Estimated reading time: 6 Minutes
25 March 2019
The Welsh Government has published a number of legislative proposals relating to bus services and taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) in its improving public transport White Paper, published in December 2018. The White Paper also makes proposals relating to concessionary fares and Joint Transport Authorities (JTAs), with the public consultation closing on 27 March 2019.
This is the second of two blog posts on the content of the White Paper. This post considers the proposals relating to JTAs and taxis and PHVs. Our previous blog post explores the proposals for buses and concessionary fares and explains some background to the development of the White Paper.
Launching the White Paper, the Minister for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates said the:
proposals are aimed at providing better planning and solutions for delivery, putting passengers, local communities and people who currently do not consider public transport as the option to meet their transport needs, at the heart of the decision making.
Travelling back to the future?
The White Paper sets out plans for JTAs to be established by Order using powers under section 5 of the Transport (Wales) Act 2006. Whilst it is not yet clear precisely what functions the new bodies would undertake, the regional transport planning approach is familiar to Wales. As explored in an earlier blog post, the Welsh Government previously funded local authorities to work collaboratively in four Regional Transport Consortia to develop and implement Regional Transport Plans.
However, in January 2014, the then Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, Edwina Hart made a statement outlining changes to transport planning and funding leading to funding for Regional Transport Consortia being withdrawn.
JTA proposals have been compared to the previous regional approach. The Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee has heard evidence that the “regional transport authorities have been effective in the past and [so JTAs] could be a good way forward”. The key difference is that where consortia were joint committees of local authorities, JTAs would be statutory bodies with their own powers.
Joint Transport Authorities
The purpose of a JTA is to pool existing transport functions and powers of two or more local authorities. The Order(s) establishing the JTAs would set out which local authority functions they would undertake.
The White Paper outlines two different options to establish JTAs, either one national JTA with three regional boards (committees), or one national JTA and three regional JTAs. The White Paper highlights that the proposals to establish JTAs will be subject to further consultation:
JTAs would be established by secondary legislation which requires a dedicated formal consultation, which depending on the outcome of the [White Paper] consultation [the Welsh Government intends] to issue in Autumn 2019.
The Welsh Government’s intentions for JTAs are clear in some respects. It proposes that “all of the existing taxi and PHV licensing functions of the twenty two Welsh local authorities would be redirected to the JTA.” The White Paper also proposes that the bus powers set out in the White Paper “will be exercisable by the JTAs”. The paper identifies national / strategic functions and regional / implementation functions in relation to buses which might sit with national and regional JTAs.
During evidence on 13 March to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee inquiry into the Future Development of Transport For Wales (TfW), the Minister for Economy and Transport suggested the current regional structures such as Cardiff Capital Region and North Wales Economic Ambition Board could develop into JTAs. However, in previous sessions witnesses questioned why a national JTA would be needed alongside TfW.
A fast lane for taxis and PHVs?
Part 2 of the White Paper consultation makes a number of proposals in relation to taxis and PHVs:
- A new national approach to standards for taxi and PHV licensing;
- Allowing a licensing authority to take enforcement action against any vehicle operating in its area; and
- Requiring the Welsh Ministers to establish information sharing arrangements for safeguarding purposes.
Licensing of taxis and PHVs is currently the responsibility of local authorities. Licensing operates on a two-tier system that distinguishes between:
- Taxis – which can be hailed or can use taxi ranks as well as undertaking pre-booked journeys; and
- PHVs – which must be pre-booked via phone, in person, or increasingly through technology such as mobile apps.
A taxi cannot operate unless both the vehicle and its driver are licensed by a local authority under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 whilst PHV vehicles, drivers and operators cannot operate without licences granted under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (the ‘triple licensing requirement’).
With the respective pieces of legislation being enacted in 1847 and 1976, the White Paper highlights that the legislative framework is:
at odds with modern technology and taxi and PHV working practices. When the legislation was enacted… taxis were horse-drawn carriages and radio signals for PHVs were unlikely to reach beyond the licensing authority borders.
The Welsh Government suggests there is a need for reform and sets out proposals to “develop a licensing framework that reflects current working practices”.
This includes a proposal to redirect all of the existing taxi and PHV licensing functions away from local authorities and into a national licensing authority, a JTA. The White Paper outlines how this would include functions such as licensing, fee- and fare-setting and enforcement.
The White Paper outlines that the Welsh Government is also considering implementing these changes “without using a JTA as the delivery vehicle”, should the JTA proposals not be taken forward.
The Welsh Government proposes to set national standards for taxi and PHV licensing which all taxis and PHVs in Wales would have to meet to obtain a licence. The White Paper highlights that inconsistent licensing standards across Wales result in ”different costs for operators and variable safety and quality standards for passengers”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) publishes data on licensing policies (MS Excel, 190KB) which illustrates how policies differ across licensing areas. For example, at 31 March 2018, 9 of the 22 Welsh licensing authorities had a requirement that wheelchair accessible vehicles be included in each company’s fleet and 16 of the 22 had an age limit on taxi vehicles.
Prior to the devolution of taxi and PHV regulation powers under the Wales Act 2017, the Law Commission conducted a review into taxi and private hire services between 2012 and 2014. In its final report (PDF 2MB), published in May 2014, it recommended the introduction of “national standards for all taxis and private hire vehicles, set by the Secretary of State”. The report also recommended that licensing should remain the responsibility of local authorities – as opposed to delivering these nationally as proposed by the Welsh Government.
The proposed Welsh standards would be set by regulations meaning there would be further consultation on the specific standards to be introduced.
The UK Government is also proposing to introduce national licensing standards in England.
The Welsh Government is also proposing to allow a licensing authority to take enforcement action against any vehicle operating in its area. Currently, there is no statutory mechanism for enforcement against vehicles licensed in a different local authority, and taxis and PHVs undertake pre-booked work outside their licensing area.
The issues this raises for licensing authorities were explored during the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee’s previous ‘New Powers: New Possibilities’ inquiry. The Committee heard evidence from Cardiff Council highlighting that authorities:
… can undertake prosecution against people illegally plying for hire in Cardiff, but if we saw something like a dangerous Newport taxi, we’ve got no powers to deal with that, no resource. We don’t get any income to deal with driver enforcement either. We’d have to get hold of the operator and then refer that to a colleague in that local authority area. So, it can be quite confusing and quite a slow process for us to deal with.
However, the Welsh Government does not propose any changes to the current position on out-of-area private hire working, an issue which has raised concern within the industry as recently reported in the media. While the White Paper proposals will address some common concerns around “cross border” working through standards and enforcement, they will not address suggestions that there is currently over-supply, which some in the sector argue affects driver income and well-being through long hours.
The next stop
The White Paper consultation is due to close on 27 March and the Minister for Economy and Transport has stated that a Bill will be introduced in February 2020 (PDF,840KB).
Ahead of this, the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee will be undertaking an inquiry into the proposals.
In the meantime, read our previous blog post which journeys through the Welsh Government’s plans for buses and concessionary fares.
Article by Francesca Howorth, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales