The Sunday Times front page revelations that Uber appear to have been concealing acts of criminality involving their drivers and that TFL seem to have delayed informing the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) of two public order offences, which are subject to a six month prosecution time limit meaning that the MPS had no power to proceed with prosecutions, will come as no surprise to Taxi Drivers in London who have long been vociferous with claims that cover ups and obfuscation have been common place when it comes to TFL and the company Uber.
But how is it that we have reached a situation where crimes of this nature are taking place at an alarming rate?
The answer to us at RMT is obvious. An individual is able to sign up in a matter of days and become a Private Hire Driver and then download an app allowing them to become instantly available for hire, or in other words download an app allowing them to Ply for Hire. This is a magnet for the predatory individual that wishes to trawl the streets of London (or elsewhere) and commit such crimes as have become commonplace in the last few years. The link is unquestionable!
RMT will continue to campaign for a Statutory Definition in Law of Plying for Hire.
It is fair to say also that the Deregulation Act 2015 has also helped to contribute to the situation we now find ourselves in.
As far back as 2014 RMT along with Unite and GMB campaigned to stop three last minute amendments to the Deregulation Bill. These were added with no proper consultation with stakeholders having ever taken place.
The following shows the proposed amendments and outlines the campaign from 2014 and the warnings that were given.
Government Putting Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle Users at Risk!
Unite GMB and RMT are making you aware of the serious dangers of three amendments affecting the Taxi & Private Hire Vehicle trade, which the Department for Transport (DfT) have added to the Deregulation Bill at the last minute, with no proper consultation with stakeholders having ever taken place.
Amendment 8 – Allowing anyone with an ordinary driver’s licence to drive a private hire vehicle (PHV) when it is “off-duty”.
- • This proposal will make members of the public vulnerable to illegal pickups when the (licensed) vehicle is being driven by an unlicensed driver.
- • Enforcement against illegal use would be much more difficult with the local authority having to first prove that the vehicle was being used for hire and reward rather than social and domestic purposes.
- • It also increases the potential for a member of the public to be picked up by an unscrupulous individual purporting to be a legitimate driver in a licensed vehicle.
- • The DfT quotes London as an example of how Amendment 8 would work.
However Police figures show that 214 women were sexually assaulted and 54 raped in the capital last year after getting into illegal minicabs.
- • Amendment 8 makes the possibility for illegal pickups, sexual assaults and rape more likely and more difficult to police.
Amendment 9 – Making the standard duration for all taxi and PHV driver licences three years and five years for all PHV operator licences.
- • Whilst the vast majority of Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle drivers and Private Hire Vehicle operators are persons of high integrity, it is unfortunately the case that the industry does attract a small percentage of unsuitable persons.
- • Although most local authorities impose conditions on Private Hire drivers licences and Private Hire operators licences requiring them to report criminal convictions and changes to medical status within a specified period of time, this is often ignored.
- • As a consequence, it is only the annual renewal process which enables the local authority to ensure that licensees have remained fit and proper for the duration of their licence.
- • If this was extended to 3 years (or 5 years in the case of operators) a great many unsuitable and potentially dangerous persons would remain licensed for longer, putting the public at greater risk.
Amendment 10 – Allowing private hire operators to sub-contract bookings to operators licensed in a different district.
- • The public will lose their right to choose, which operator they wish to travel with because they call operator A who is their preferred choice and operator B turns up.
- • The customer may have experienced a whole number of problems with operator B previously. Surely if a member of the public calls a specific operator because they feel that operator is both reliable and safe to travel with then they should get who they ask for. If they wanted to travel with another operator then they would call them in the first place.
- • Also by being able to pass jobs from one operator to another, the role of the local licensing enforcement would become impossible because currently only the licensing officers from a licensing authority area have the power to take enforcement action against the vehicle and driver.
- • This proposal would result in vehicles and drivers working literally hundreds of miles from their licensing authority, with no controls putting the public’s safety at risk.
This campaign which had the full weight of the three Trade Unions behind it was not, unfortunately, supported at the time within our trade. Amendment 10 was passed into the Deregulation Bill and amendment 9 was partially adopted giving local authorities discretion to issue shorter term licenses for Drivers and Operators on a case by case basis.
Although amendment 8 did not pass into the act it has long been the case within London that a Private Hire Vehicle can be driven while ‘Off Duty’ by anyone with an ordinary Driver’s license and TFL have regularly complained that this makes enforcement of Private Hire more problematical, due to the fact that anyone can drive one of these vehicles giving them a legal alibi whenever they might be approached. It is a known fact that outside London only Licensed Private Hire drivers can drive a Private Hire Vehicle, this helps to reinforce the safety of the travelling public.
While Private Hire Drivers in London are able to operate in a way that makes them instantly available, aping the activities of a Hackney Carriage Driver, then unfortunately the alarming number of assaults against vulnerable passengers will continue.