New regulations to modernise and improve the private hire industry will be considered by the Transport for London (TfL) Board next week.
The measures, which follow an extensive consultation process have attracted over 20,000 responses and are aimed at making travelling by private hire safer and more convenient for customers.
The changes the TfL board is being asked to agree include increased insurance requirements making sure a policy is in place for the duration of the vehicle license. The ease in which "anyone" can get a fully TfL plated vehicle (even without Hire and Reward insurance) has recently been highlighted by an investigation carried out by a reporter from LBC.
An understanding of the English language will also be a requirement. Last year TfL closed 15 testing centres, when it was found applicants were being allowed to sit tests in their own native langue and were also given the answers alongside the questions. After a sample of 200 applicants were made to take a retest, less than 30% actually passed.
There will also be a requirement of advanced fare estimates and operatorswill have to keep improved records for enforcement purposes (not a new requirement, just unenforced by TfL compliance at present)
Private hire operators will also be required to ensure customers can speak to someone in the event of a problem with their journey (although Uber office staff, presently only work office hours of 9-5)
These changes, represent the first significant amendments to the private hire regulations since they were first introduced in 1998 and follow an unprecedented increase in private hire driver and vehicle numbers.
The number of private hire drivers has increased from 59,000 in April 2010 to around 100,000 today and is increasing at a rate of over 700 per week, contributing to issues such as congestion, pollution and illegal parking.
The Mayor believes more action must be taken to address the impacts of these increasing numbers, particularly on congestion and air quality.
The Government has been reluctant to introduce legislation to allow TfL to restrict the number of drivers and vehicles on the roads in London (although many areas outside London have successfully capped their PH and Hackney Taxis numbers, using a supply and demand initiative).
In response, the Mayor has instructed TfL to investigate the potential effects of removing the Congestion Charge exemption currently given to private hire drivers fulfilling a booking, in order to see whether this may make a difference in those areas of concern. Big talk from Boris who is about to leave office. None of the leading Mayoral candidates have the removal of this concession on their manifesto.
TfL estimates that the number of private hire vehicles operating within the central London Congestion Charge zone has increased by over 50 per cent in the last two years. This means that during the day, 1 in 10 vehicles entering the zone is now a private hire vehicle. This situation changes dramatically on weekend nights when London's WestEnd and City are swamped with minicabs bringing the roads to near complete gridlock.
Garrett Emmerson, TfL’s Chief Operating Officer for Surface Transport (pictured), said, during the consultation process, Londoners, made clear the improvements they want to see in the private hire industry.
The package of changes being taken to the Board includes more robust insurance requirements when vehicles are licensed and a formal English language requirement for drivers. Both of these requirements should have been firmly in place when the act of 1998 was first put together.
Also customers should receive quotes for before their journeys. How this will apply to Uber is anyone's guess as they use a Taxi meter based on time and distance which in most cases results in the fare having no relationship to the estimate.
All operators will need an easier process for customers to complain if they need to. This requirement is already in place when first applying for an operators licence, but was somehow dropped unexplainable when Uber and RD2 both first applied for their licenses back in 2012.
It's hoped that these new(ish) requirements will help ensure a modern, flourishing and safer private hire industry, and will provide choice for customers alongside London’s iconic and world-class taxi service.