Last night, Lower Thames Street was awash with Private hire cars, illegally plying for hire outside Old Billingsgate. As usual, TfL's compliance and Cab Enforcement were nowhere to be seen, even though this is a major Red Route and covered extensively by TfL CCTV cameras. Cars at times were double parked with the Cycle lane completely blocked and rendered inoperable.
There has been much controversy lately, concerning the actions of certain private hire operators and the legality of bookings.
For instance, straight away bookings:
Where PH drivers have been allowed to wait outside events, with marshals escorting passengers directly to waiting cars.
Also smartphone apps that put passengers in direct contact with driver
Is it right that a PH company can put cars on standby, to form a rolling rank outside a venue for immediate hiring?
What exactly is the law regarding pre-bookings.
Obviously the law applied in London differs somewhat to the the rest of the UK, so Taxi Leaks recently decided to asked TfL to explain.
Unfortunately the answer we got back is about as clear as mud. Which is of course in line with TfL's more recent policy of misinformation.
Below is the email we recieved:
Thank you for your email.
To clarify, I can confirm we take the view that any company who offers private hire journeys booked via a mobile phone application (app) has to be licensed in line with the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998.
The Act prescribes that all bookings details must be recorded prior to the commencement of the journey. Any licensed operator that fails to record bookings prior to the commencement of the journey (whether bookings are taken via a phone, a mobile app, or in person) is liable to fail a compliance inspection. If they fail to heed warnings to correct poor record keeping, their fitness to remain licensed will be reviewed.
Having said that, there is no reference in the 1998 PHV Act or associated operator regulations as to how far in advance private hire bookings must be recorded by licensed operators before the journey is undertaken.
With regards to your request for a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued following the launch of Zingo in 2003, we can find no record of this notice being issued.
We believe there is a place for new technology to work in the taxi and private hire market and that we should not unnecessarily restrict new ideas that are of genuine benefit to Londoners. Nevertheless, we fully support maintaining the clear distinction between taxi and private hire services in the capital, where only taxis have the unique right to ply for hire and PHVs must be pre-booked through a licensed operator
I can assure you that we take our regulatory responsibilities seriously and although the rapid development of technology presents challenges, we will continue to monitor such developments to ensure operators and drivers remain compliant and the safety of the travelling public is not compromised.
In order for a company to be considered ‘fit and proper’ to be licensed, we must be satisfied that the individuals who make up that company – i.e. the company secretary and the board of directors – meet a number of criteria, and administrative rules, set by us. Once licensed, the licence holder is expected to demonstrate they remain ‘fit and proper’ to hold the licence and that they continue to comply with other legal requirements connected with running a business.
The overriding consideration in determining an operator’s continued fitness to hold the licence will be based on whether they can continue to fulfil their role and run their operating centre(s) without posing any likely threat to the general safety of the public.
A copy of our driver, operator, and vehicle policy guidelines can be found on the TfL website at the following link www.tfl.gov.uk/cdn/static/cms/documents/driver-operator-and-vehicle-licensing-guidelines.pdf
I hope this clarifies our position.
Correspondence Officer / Managing Director's Office
Transport for London - Surface Transport
Open and transparent, clear and concise? ... we think not!
Now what you have to understand is that TfL use a set of "guidelines" when considering the legal aspect of PH operations rather than statutory regulations as with the Licensed Taxi Trade.
An example of this would be when RD2 were issued 18 licence variation on the same day they applied for an operators licence. When Taxi Leaks complained directly to LTPH about this, we were lied to on three occasions by the director, John Mason and his deputy Helen Chapman.
After each fake excuse, we presented evidence exposing the lie. Finally TfL came clean and informed us that TfL policy on PH is in fact just guidelines and as such, they can do what they like.
Although we published our research plus TfL's response, not one trade representative org or Union picked up the gauntlet and ran with it. We did however, have a considerable amount of help from the UCG while researching the issue.
The PH act of 1998 is full of gaping loop holes.
Another fine example would be, after a prosecution for touting bought by TfL against Diamond Chauffeurs, a legal definition was given that a clipboard Johnny, only has to be "at" a venue and not "inside".
This definition has never been challenged by the United Trade Group who purport to represent the trades best interests, while operating a closed shop in regards to engagement with TfL.
It would also appear from the above email, that TfL's management of filing and record keeping is highly incompetent.
As a public body, TfL has a duty to be fair, open and transparent, but in fact they are anything but.
Their constant refusal to give straight answers to FOI requests, would allude to the fact they are covering up bias towards Private Hire operations.