Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) has prepared the attached Taxi Licensing update as at November 2022 and will give an overview to the Committee.
Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) referred to the taxi licencing report for November 2022 that was circulated with the Agenda and highlighted the following:
· Driver numbers had stabilised over 2022. The Taxi Licensing and Passenger Transport team had launched a driver recruitment campaign and this was bearing fruit with 44 new licence applications being processed during October 2022. However there were a number of older drivers leaving the industry but it was positive that the numbers were flat and not continuing to fall;
· Drivers were reporting higher levels of business now the economy is beginning to recover; however the Council had received a number of complaints over the last two months from individuals struggling to book a taxi, especially at school run times. A large proportion of taxis are utilised by Passenger Transport Unit contracts and Officers were looking at the possibility of there being a school transport only licence and make this cheaper for drivers to apply for, although all of the relevant checks in place would have to remain the same but they could reduce the knowledge test and fee with a restricted licence;
· The Taxi Licensing team had been heavily hit by staff sickness and whilst they had been able to secure approval for a temporary position from the temporary work bank there had been no interest to fill the role and they were now working with HR to try and push for this as the team needed to ensure that they could deliver their priorities and their focus to recruit new drivers and to keep the trade moving. The staff shortages had also impacted on the level of active enforcement the team were able to carry out;
· The number of licenced vehicles went up 9 in October 2022 and were now at 791 as at 22 November 2022. There had been a move away from Hackney Carriage licences to private hire licences and that trend was expected to continue due to the change in the industry;
· The increase of 10% to tariff 1 (as agreed by the Licensing Committee in October) was implemented on 1 December 2022 and there would be an annual review of this due to be completed in the first quarter of 2023 and whilst they did not anticipate any changes this would be led by data from benchmarking from other Local Authorities and any proposed changes would be reported back to the Committee; and
· The feedback from the trade was that the rates for larger vehicles should be increased, however Wiltshire are currently one of the most expensive Local Authorities in the area for large vehicles and there was a balance of the needs of the businesses and taxis being cost effective/affordable for the public too.
A Committee member referred to the graph showing the total driver numbers per area on page 61 of the Agenda and commented that the total number of drivers seemed to have dipped in October 2022 from the previous month, and particularly in the North of the County and felt that the recovery didn’t look like it had tipped up yet and how this could be turned around? Tom Ince reported that it was nothing specific in the north of the county that he was aware of but was aware of some drivers retiring and that those in the north and west also carried out work in Bath too, the level of work in Bath has dropped affecting drivers in these areas. He confirmed they do ask drivers why they are leaving and some say that they don’t wish to continue to work the unsocial hours and some will say that they are not making any money and can earn similar money with delivery work etc.
The Committee member asked if it was easier for drivers in the north of the county to find work in Swindon as there was probably more work available and what could be done about that? Tom Ince reported that there was not too much they could do about that as the industry is based on supply and demand and they are able to work outside of their area to carry out pre-booked work as the law allows them to.
Tom Ince reported that they had thought they would see an increase in drivers/vehicles but this had not come through as rapidly as they thought as yet. He did not think that they would get back to the levels pre-pandemic as they are aware that the footfall in town centres is down and drivers are choosing to take on contract work rather than sat waiting on a rank. The industry was evolving and the team would look at ways to make it easier for drivers to become licenced.
A Committee member commented that perhaps there should be no hackney carriages and was aware that in her area everyone uses V Cabs which was a Swindon operator for day to day use and only local taxis for longer airport runs. She suggested asking customers if they feel there is a lack of provision because it could be that we are looking to solve a problem that isn’t there. The Chairman commented that the night time economy is a lot different and there had been a drop in the requirement of taxis in the evenings and that Salisbury had decided not to reapply for the Purple Flag status as the whole economy was different now post pandemic.
The Chairman highlighted the importance of taxi trade representative meeting and asked the team were still seeking nominations from the trade to move these meetings forward? Tom Ince reported that they would be looking to reintroduce the trade rep meetings next year but had found in the past that the reps come with their own agenda and that they were not necessarily representing their area’s views. They would work to encourage more participation from the trade and ask them to work together to come up with solutions to problems.
The Chairman asked that as we are getting close to Christmas if there were any social media promotions running to keep safe and about Ask Angela etc?
Linda Holland (Licensing Manager) reported that there was currently quite a lot of promotion regarding the safety charter, sensible drinking, no drink driving etc and this was also linked in with the Police.
A Committee member asked if there was a risk that the current licensed drivers wishing to “drop down” to a school contract only licence could lead to a loss of ever more drivers available for the general public? Tom Ince reported that yes this was a significant risk, particularly if the majority of their income was already from that work. It could mean that the drivers do the school runs and then do delivery work in between.
Jason Salter (Head of Service – Passenger Transport) reported that this could have an impact on other side for businesses and that he was canvassing other local authorities to see about that effect. It was anticipated that 65-70% of operators were working on the Wiltshire contracts with their £14million spend on passenger transport. Wiltshire were also having to use Swindon and Bath operator. Jason Salter reported that he had prepared a questionnaire for drivers to ask for their views on about Wiltshire and about the other work that they are doing which he felt would be a valuable exercise.
A Committee member felt that some taxi drivers did not do themselves any favours as he was aware that some drivers insist on cash only payments.
The Chairman reported that any gathered intelligence/complaints needed to be reported to the taxi licensing team to enable them to carry out any necessary enforcement.
That the Committee notes the update on behalf of the Taxi Licensing Team.