Taxi! – Issues and Options for City Region Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Policy

I have now been at UTG for 18 months and over that time I have been getting to grips and grappling with the complicated picture around taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs). And it is COMPLICATED! Our new report goes into much of the detail around the legislative and policy framework and makes the case for city regions to take a more strategic approach to this area. But I’ll break down some of the key points here.

Firstly, there are taxis, legislatively known as hackney carriages, which may or may not be the black cab style. These can be hailed in the street or picked up at ranks, as well as booked. Then there are PHVs, sometimes known as minicabs, which must be booked, and cannot use ranks or be hailed on street. More recently, a series of app-based operators have emerged, sometimes referred to as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), and these operate under PHV legislation. There has been huge growth in PHV numbers, associated with TNCs, with a 45% increase in PHV licences in the West Midlands over the last two years and there is now one PHV for every 100 people in London.

So there are taxis, PHVs, TNCS which are kind of PHVs… Following?

Then there is the question of who licenses these? In England, outside London, local authorities license taxis, PHVs, their drivers and operators. However, in our city regions, combined authorities often take strategic transport decisions. Therefore, within a combined authority region you can end up with different prices and policies in neighbouring authorities as the illustration below demonstrates. And these vehicles can operate wherever they like. This is further complicated by the fact that licensing officers are only able to conduct enforcement activities on vehicles licensed in their own area.

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In London, TfL are the licensing authority and the strategic transport body, which means that there are common standards across the city region. In addition, this means that the licensing regime can be used to help achieve wider policy goals, such as improving air quality by imposing emission standards on licensed taxis and PHVs.

And the taxi and PH sectors can contribute to a number of public policy goals including:

  • Social inclusion – taxis and PHVs are a vital lifeline to those with additional mobility requirements and often low income groups working shifts rely on taxi or PH when other public transport options are not available
  • Air quality and carbon emissions – the taxi and PH fleet contribute to emissions but policy measures can be used to reduce their impact
  • Congestion – large numbers of taxis and PHVs can contribute to traffic, but also reduce the need to own and use private cars, which could help reduce congestion
  • Public safety – taxis and PH can help people get home at night when other public transport options might not be available, and this also supports the night time economy
  • Employment – the taxi and PH sectors provide employment opportunities, with 367,000 people employed as drivers in England and Wales.

However, it’s not all rosy. New TNC models have been questioned over the ethics of their approaches, particularly with regards to workers’ rights. And rapid growth in PHV numbers has led to challenges for policy and decision makers. The legislation that governs the licensing of the taxi and PH sectors in England is from 1847 and 1976 respectively. This legislation needs updating to meet the current challenges in the sector. And city region transport authorities have the opportunity to take a more strategic approach to the taxi and PH sectors in order to allow them to contribute to wider public policy goals. Our new report sets out the case for this and you can find it here.

We are also supporting the UITP Taxi Conference in London on 7th and 8th December, find out more and register here.

Super-charged cycling

A couple of weeks ago, we (me and Tom) went out for a cycle. What’s so special about that I hear you say? Well, we were riding E-bikes, the pair of E-bikes pictured below to be precise. We went out for a lunchtime ride along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway to test out these bikes with a difference, and we had a beautifully sunny day for it too!

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So, the bikes we were riding were Emu electric bikes, with an integrated frame battery and several different modes for electric assistance. From ‘Eco’ which just gave you a little assistance on the hills to ‘BOOST’ mode, which had me flying up the fairly steep hill out of Bradford on the return trip. As well as testing out the powered modes, Tom wanted to see how they bikes performed with the electrics off. They are heavier than normal bikes but still enjoyable to ride. He’s still smiling at the top of the hill in the picture below.

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Riding along the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway was enjoyable, it’s great to see commitment to delivering high quality cycle infrastructure. And it’s fantastic that Bradford is hosting the Cycle City Active City Conference this week too, really putting West Yorkshire on the map for its commitment to active travel.

The thing that struck me most about riding the E-bike was, that even after more than 2 hours of cycling, I didn’t feel hot and bothered. I felt like I’d been for a brisk walk but not a 2 hour, 28km ride. I loved it!

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For me, that’s where the beauty of E-bikes lies. You can ride a reasonable distance, for example to work, without having to wear special clothes or shower when you get to work. They are more inclusive, you don’t need to be particularly physically fit to ride an E-bike and the electric technology is transferable to hand-cycles, tricycles and cargo bikes. And, if this is coupled with enhanced cycling infrastructure, we really could super charge the cycling revolution.

You can find out more about Active Travel on our website.

Fostering Trust for Total Transport

Here at UTG, we’ve been talking about Total Transport for a long time, with our flagship report on this in 2011. And then, in 2015, DfT announced funding for a series of Total Transport Pilots, eventually funding 37 projects in 36 areas. These two year pilot projects, focused on rural areas, are now coming to an end, but much can be learnt from the successes and failures of these projects. A recent CIHT event focused on this very area.

For me, the highlight of the event was hearing directly from the authorities developing the Total Transport Pilots, both Devon County Council and Northamptonshire presented on the day.

In Northamptonshire they have taken a data driven approach to understanding the current transport needs in the region and identifying how a Total Transport approach might help to make operations more efficient. Uniquely within the pilots, the Network Northamptonshire project has established a Community Interest Company to deliver their project, allowing more room to innovate and try out different things, and also offering the opportunity to generate profits which can be re-invested in transport. They emphasise the need for leadership buy-in for a successful project of this kind.

Within Devon, the focus has been on improving health related transport. This has been undertaken by moving patient transport into the County Council’s Transport Coordination Service and changing the way that patient transport is commissioned. This has resulted in a reduction in complaints about patient transport to PALS, showing positive improvements in service delivery. But working with health has not been easy, and establishing effective working relationships was important in laying the foundations for this coordination.

We’ve recent produced a report with the Community Transport Association, looking at how Total Transport approaches can improve delivery of non-emergency patient transport. This included highlighting good practice examples from the pilot projects, such as Northamptonshire and Devon County Council.

There are clearly many barriers to Total Transport approaches, and these pilot projects have demonstrated this. But developing these projects as pilots have allowed partners to be creative and innovative, identifying the barriers and challenges throughout.

One thing that particularly struck me at the CIHT event was the recurrence of the theme of trust. Trust between partners was identified as critical to successful projects, particularly where cross-sectoral working was required. Working across transport and health has repeatedly been shown to be challenging, not just for Total Transport. Fostering effective relationships is at the heart of successful Total Transport approaches, and these pilot projects have shown that without trust, this may not succeed.