Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) has prepared the attached Taxi Licensing update for the Committee.
Tom Ince (Principal Compliance Officer) referred to the Taxi Licensing update that was circulated with the Agenda and highlighted the following:
· The taxi industry had been severely affected by Covid with driver and vehicle numbers continuing to fall. Following the announcement of the third lockdown on 4 January 2021 all face to face appointments for new drivers were suspended until 22 February. The team devised Covid secure processes for both driver and vehicle licensing renewals to continue unchanged, so as to minimise the impact on drivers and vehicle owners but firms were being doubly hit as Officers were not able to licence new drivers at the present time. Officers would ensure that those new drivers currently waiting to be processed would be given priority appointments once the restrictions were eased, hopefully from 12 April 2021;
· As at the end of January 2021 there were 793 hackney carriage drivers and 165 private hire drivers. These numbers dropped again in February by a further 10. It would seem that it is hackney carriage drivers that are leaving the industry (as these would sit at the rank to wait for customers). Private hire vehicles are pre-booked. Private hire numbers were relatively stable;
· The drop in driver numbers had impacted the Council’s Passenger Transport Unit who co-ordinate the 700 school transport contracts. When vehicle numbers are down to 800 potentially that will have an impact on availability of drivers/vehicles to fulfil the journeys. However, Officers from both teams meet regularly to ensure those contracts are not negatively impacted.
· Officers were still carrying out enforcement work but encountering some resistance from drivers. Following the increased enforcement since October 2019 a greater number of penalty points and formal notices had been issued. During January 2021, the team issued penalty points on 23 occasions – the highest monthly total, as well as undertaking drive by inspections within Wiltshire towns to identify potential issues. 11 vehicles were found not to have an MOT, although it was accepted that some of these vehicles were not being used and drivers had forgotten to get the required 6 monthly MOT;
· In the South of the County there were issues reported of there being too many taxis in the centre of Salisbury as a result of the lack of passing trade and there being little or no need for airport/hotel journeys. Some drivers had been parking inappropriately on double yellow lines or in loading bays and this was being challenged by those in the area and Officers were carrying out enforcement to rectify this;
A Committee member asked about the drivers having vehicles without an MOT and asked if it was because they were not using the vehicle or that they were unable to have a test carried out in the lockdowns? Tom Ince explained that there had been a leeway to extend MOT’s during the first lockdown in 2020, but this had since changed, and MOTS were able to be carried out. It was a requirement for taxis to have an MOT every 6 months and if they were not using the vehicle or the vehicle had not had an MOT for the plates to be surrendered.
A Committee member thanked Officers carrying out proactive enforcement work to maintain a good taxi provision for Wiltshire. She expressed concern in the decline of vehicles/drivers as taxis are an important public transport service for the county and that this might have a critical impact on the school transport provision when schools reopen. She asked at what point do Officers consider that the situation is seriously critical with the declining numbers and was there scope for the Council to employ their own taxi drivers to ensure that the service could be relied on?
Tom Ince reported that his team meets with the Passenger Transport Unit every month and that they were guided by them to be able to manage and fulfil contracts that they have. They worked together to see where the gaps were and Tom’s team had been working with the trade to support them and signpost them to grants available to them and give them assistance to be able to submit claims and support to keep them going. Tom was not sure whether the Council would want to licence their own taxi drivers and that would need some consideration.
The Committee member felt that when jobs are sparse as they currently are, some will consider being a taxi driver as it is a way of earning money in these difficult times. She asked if there was anything that Councillors could do to get the message out that more drivers were needed as they are the links to the local communities.
The Chair highlighted the need for strong communications around this to keep the trade/public and that the Council do what they can to facilitate as many vehicles/drivers to become licensed to meet demand.
The Chair asked if there was clear guidance on the Council’s website of the expectations of a taxi driver so that it is clear for all applicants and the training required etc. Tom Ince confirmed that there was guidance on the website and that it clearly explained the process. They were in the process of starting to review and update the safeguarding training to incorporate recent County Lines issues.
A Committee member who had just viewed the taxi pages on the Council’s website said that the first thing you saw was a taxi complaint form and suggested that perhaps this could be reviewed so viewers see a positive message on their first click onto that page.
That the Licensing Committee note the update on Taxi Licensing.