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.


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.

Our blueprint for urban transport can deliver transformational change

Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus and Chair of the Urban Transport Group, offers his thoughts on our new report – Policy Futures for urban transport.

Over the coming few weeks the major political parties will be getting together to debate their policies for the next few years. Ensuring our urban economies can grow in a sustainable and inclusive way has to be a key part of those debates. We believe modern and efficient transport networks can be the link between policy objectives and delivered results.

Very few other services brings together – or facilitates the success of – the goals of many government departments and agencies. The Urban Transport Group calculated that in 2014 local bus services alone contributed to the policy goals of half of all government departments and 46 policy goals of those departments (41 outside of the DfT).

That’s why we are launching our latest Policy Futures vision – a blueprint that can lead to transformational change for everything from economic development, social mobility and inclusion through to creating the cities we will need for the future.

At its heart, the Policy Futures vision requires a national framework that brings together government and civil service at the national level with the urban transport authorities delivering services in their local areas. Potentially, the barriers between departments and agencies can be lessened so that the benefits that joined-up transport thinking might be realised – in such disparate policy areas such as health, employment and education.

Not only that, a national framework could also deliver real economic and budgetary goals – funding decisions for transport schemes and infrastructure can be streamlined and made more efficient enabling transport authorities to have more control over a more stable funding regime. A more focussed transport framework will unlock additional job opportunities by helping people get into work and increase the skills base of the population by easing access to education and training.

The Policy Futures vision has 16 specific policy changes we would like to see implemented – I won’t list them here, but we will be on hand at the Labour and Conservative party conferences to explain them in detail.

Our member authorities deliver vital urban transport services for millions of people  in the UK – and we hope to make their voices, and the voices of our members heard this party conference season.


Scandinavian designed transport

Our new report, ‘The Scandinavian Way to Better Public Transport’, takes a detailed look at how Sweden, Norway and Denmark deliver public transport that not only gives its customers exceptional service but also underpins macro economic and environmental policies at local and national levels.

Professor Tom Rye, from the Transport Research Institute at Edinburgh Napier University led a team of on the ground experts in this study for the Urban Transport Group. In a guest blog, he explains what lessons UK transport authorities and policy makers can learn from the Scandinavian experience.

“Franchising is the norm across much of Scandinavia for regional and urban public transport as it allows locally accountable transport authorities to determine the outcomes they want in line with their wider social, economic and environmental goals and to deliver those outcomes in an efficient, cost effective and often innovative way.

“The report shows that based on experience in these Scandinavian cities and regions, franchised public transport systems:

  • Can deliver good value for money to the authority and to the paying passenger, and can deliver very high and growing ridership.
  • Foster competition between operators (for tenders) and are a good way to keep costs under control.  Consequently operators in these systems tend not to make excess profits.
  • Allow public authorities to decide and control what level and quality of public transport they want, and how much this will cost them.  So public authorities know what they will get when they pay public money to transport operators.
  • Make good value multi-modal integrated ticketing easier to deliver.
  • In some cities, can deliver services at a cost per passenger to the public purse than is lower than in UK city regions.

“It is important to note that all these benefits have been delivered in the context of a clear city region governance structure where a regional body plans local and regional public transport and contracts operators to run its services.

“In addition, the report shows that these city regions have delivered major public transport infrastructure and service improvements and that the cost of these infrastructure projects is significantly lower than equivalents in the UK.

“I concluded the report with the following statement and I think it sums up the notion of Scandinavian designed transport:

“Scandinavian countries have taken this approach because there is a political and public consensus that public transport is a public service. A public service that has a key role to play in tacking road congestion, reducing greenhouse gases and air pollution. A public service that also spreads the benefits of economic growth and promotes social cohesion through ensuring better connectivity within and between communities – including linking peripheral areas with the main towns and cities that are driving the wider economy.”