A few weeks ago, I responded to the Wales White Paper Consultation. It was a slightly lengthy document and the accompanying Impact Assessment was even longer. However, it is important to respond because the proposals have a direct impact on DrivenByQ. Companies like ours seem to have been overlooked. We are small and target a niche market. Unfortunately, the white paper consultation seems to negate our value in the wider economy. Instead, it fixates on the rules and regulations for general private hire and much larger companies.
Taxis vs Private Hire
The first part of the consultation asks how awareness can be raised with the general public in differentiating between hackney carriage (taxis) and private hire vehicles. It is an issue because the general public rarely know the difference. They just see a plate and assume the vehicle is for hire. Overall, a hackney carriage (taxi) has a roof light, it can be hailed in the street and it charges a fare on a meter. Private hire vehicles are pre-booked, they have set rates and the sector includes chauffeur services.
Just to be clear, from a licensing perspective, a taxi requires the driver and vehicle to be licensed. For private hire, the driver, vehicle and operator must be licensed. It is known as the triple lock and it is set out in section 46 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. The triple lock dictates all three licenses MUST be held in the same county or licensing authority. This sadly fails when licensing officers do not have jurisdiction over vehicles from outside their area. They must be deputized by another authority to enforce action.
Unfortunately, there has been such a prolific rise in the number of Wolverhampton licensed vehicles, the Welsh Government are struggling to keep control. The issue is that every council in the land set their regulations as an interpretation of the underlying national legislation and set their own fees. Personally, I still think it is a good idea for each council to set their own vehicle standards because it allows scope to adapt to geographic challenges. For example, a city might demand vehicles be ultra-low emission but a rural area with harsh winters might be happy with an older vehicle that can climb hills and plough through deep snow.
At an event in Wembley last year, I was compelled by the argument that private hire drivers should be licensed by a national agency. This makes a lot more sense when considering police checks and the driver shortage which still exists. If a driver was licensed nationally (just like truck or coach drivers) they could happily move around without any additional costs. Currently they must go back through a time-consuming police check and medical. It costs over £200 in license fees to move areas and it can take months.
A national driver’s license is just one of the areas the white paper consultation could bring positive change. Over the last fifteen years the Internet and apps have become ubiquitous. Petrol vehicles have been superseded by diesel then hybrids and now electric vehicles. The rate of change will only accelerate as time goes by. There must be some practical steps however to ensure regulations do not become overbearing. While the white paper consultation discusses zero emission vehicles, it does not consider the practical impact on minibuses or long-distance travel like DrivenByQ provides.
Let’s hope the responses to the white paper consultation are considered carefully because my biggest concern, is the review is reactive rather than proactive. Over the next decade we are going to witness a revolution in passenger transport. I firmly believe the executive car of the future will replace trains, airplanes will be electrified, and taxis will fly. The cost of travel will plummet too. With advances in renewables and nuclear power, the opportunities are endless. Fingers crossed our licensing rules will keep up and provide the flexibility our industry needs to thrive.