Report of the Licensing Manager
The Licensing Manager introduced a report on the Draft Hackney Carriage and Private Hire Licensing Policy and sought the Committees approval to commence to a formal consultation on the proposed policy.
A copy of the policy was attached at Appendix 1 of the report for the Committees consideration and Councillors were advised that the current draft would require further proofreading formatting and spell-checking as well as cross checking before the policy documents were finalised.
It was reported that this was the first time that the Council had attempted to provide a single document containing all the policies and procedures relevant to hackney carriage and private hire licensing. The need to update some of the Councils existing licensing standards was identified in the 2020 licensing workplan which was approved by Licensing Committee in November 2019. The delivery of the workplan items had been hampered by the pandemic.
The Committee were advised that in July 2020 the Department for Transport had published “Statutory Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Standards” which were statutory standards to which local authorities must have regard.
The Committee were advised that the draft policy was a mixture of existing policies and procedures and new requirements which were motivated by the need to ensure that the primary and overriding objective of the Councils licensing policies in protecting the public was met.
The Licensing Manager advised that the publication of the DfT statutory standards in July 2020 had been one of the key drivers in the production of the draft policy. It was noted that the DfT document and the Councils draft policy did not use the term “taxi”. The reason for this was that the term hackney carriage was used throughout legislation including hackney carriage byelaws, and therefore for consistency this was the term that was used throughout the draft policy. The term “taxi” was a term used by the public and was internationally recognised, but not one that was used to any major significance in national licensing law.
The policy has been drafted in such a way that if the standards need to change, for example due to a change in legislation this can be easily accommodated by updating relevant appendices rather than reviewing the whole policy.
Prior to presentation of the draft policy to the Committee the Taxi Working Group had met, and trade representatives had been invited to make suggestions as to what they considered should be included within the draft policy. In addition to this a short survey was conducted with Lancaster City Council staff and the wider public on the Councils social media platforms.
The Committee were advised that the DfT Statutory Standards made it clear that public safety must be the primary and overriding objective of hackney carriage and private hire licensing. The draft policy strengthened existing measures in respect of safeguarding, and new proposals required private hire operators to develop and implement safeguarding policies. The policy was also clear about everyone’s responsibility to report safeguarding concerns and the development of a public information charter sought to provide advice to passengers about how to stay safe when using licensed vehicles.
Licence conditions attached to the grant of private hire operator, private hire vehicle, private hire driver and hackney carriage vehicle licences had been reviewed and updated to reflect changing technology. The proposed licence conditions had also been strengthened in terms of public safety.
The Licensing Manager advised that there were no hackney carriage driver licence conditions. This was because there was no provision in legislation for such licence conditions. There was however a requirement for both private hire and hackney carriage drivers to remain “fit and proper” to hold their licences. The hackney carriage driver code of conduct had been updated to provide drivers with information as to the standards they would be expected to follow in order to maintain the “fit and proper” standard. The hackney carriage byelaws were also appended to the draft policy, these remained as approved by the Secretary of State on 26 March 2014. Byelaws could not be amended without approval by the Secretary of State.
It was reported that the Councils Guidance on determining the suitability of applicants and licensees for hackney carriage and private hire licences, had been reformatted and slightly amended. The standards within that document remain largely unchanged.
The Committee were informed that The DfT Statutory standards recognised the merits of these standards (taken from the Institute of Licensing document “Guidance on determining the suitability of applicants and licensees in the hackney and private hire trades). There was one anomaly between the Institute of Licensing and DfT Statutory Standards and that related to private hire operators, with the suggestion that some convictions relevant to licensed drivers may not have the same degree of relevance to a private hire operator. The Councils proposed Guidelines on the relevance of convictions and other conduct acknowledged this and adopted the position advocated by the DfT statutory standards.
The draft policy contained vehicle specifications for both hackney carriage and private hire vehicles and it was important applicants for vehicle licences were fully aware of the specification licensed vehicles had to meet prior to licensing. Information on vehicle specifications previously was weak and documented within vehicle licence conditions, however, licence conditions only become applicable once a licence has been granted. It was considered important that applicants for vehicle licences had access to the vehicle specification prior to the purchase/ licensing of a vehicle.
It was reported that the draft policy introduced new requirements for licensed vehicles in respect of less polluting vehicles. This measure was in support of the Councils declaration of a climate emergency and measures currently in planning to improve the environment around the city centre. Changes proposed in respect of vehicle exhaust emission levels were for 2025 and 2030, the first being the date when any vehicle first licensed must be Euro 6 compliant and 2030 being the date when any new vehicle first licensed had to be zero exhaust emission.
Members were also advised that the DfT statutory standards were explicit about the need to educate the public about staying safe and the risks associated with the unlicensed trade. The draft policy proposed an information leaflet to be made widely available regarding safe travel in the taxi trade and a public information charter to be displayed in all licensed vehicles. This would include information about passenger safety as required by the DfT but also information about the conduct expected of passengers. It also highlighted not only how a passenger could make a complaint (a requirement of the DfT standards) but also how they could forward compliments regarding their journeys.
Medical requirements for licensed drivers had been maintained in the draft policy as the DVLA group 2 medical standard. However, the draft policy was now completely aligned with the DVLA group 2 standard in terms of frequency of medicals as opposed to the medical standard to be achieved. In effect this means younger drivers would need less frequent medicals.
It was reported that Public Safety was strengthened and maintained by the requirement on all licensed drivers to notify the Council of changes in health, and the requirement to have additional medicals if considered necessary by the Council. The proposed frequency of medicals was now in line with the frequency applied by the DVLA to HGV and bus drivers.
The Committee were advised that DfT statutory standards were clear that Councils should consult regarding views as to whether the presence of CCTV in licensed vehicles would deter and prevent crime, reduce the fear of crime, assist the police in investigating incidents of crime and assist insurance companies in investigating motor vehicle accidents. The current draft policy contained no proposals for CCTV in licensed vehicles however it was recognised that this must be included as a key issue within the consultation exercise and proposal regarding any requirement on CCTV would be made following the close of consultation.
The Committee were advised on a number of specific amendments and feedback since the publication of the report which included;
· Repetitive content will endeavour to condense where appropriate.
· Page 34. Para 4.2.3. Fast track applications – wording to be amended to include other permissive reasons for applying via fast track, namely if taking a break/health reasons etc.
· Page 36. Para 4.5. Medical standards are we to accept private medicals going forward or is this an interim measure due to covid-19.
· Page 113 Point 18 &119 Point 19 Amendment required to clarify aspirations of Council to vehicles being Euro 6 compliant by 2025.
· Page 113 & 119 Grandfather rights in respect of the aspirations of the Council to improve air quality and recognising the part licensed vehicles play in that, members are requested to consider whether grandfather rights for vehicles already licensed should be allowed. A suggestion may be that those vehicles that are licensed at those trigger dates are given rights to maintain that vehicle until a change of vehicle is required. It must them meet the specification set out on pages 113/119 regarding emission standards.
· Hackney Carriage Ranks – Widely accepted review required, identify persons responsible and action 20/21 workplan.
· Fare Methodology – Review Frequency, annual/every 2 years – currently annual, maintain?
· Signage Appendix N – Void, Officers working on bespoke roof-signs and mock-up door signs for PHOs, Using local businesses where possible.
· Page 53 5.22 Screens in Taxis – approved by LC (18th May) last year, Government released guidance 4th March 2021, Officers have compared to our current adopted stance, compliant with standards contained, but it does offer more detail.
It was reported that the draft policy had been compiled by experienced licensing officers having regard to a wide range of documents, existing licensing procedures and practice within the City Council. Very preliminary discussions had also taken place with trade representatives regarding their aspirations from such a policy and the draft policy would benefit from widespread consultation and scrutiny.
It was proposed that as many interested groups as possible would be contacted directly in writing to advise them of the draft policy and inviting them to comment and it was proposed that this would be done via an online questionnaire.
It was proposed that the consultation process be commenced on Monday 29th March 2021. This would allow sufficient time for officers to prepare any amendments to the draft policy, consultation letters and to place the questionnaire on the Councils website. It was proposed that the consultation should last 12 weeks, the last date for representation will be Sunday 27th June 2021.
Councillor Dennison proposed, seconded by Councillor:
“That the recommendations, as set out in the report, be approved.”
There being no dissent to the recommendations, the Chair declared the proposals to be carried.
(1) That the Committee consider the report and appendices and approve the draft policy (Appendix 1 of the report) and suggested consultation process with or without amendment.
(2) That the Committee approve the consultation questionnaire (Appendix 3 of the report) to be used as the format for the online consultation.
(3) That officers consider the consultation responses received and bring a further report back to committee providing information in respect of consultation responses received and any proposed amendments to the draft Policy arising from the consultation.