available on the official website at www.euroncap.com when selecting a vehicle to be licensed and be recommended/advised to select a vehicle with a five star rating where possible.
(g) Vehicle Testing
Vehicles were tested in accordance with the Councils agreed test criteria and/or in respect of any issues identified by an authorised officer of the Council. The draft revised policy also proposed that the Council would also give consideration to any guidance issued by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the Public Authority Transport Network (PATN) regarding the testing of vehicles. And that their best practice guide "Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Vehicle National Standards" should be considered to be the minimum standard acceptable to the Council.
Cleveland Police agreed with this proposal.
There was a diversity of opinion within the trade with some agreeing with the proposals, some disagreeing with the proposals and suggesting the status quo should remain and some suggesting that vehicles should be allowed to be tested by external MOT Stations for one of their two tests per annum.
Officers were of the opinion that the best practice guidelines should be adopted, they would reassure the public that the vehicles being used were of an appropriate standard and give clarity and transparency as to how and what items would be inspected during the test process.
(h) Pending licence applications
It was proposed that all applications for private hire and hackney carriage driver, vehicle and operator licenses be continued to be processed under the requirements of the existing policy until any proposed amendments had been agreed with an implementation date by Cabinet.
Members of the taxi trade were in attendance at the meeting and were given the opportunity to make comment and ask questions. All of there comments were noted and considered by Members in their decision making process.
Members then discussed the Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy Review at length and all of the consultation comments that had been received and made at the meeting and came to the following conclusions:-
Tinted Window Requirements
Members clearly supported the overriding principle of the licensing regime, namely the protection of the public. Members therefore were in agreement that windows in licensed vehicles which potentially obscured the view of passengers were not to be permitted. However Members were mindful of the comments made by the trade that many current standard specification vehicles were supplied with tinted windows which under the policy proposed by officers would fail the tint test. Members were of the view that after market tints that are applied to vehicle windows should not be permitted. However Members were of the opinion that before they could make a decision on this aspect of the Policy they required some practical examples of the level of tint which existed in standard specification vehicles. Members requested that officers make arrangements for some examples of vehicles to be available for inspection at a further Committee meeting and that some statistics be produced to show what standard specification vehicles would currently fail the tint test been suggested by officers. Members were supportive of the suggestion made by a member of the trade that although a percentage figure on the amount of tint permitted was useful as a starting point the final decision on vehicles that were borderline fails on a tint test should be made by an officer viewing the vehicle and making a decision as to whether passenger safety could be compromised by the level of tint on the vehicle. Members indicated that grandfather rights would apply to vehicles that failed the current tint test until that vehicle was replaced.
Driver Training Requirements
Members were supportive of the desire to ensure that all members of the licensed trade had a level of training to a nationally recognised standard. Members did not agree with the view put forward by some members of the trade that just because a driver had been licensed for some time it meant they should be exempt from training requirements. Although the Members were supportive of a standardised training qualification been required for all licensed drivers they needed further clarification on numbers of the licensed trade who had already passed this or a similar qualification. Members also required some statistics on the numbers of the trade who would qualify for free training i.e. those who had not previously completed a level 2 NVQ of higher.
Members agreed that random drug testing should continue given the potential deterrent effect this could have on members of the trade who may consider the use of illegal drugs. Although there was no indication in the report as to what was meant by testing "at a lower level" Members indicated that random testing should be less frequent than that currently undertaken. Members were also of the view that intelligence led drug testing should also be continued. Members requested that on implementation of the policy review a further report be brought back to the committee on a 6 monthly basis detailing the numbers of tests undertaken, whether they had passed or failed, whether there were false positives following lab testing and the amount of time taken to undertake the tests.
Members were mindful that members of the Hackney Trade were of the view that they were bearing the brunt of ensuring that wheelchair accessible vehicles were provided. Members asked for officers to clarify whether licensed private hire operators could also be required to have a poportion of wheelchair accessible vehicles depending on the number of vehicles operated by an Operator. Members were also mindful that to treat new members of the trade differently to existing members could be construed as a bar to trade and an unlawful restraint of trade. Members were therefore mindful at this time that the current policy should be continued. However Members requested that Officers ensure that efforts be made to undertake further consultation with disabled groups so that the requirements of the disabled community could be fully appreciated in considering any future changes to the policy.
Vehicle Emission Levels
Members were of the view that requiring a higher standard of emission levels would promote the green agenda and would also act as a means of ensuring that the licensed fleet was of a higher standard as older vehicles would no longer be licensed. Members took into consideration the views expressed by Members of the trade and were of the view that to implement Euro 5 standard would be a step too far at this stage. Members therefore agreed that Euro 3 and Euro 4 standards should be implemented i.e. standards to go up one level from that currently required.
Members agreed that Euro NCAP standards were not required at this time but that proprietors and operators should be advised that they give consideration to Euro NCAP ratings when licensing vehicles. Members were supportive of the fact that Euro NCAP ratings did promote public safety and they hoped that the trade would also support this approach when looking to licence vehicles.
Members noted that the rationale for introducing Public Authority Transport Network (PATN) guidance on the testing of vehicles was to ensure that the phrase "exceptionally well maintained" was given a context. Members were supportive of this approach but noted the views of some members of the trade that they were concerned there could be overzealous interpretation of the guidance by officers. An example given was that in relation to stone chips. Members were of the view that the standards would act as guidance and would not be held as inflexible hard and fast rules that could result in perfectly reasonable vehicles been held to be unsuitable. Members therefore agreed that the section on stone chips in the guidance (para (d) to (f) on page 156 of the report) should be removed if the guidance is implemented in the policy review.
Members had regard to a number of other issues which were raised by Mr Fidler, namely:-
Statutory declarations - Mr Fidler questioned whether statutory declarations were still required given that the Council carries out Enhanced CRB checks.
Members were of the view that these were required as they requested applicants for new licences to give details of all past DVLA convictions some of which may no longer be on their licence. It was therefore felt that it was still reasonable to require a statutory declaration by new applicants.
Medical Assessments - Mr Fidler questioned whether this requirement was necessary as they may contain highly personal and confidential information and in his view a Doctor should simply state whether the applicant or driver in question is fit to work.
Members were of the view that this requirement was reasonable and wished to maintain it in the Policy. It was noted that there had been occasions when Doctors had provided comments or information which when clarified by officers led to the Doctor confirming that the driver was not fit to hold a licence.