Trying to identify uniform rules for all taxi startups in the UK is impossible, as there are hundreds of council licensing authorities in the UK, each with varying regulations. However, there are some basic points you must adhere to before you can hang your traffic light air freshener onto the rear view mirror and start talking to passengers about last night’s game and the weather.
Previous to 1998, every local authority in the UK regulated the private hire trade except London. This was rectified by the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act, which handed responsibility of regulation to the Public Carriage Office, which until then only looked after black cab licensing.
Minicabs have suffered a bad reputation in the past due to the previously unregulated nature of their work. Rogue drivers would pick up stray passengers and charge them extortionate prices or worse. It’s still estimated that at least one woman a week is raped in illegal minicabs in London alone, a shocking statistic which blights the good name of the industry.
Minicab firms must now hold a private hire operator license before they can accept bookings – your company will not be able to trade without one. In order to get a license, you will have to prove that you are ‘a fit and proper person’. Any criminal convictions, bankruptcy or breach of health and safety rules will count against you.
You should also prove you hold any relevant radio licensing or insurance documents – any illegal equipment or uninsured drivers are frowned on by the authorities, to say the least.
The regulations don’t require you have an office as such, although you do need at least one “operating centre.” This must be the premises where you take your bookings. Happily, your home address can be your operating centre, although a licensing officer is often sent to inspect the premises.
An application fee is payable to your local authority, which runs for five years. Fees vary according to the local authority, but as an incentive to startup minicab firms, there is often a reduction in the cost for small operators, who are defined as having just one or two cars in their fleet.
Private hire cars are not required to have meters, and there are no price limits in place across the country. However, the vehicles are meant to have an MOT three times a year, and if you are planning on using your 1985 Ford Escort to pick up customers, forget it – it’s almost impossible to get insurance for cars over ten years old.
As for drivers, it is best to employ those over the age of 25, as it may be difficult and expensive to insure younger workers. Your drivers must have held a full EU driving license for 12 months, pass a medical and make a declaration in relation to any criminal convictions. In some areas, drivers have to pass a ‘knowledge’ test, similar to black cab licensees, in order to operate.
Contact your local council to find out about any variations in the operating rules that apply to your area.
If you are planning to go it alone in a black cab, you need to meet certain requirements. To get your license, you need to be 21 or over, have a full EU driving license for at least 12 months and be able to drive a taxi competently.
Again, you need to prove that you are a ‘fit and proper person’, so prepare for a full check on your criminal and medical past, with any aberrations being held against you (although any minor crimes will not be terminal for your application.) A ‘knowledge’ test must also be passed.
London’s black cab laws are slightly more complex. You first have decide whether you want to apply for a ‘green badge’ (which allows you to operate in central London) or a ‘yellow badge’ (which allows you to ply your trade in the suburbs.)
The Public Carriage Office allows two years for applicants to pass their central London knowledge test, and six months to pass the suburbs knowledge test.
There is currently no compulsory training programme, although in 2000 the Intermediate Certificate in License Education for Taxi and Private Hire was introduced to provide a nationally recognised qualification for drivers.
Although you can drive a taxi without one, many firms are taking up training to improve the skills of drivers and to win company contracts as well as public confidence.
For further information, contact the Private Hire, Hackney Carriage and Chauffeur Training Organisation on 0191 296 0814.
The National Private Hire Association represent over 400 private hire firms. To find out what they can do for you, call them on 0161 280 2800 or click on www.privatehiretaximonthly.com/npha.html
If you are thinking of becoming a taxi driver, you should firstly contact your local council to find out their particular fees. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association will also be able to help you out – you can contact them by calling 0207 286 1046.