Tag Archives: cross border hiring

National Licensing Bureau

(Original edit of article published in Taxi magazine)

I didn’t write about cross border hiring too long ago, but things are getting worse.  The menace is spreading.  With the borders down, Transport for London has unwittingly become a national licensing centre for private hire, supplying mini-cabs to the whole of the country.  Hundreds of lucky drivers gain their TfL licences each week, and it’s a licence to print money in the town of their choice.

Since de-regulation, word has got around the taxi and private hire world that drivers are free to work wherever they like.  It’s now a total free-for-all.  The Berlin Wall has been breached, and it’s liberation day.  All you have to do is identify the licensing authority with the slackest regime and apply there.  Aspiring taxi drivers might live in an area with a stringent licensing process, and possibly a Knowledge test.  No problem, just get licensed in another borough.  Thereafter simply work where you feel like.

Earlier in the year I spoke about how Knowsley Council suspended licensing for a few weeks at the end of 2016 as it couldn’t cope with the flood of applications.  Knowsley Council had stopped testing taxi drivers’ Knowledge, and it was clear that many drivers were applying for Knowsley licences with the intention of working in Liverpool or Manchester where the regime was tighter.

More recently it was found that 177 private hire drivers residing in Sheffield were licensed in a city hundreds of miles away.  Guess where?  Yes, London.  Over the last six months there has been a 330% rise in TfL private hire licences for drivers with a Sheffield address.

In addition to the London licensed drivers, there are 400 PH drivers with Sheffield addresses licensed by Rossendale, near Blackburn.  Drivers are coming into Sheffield from many other places, including Wales.  Here’s what Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh said: “Sheffield Council prides itself on its strict licensing and rigorous training conditions which help keep taxi and PH users in our city safe.  But the change in the law is riding roughshod over these protections meaning drivers from across the country can get a licence from areas with different standards and requirements and still operate in Sheffield”.

Sheffield Council have done everything right.  They’ve have tried to run a tight ship, only to have it overrun by pirates from foreign lands.  Their reward is to be flooded by drivers who’ve gained licences where the regulations are lax and there are no restrictions in numbers, notably London.  The situation is grim for genuine Sheffield drivers, and for the cab-riding public who might reasonably expect to be driven around by a local expert accountable to the local licensing authority.  Not so.  Safety and standards are out of the window:  Sheffield Council have limited enforcement powers because their drivers are licensed elsewhere!

You might not think this affects us, but Sheffield drivers licensed in London can work in London too of course.  When Sheffield is full, they can come back to London.

It amazes me how someone can drive around a strange town with confidence.  I’ve lived in the small town of Leighton Buzzard for over two years, but I’ve little idea of what goes on past the train station.  If I had to drive a cab here I would have no idea.  You don’t soak up the geography of a town just by living there, not for cab driving purposes anyway.  The area needs to be studied and experienced.  You need to learn every main road, every suburb, and every main route in and out of town to have any idea.  We all know that.

I find sat navs next to useless in big cities.  I’ve driven in Sheffield a few times and have found it challenging to say the least.  The sat nav was sending me down streets that were permanently blocked off and around and around one-way systems and ring roads until I got dizzy.  A few years’ ago I took a taxi from a Sheffield city centre rank to a restaurant in Kelham Island, barely a mile away.   Another driver had to explain it to my man before he attempted the journey.  Maybe he was really a mini-cab driver from London?

TfL either can’t, or won’t restrict, PH licences.  Sorry, but it seems absurd to me that they can totally transform London’s road system, yet complain that they need an Act of Parliament to restrict mini-cab numbers.  I can’t imagine many MPs voting for the traffic mayhem around Westminster.

London is seen as a soft touch and has become the go-to authority for a quickie licence.  In desperation TfL have put up hurdles to try and stem the tide: things that the public should expect as standard; such as proper insurance, topographical testing, and a good standard of English.  Whether or not licensing will slow down with the English language tests, who knows?  When they’re all speaking like Nigel Havers we could all be in trouble.

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Border Patrol

 

(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.

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