(Original Edit of article for Taxi magazine)
2017 is sure to be another interesting year in the London cab trade. The general public would’ve been aware of some of our gripes last year – including concerns over Uber, and the mad programme of road re-modelling that slowed the traffic down. People might not be aware of another issue likely to be heatedly discussed this year, and that is cross border hiring.
It’s entirely understandable if no-one outside the cab trade has heard of cross border hiring. Any member of the public would reasonably expect all taxis and private hire cars to be operating only in the geographical areas they are licensed in. The thought that drivers are licensed in one area and work in another sounds both crazy – and probably illegal, but it’s happening all over the country. It’s incredible to believe that when drivers find it hard going in their own licensing area, they can simply work in another town, where trade is better. Usually, drivers licensed in smaller towns work in bigger towns or cities, though we’ve also seen private hire cars licensed by Transport for London working in cities such as Brighton, Bristol, and Southend.
The satellite towns around Merseyside have drawn chancers in to Liverpool for many years, and one of these licensing areas, Knowsley, recently suspended issuing new taxi licences after being swamped by applications. In December 2016, the council received twice as many applications as they would normally expect. The suspension was only for fourteen days, but Knowsley Council were left scratching their head as to the reasons for such a surge in demand for licences: “As a result, we are reviewing our processes and the reasons for the increase in applications.” I don’t think they need to look far. Transport provision is a honey pot. It might not feel like it for us at the moment, as it’s spread so thinl; but in many areas of the country it’s easy to get a taxi or private hire licence, and it’s getting easier. It looks likely that Knowsley’s sudden popularity is down to the council’s lifting of the “Street Knowledge” section of the application process.
I doubt the Knowledge of Knowsley bears any resemblance to the Knowledge of London, but a study of geography still takes a degree of effort and commitment. The new knowledge-free licensing regime is insulting to the established Knowsley drivers who have seen their work eroded by newcomers. The aim of many of these drivers is to go to work in the bigger cities of Liverpool or Manchester. This practice of cross border hiring is seemingly legal, and now unwittingly encouraged by a council with no idea what they unleashed. Would-be taxi and PH drivers looking for big city honey pots just have to apply for a licence with the fewest restrictions. Knowsley fits the bill with its £49 licence application. Just show you are a “Fit and Proper Person”, pass a DBS and DVLA check, have a medical and show a year’s driving experience. Once you’ve passed the checks, you need to complete the Level 2 Certificate in “The Introduction to Role of the Professional Taxi and Private Hire Driver” and take driver skills assessment with the council.
Knowsley Council did something that our own licensing authority claims they couldn’t do – suspend licences. This is interesting in itself. London is saturated with mini-cabs, but the 400 or so licensed each week can’t be all working in London. They go where the work is; where the streets aren’t so clogged.
A statement on Knowsley Council’s website said: The current rate of applications is not sustainable as the council’s licensing service simply has not currently got the resources to manage and regulate the increasing level of drivers, particularly if some of these drivers have no intention of operating within in the Knowsley area.” They acknowledge that some drivers won’t be working in their licensing area, just as TfL know they are licensing nomads, pitching up their in areas where the work is. TfL have the resources to carry on licensing hundreds of licences a week because it’s a money spinner. They’ve tightened things up recently with English language and licence requirements, but they are still essentially “selling” licences. Licensing hundreds of drivers each week takes a lot of resources, but it’s obviously worthwhile. How quickly are these licences turned out anyway?
Cross border hiring is sure to be discussed later this year, during a consultation on The Policing and Crime Bill. It’s not fair that drivers who have sat tests to become taxi drivers in their own area have to put up with pirates coming in from elsewhere. De-regulation has allowed this farcical situation to grow. Private hire seem to be able to legally operate outside their area; and taxis, which are more highly regulated, can also work in other areas if they are operating as private hire. Or something like that. I’m not sure if drivers licensed in other countries can come to work in our cities, but we already have foreign interlopers in the shape of Uber. I think we need to close our taxi borders as soon as possible.