As taxi and PHV numbers surge, new report calls for more strategic policy approach

Taxi! report cover

A new report from the Urban Transport Group has set out the far reaching implications for cities of ongoing transformational change and growth in the taxi and PHV sector.

The report - Taxi! Issues and options for city region taxi and private hire vehicle policy - also calls for a new approach to taxi and PHV policy to ensure a good service for users whilst also making sure the sector contributes to wider public policy goals around public safety, congestion reduction, economic inclusion and air quality.

The report sets out the scale of change and growth in taxi and PHV operations in urban areas including:

  • A 45% growth in licensed PHV vehicles in the last two years alone in the West Midlands;
  • There is now one PHV for every 100 people in London;
  • The total number of PHVs in England has increased by 70% since 2005.

The report also sets out the key ways in which the taxi and PHV can contribute to, or hinder, wider public policy goals. These include:

  • On connected and autonomous vehicles - given aspirations by Transport Network Companies for today’s taxis to become the ‘taxibots’ of the future;
  • On air quality - given that most taxis are diesel;
  • On social inclusion - given that many taxis can provide accessible door-to-door transport;
  • On the future viability of the bus - given bus services have been in long term decline outside London, and short term decline in London.

The report finds that:

‘Transformational technological and social change, and the rise of new business models, is unleashing huge growth in PHV traffic. This has major implications for congestion, the viability of bus services and the shape of urban transport provision in the future.’

Dr Clare Linton, author of the report and researcher at the Urban Transport Group, said:

“Taxis and PHVs provide consumer choice and a means of getting from A to B when public transport isn’t available. They are also a major source of employment. However, as the sector changes and grows the implications for a host of issues, including air quality, public safety and congestion, means that we need a far a more strategic approach at both national and local level. This strategic approach will ensure the taxi and PHV sector provides a good and safe experience for users and drivers whilst going with the grain of wider policies to make our cities greener, more inclusive and less congested places. For too long taxi policy has been in the ‘too difficult’ basket however with the sector growing and changing so fast taxis should no longer be seen as a local licencing side issue, like pubs and clubs, but should be mainstreamed within wider national and urban transport policy.”

The report also calls on Government to update the legal framework for the taxi and PHV sector in order that local transport authorities can better oversee local taxi markets in line with local conditions and aspirations.

The report shows how the complexities of the current patchwork of legislation is struggling to cope with how the sector is changing and growing.

The report finds that this is:

  • leaving passengers and drivers at risk from ‘races to the bottom’ and loopholes in enforcement as vehicles can be licenced in areas which set the lowest standards and then operate entirely in areas which set higher standards and which have no powers of enforcement over them;
  • resulting in endless court challenges given the ambiguities of the legislation;
  • leaving local transport authorities without the tools they need to ensure quality and limit excessive provision where that could result in congestion for all road users.

It identifies four key changes the Government could make to tackle these problems:

  • New statutory national minimum standards for taxi and PHV licensing (in particular to ensure passenger safety) whilst allowing local transport authorities to set higher standards as they see fit (for example in order to tackle poor air quality);
  • Ending the race to the bottom and closing enforcement loopholes through ensuring that a vehicle has to start or finish its journey in the area it was licensed and strengthening enforcement powers;
  • Introducing clear statutory definitions of ‘plying for hire’ and ‘pre-booked services’ to remove legal ambiguities and move more of taxi and PHV policy making out of the courts and into wider city planning functions;
  • Giving local authorities the powers to limit taxi and PHV numbers so that they can better manage the implications for air pollution, traffic congestion, and the urban realm.

Jonathan Bray, Director of the Urban Transport Group, said:

“The current legal framework for the PHV and taxi sector is still based on an era when taxis were pulled by horses rather than summoned by apps. This can no longer be sustained if we want to get the best outcome for the sector, for users and for cities. Instead we need a new framework which will give transport authorities the ability to ensure a good and enforceable standard of service for users as well as a better deal for taxi drivers and operators who play by the rules.”

Download the report.

The Urban Transport Group is also sponsoring a major international taxi conference in London on 7-8 December at which some of the issues raised in the report will be discussed. More details of the conference can be found here.