Following the Government's Action Plan for Taxis (and private hire vehicles) the DfT has requested all councils that restrict hackney carriage numbers to publicly justify their policy. Havant is one of the 45% of authorities that currently have restrictions.
The Government views the restriction of the numbers of such licences as only being justified where the consumer gains some benefit. The DfT accepts that local authorities are in the best position to identify public interests. The knowledge they have is set against a number of questions concerning the market value of licences, the existence of a relevant survey and the number of disabled accessible vehicles licensed. HBC has restricted the number of hackney carriage vehicle licences it issues for at least 50 years up to 2014. The number of hackney carriage licences issued by HBC currently stands at 40.
A hackney carriage is a vehicle that trades with a driver for hire or reward from 'taxi' ranks or is available to be waved down in the street. It is distinctly different from a private hire vehicle that may only be hired by being pre-booked. The fare charged by a hackney carriage has a maximum rate set by the Council whereas private hire journeys are theoretically set by negotiation between the hirer and supplier. Private hire vehicles are booked through operators often confusingly known as 'taxi firms'. Therefore, although there are a total of some 550 vehicles available for hire with a driver within the Borough of Havant, this policy only affects that smaller proportion of vehicles hackney carriages.
The Licensing committee sought to establish, in 2013, that its restriction on hackney carriage numbers remained correct in terms of both numbers and its duties in respect of the Equality Act 2010. The accepted manner of determining this remains legally justifiable by way of a survey undertaken by professional independent traffic consultants. A survey seeks to establish whether or not there exists within the licensing area any unmet demand for hackney carriages. If any unmet demand is found then the licensing authority can no longer justify restricting the numbers of hackney carriage vehicle licences it issues. Alternatively if no unmet demand exists then the authority has discretion whether to increase the number of licences it issues or not.
HBC was also concerned to obtain the provision of a number of hackney carriages that would be suitable for the carriage of wheelchair bound passengers. At the time of the last survey in 2013, of the 40 licensed hackney carriages licensed by HBC, 8 were wheelchair accessible vehicles capable of carrying wheelchair bound passengers seated in their wheelchairs.
As a result of these requirements and after taking the views of the hackney trade, tenders were sought from several transport consultants and as a result of these, the Council commissioned CTS Traffic & Transportation Ltd to do an unmet demand survey. This was undertaken during the summer of 2013 and involved the following activities; rank observation surveys, pedestrian surveys at centres throughout the Borough, consultation including;
- Private hire trade,
- Education departments,
- Social services department,
- Chamber of trade
- Groups representing the elderly and disabled.
The survey was completed and the final report submitted in September 2013. This concluded that there was no unmet demand, patent or latent, within HBC area at the time. The Licensing Committee therefore resolved not to increase the number of hackney carriage licences available from HBC at this time.
A wheelchair accessible vehicle must be a type approved by the Vehicle Certification Agency for cars in the form it is submitted for licensing. The applicant must be able to produce a copy of the relevant type approval certificate upon the request of the Council before a licence is issued. The vehicle must be capable of carrying a passenger seated in a wheelchair safely and securely. Wheelchair access must be gained by ramps or a mechanical lift through an aperture no less than 780mm wide and 1350mm high. Any equipment necessary to safely and securely load and carry the wheelchair and its passenger must be carried and maintained in working order, on the vehicle so long as the vehicle is licensed. It shall be the responsibility of the vehicle's proprietor to ensure that the driver can safely operate the equipment provided.
The current policy meets the aims of the Hampshire Transport Plan as it;
- Reinforces existing public transport links, and
- Provides flexibility and convenience, and
- Acts as part of an integrated transport system.
This is achieved by the proximity of taxi facilities within easy reach of both the local railway and bus stations, providing an 'on demand' service throughout an extended period of the 24 hours, including a significant provision of wheelchair accessible vehicles. The latter will now compare favourably with the County average.
Whether or not the Council continues to limit the number of hackney carriage licences it issues will depend partly upon the public and trade response to the increased number of licences it has currently issued. This will be determined by the Council monitoring its hackney carriage policy to ensure, as far as it is empowered, that the trade continues to be able to provide a viable service to the public without any significant increase in unmet demand. Viability will in part be shown by whether or not there continues to be positive interest in obtaining hackney licences, their street value and the commissioning of unmet demand surveys. These will be in addition to the impact that the policy has in respect of the disabled community within our area.
The current position regarding hackney carriages does not prevent the Council from promoting changes to the policy calculated to benefit our community. For this reason the Council encourages suggestions from users, potential users and anyone who has a constructive view that may promote the industry to the benefit of all hackney carriage users, using the contact details supplied.