Not as simple as it first appears

This week, I was asked on Twitter by an Oxfordshire councillor for my view about a petition on the Government web site, which seeks to stop taxis being allowed to work in areas they are not licensed in.  

With the hundreds of out of area taxis now working legally in Oxford for city private hire companies, it is something that causes concern. At first glance, I might have been able to support it.  The petition has attracted more than ten thousand signatures – forty within the two Oxford and Abingdon constituencies -  and thus has qualified for a Government response.

As with many aspects of taxi and private hire regulation, it is not as simple as it first appears. An interesting discussion arose with another local councillor about the difference between Hackney Carriage and private hire. The principal difference is that a Hackney Carriage can work taxi ranks and pick up passengers who hail them on the street, within the district they are licensed for, whereas a private hire vehicle can only undertake work booked in advance through a licensed private hire operator.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that a licensed Hackney Carriage proprietor is permitted to undertake pre booked work out of area, something which is essential for customer choice and for the small town driver to make a living.  Here in Abingdon, the rank work and street hails are few and far between.

One of the quirks of the Oxford tariff is that journeys outside of the city boundary are by negotiation between the driver and the passenger. Two years ago, a group of friends coming back from a night out at a gig in Oxford were charged £30 for a journey back to Abingdon, in the middle of the night. That is reasonable enough, but having arrived in Abingdon at the Catholic church, the driver then demanded an additional £10 for each subsequent drop off, each of which was a short distance within Abingdon, making a total of £60, which is too much.

Passengers who arrive at Didcot Parkway and get into one of the taxis waiting there, for the journey back to Abingdon, are getting into a taxi in South Oxfordshire – one of the few remaining districts in the country which does not set a council tariff, but still permits the operators to set their own.

Many customers have their favourite drivers who they have known for years and trust to undertake journeys for them at a reasonable fare.  They should be allowed to book who they want to take them from Oxford and Didcot back to Abingdon, rather than be forced to use a local taxi. 

If the naïve though possibly well intentioned demands of the petitioners were ever to be enacted, there would be hundreds of taxis returning to the council area which licensed them, flooding the market and putting people operating within both the letter and the spirit of the law, out of business.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 18 January 2017