Taxi policy: summary of proposed changes
A section relating to data protection has been included within the policy to clarify the means by which personal data is handled by the Licensing Unit and to confirm that such data may be shared in appropriate circumstances and in line with the GDPR.
Criminal record checks
It is proposed that all drivers subscribe to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service, which will enable criminal record checks to be carried out on drivers quickly and efficiently without the need for applicants to complete application forms or wait up to several months for their Disclosure Certificate to be issued. The lengthy delays often experienced by drivers can result in licences not being issued prior to expiry dates which has a serious impact on drivers’ livelihoods. It will also mean that, once drivers have subscribed, any other relevant authority (such as Bucks County Council) will be able to carry out necessary checks without the need for the driver to complete further forms and pay additional fees.
It is also proposed that, in the future, applicants and licence holders will be required to submit new and renewal applications via the Council’s online application system. This new system has been trialled with private hire operators for the last two years and has proved to be largely successful. Payments for licence fees can be made via the system and required documents can be uploaded. The new system would enable all applicants to apply from home or from their place of business and would reduce the amount of visits required to the Council Offices.
There will be computers and assistance available in the Customer Service Centre at the Council Offices for any applicants that do not have access to a means of submitting applications online.
Immigration Act 2016
The Immigration Act 2016 introduces requirements on local authorities to issue only short term licences to those awaiting decisions in relation to their immigration status. This has been normal practice for some time but specific reference to the Act has now been included within the Policy.
Revocation of licences
Case law has confirmed that local authorities are unable to suspend licences and then subsequently revoke a licence where an investigation is being carried out in respect of the licensee. The policy has therefore been amended to reflect the fact that licensees will generally have their licences revoked with immediate effect where they are being investigated for a serious offence and it appears appropriate to do so.
Child sexual exploitation
As the licensed trade are often involved in the transportation of children and vulnerable adults, it is considered important that all licensees have an understanding of the issue, are aware of the signs of abuse and know how to report any suspicions they may have in this respect. It is proposed that all drivers, operators and applicants should therefore undergo training in this respect. This training would be delivered free of charge to existing drivers / operators and new applicants would be trained and tested as part of the application procedure.
Vehicle age limits
It is proposed that the age requirements in relation to licensed vehicles are amended to allow older vehicles to be licensed in the first instance and also to be licensed for a longer period. The current requirement is that vehicles must be less than 4 years old when first licensed and that any licence ceases when the vehicle reaches 8 years of age. It is proposed that vehicles up to 5 years old could be licensed and for any licence to cease when the vehicle reaches 10 years of age. All vehicles would still be required to be tested and visually inspected by an authorised garage and deemed suitable prior to any licence being issued.
It is further proposed that the age limit for wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) be reduced to the same level of 10 years from the current permitted 14 years. It has become apparent that many WAVs are more usually used for non-wheelchair journeys and as such deteriorate at the same rate as other licensed vehicles.
Wheelchair accessible vehicles
Further to comments from the trade and research into this issue, it is proposed that the current requirement for wheelchair accessible hackney carriages to be side-loading only is removed and that any such vehicle is treated on its merits in individual cases.
It is proposed that the current requirements in relation to light transmission should be reduced from 70 per cent in all rear windows to 60 per cent. This also takes into consideration the fact that there have been no reported assaults in the rear of licensed vehicles and that visibility would remain at an acceptable level with the proposed new level.
The existing requirement of 75 per cent light transmission through the windscreen and 70 per cent through front windows would remain unchanged given that these are statutory requirements. The existing exemption from this policy for executive vehicles would remain in place.
It has become apparent that the front seats in some 8 seater vehicles are entirely unsuitable in that the seat is too narrow, the leg room is insufficient and the passenger would be required to sit at very close proximity to the driver. As a result, it is considered that a requirement should be re-introduced in terms of minimum seat width and that a requirement should also be introduced in relation to minimum leg room. Such a requirement would not apply retrospectively, although in cases where a seat is deemed to be entirely unsuitable the vehicle would be licensed to carry a lower number of passengers.
Council issued door stickers are required to be securely fixed to the vehicle and it is not considered that magnets are sufficient to achieve this requirement. It is therefore proposed that stickers should be attached by means of the adhesive on the sticker itself and that magnets should not be permitted.
It has been noted that some private hire companies have been using different company stickers on the rear of their vehicles compared with the Council-issued door stickers on the front doors. It is considered that this is inappropriate and causes confusion to customers. It is therefore proposed that any company signage should reflect the company details contained within the Council-issued door stickers, the contents of which are requested by the applicant on application.
It has also been noted that private hire vehicle licensees are failing to remove both Council-issued door stickers and their own company signage following the expiry of the licence. It is considered that this causes significant confusion to members of the public and that it indicates that the vehicle is licensed when no licence is in force. As a matter of public safety it is considered that licensees should be required to remove any signage which indicates that the vehicle is licensed once that licence has either expired (and not renews), been suspended or revoked.
With the increasing use of CCTV in licensed vehicles, it is now considered to be necessary and appropriate to include guidelines on the use of this type of equipment in licensed vehicles and so a new policy to this effect is proposed.
Criminal records policy
The criminal records policy has also been significantly amended to take into consideration all areas of the licensed trade and to differentiate between drivers, operators and vehicle licensees.
It is also considered appropriate that the period of time in which licensees should notify the authorised officer of any criminal matters should be reduced from 7 days to 72 hours. This is to take account of allegations of serious crimes where the licensing authority may be minded to revoke the licence with immediate effect to protect public safety.
The enforcement policy has also been amended to bring it into line with current practices and legislation, although its purpose and scope remain largely unaltered. It is, however, proposed that any informal interviews held with licensees, either as a result of the receipt of a complaint or as part of an application process, should be recorded so that an accurate record of the conversation can be retained.