(Director of Neighbourhoods) To consider the attached report (LCS-005-2014/15).
The Assistant Director of Neighbourhoods (Environment & Neighbourhoods) presented a report on possible amendments to Public Hire Vehicle Licence Conditions.
The Assistant Director reminded the Committee that it had requested a report at its last meeting in April 2014 on new vehicles and technologies associated with the Taxi trade, including the use of people carriers, three door vehicles and electric vehicles. The Committee was also requested to consider whether additional advertising on vehicles should be permitted.
The Assistant Director stated that people carriers were vehicles designed to carry between five and eight people and typically had an extra row of seats behind the driver (see diagram on page 36 of the agenda). Currently, these vehicles did not comply with the Council’s licensing conditions for vehicles as they did not have “…a minimum of four doors, each adjacent to a seat…”. The use of such vehicles had increased in the public hire trade but there were safety concerns; e.g. passengers in the rear row having to move a seat in front before being able to exit the vehicle.
The Assistant Director highlighted that opinions within the public hire and safety communities were mixed. Some local authorities felt that the risk was acceptable, whilst others felt that these vehicles should be adapted by the removal of one of the seats. The Department of Transport had stated that it might be too restrictive to outlaw the use of people carriers, or to licence them for fewer passengers than seats. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents supported the policy to limit the number of seats in a people carrier that were used as a Private Hire vehicle to provide passengers in the rear with safe access to and from the vehicle. In any event, it was considered essential that there was a door on each side of the passenger compartment to allow exit in the event of a side impact collision. The Committee was requested to consider the suitability of such vehicles and any conditions to be attached to their use if permitted.
The Assistant Director added, in response to questions from the Committee, that people carriers were defined as having eight seats or less, whereas mini buses were defined as having more than eight seats. There was one people carrier currently licensed within the District; this was allowed on appeal to the Sub-Committee after it had been refused by Officers.
The Chairman of that particular Sub-Committee informed the Committee that people carriers were safe vehicles in his opinion and there were usually less impact collisions on the nearside passenger door. Most people carriers had a sliding door on each side, and there was usually a catch to release the rear facing door from the inside in an emergency. It was suggested that a gap should be maintained in the middle of the vehicle to ensure exit from the rear in an emergency.
It was highlighted that the space from a seat being removed could be filled with luggage instead, hampering attempts to escape the vehicle in an emergency, especially if the customer was travelling to Stansted Airport to catch a flight. It was also acknowledged that the Department of Transport had stringent requirements for vehicles before they were permitted to be used on the roads.
The Committee felt that further consultation with other local authorities was required before a decision could be taken; in particular Uttlesford District Council, who would be the licencing authority for the private hire vehicles that operated from Stansted Airport, and some of the London Borough Councils as many people carriers were used as private hire vehicles in the metropolis. The Committee also wanted to see accident statistics for people carriers from the Police to assist in determining how safe such vehicles were. Therefore, the Committee agreed to defer a decision regarding people carriers until the next meeting.
The Assistant Director reported that there were now a number of vehicles which were designed to carry less than four passengers. Currently, these vehicles did not comply with the Council’s licencing conditions as vehicles had to have “...accommodation for not less than four passengers…”. A recent application for such a vehicle had been refused by Officers, but was allowed on appeal when considered by Members at a Sub-Committee meeting. There were no reasonable safety concerns associated with such vehicles, and the taxi trade had intimated there was a niche for them as many were electrically powered. It was highlighted that the removal of the current condition above would permit two or three seat vehicles to be used and the Committee was requested to consider the implications from this possible change.
The Chairman stated that these vehicles were mainly electric vehicles. Taxi firms often received requests to transport one person, and using this type of vehicle would reduce operator costs and provide greater flexibility for the operators. Indeed, one operator had declared their intention to run this type of vehicle if permitted. The Assistant Director added that the current vogue was to use one seat sports cars as one passenger taxis, and there was no particular reason to prohibit sports cars from being used in this fashion. Therefore, the Committee was requested to consider a minimum number of passengers that a private hire vehicle could be licenced to carry.
The Committee felt that there was no valid reason for not licensing vehicles for less than four passengers. The Assistant Director pointed out that the use of motorcycles to carry fare paying passengers did not comply with the Council’s current licensing conditions. The Committee was concerned that some sports cars had rear seats for occasional use and that these should not be used. It was acknowledged that electric cars were also environmentally friendly.
The Assistant Director introduced the final issue for consideration, namely that of advertising on private hire vehicles. It had come to the attention of the Council that some drivers were placing advertisements on the roof of their vehicle, which contravened the Council’s current licencing conditions. These stated that private hire vehicles were not to have any signs on their roof, and that advertising was only permitted on the doors of the vehicle and internally on the back of the headrests for the front seats, provided the Council was satisfied that the advertisements were not unsuitable or offensive. Some taxis were also beginning to advertise on the bonnet of the vehicle, which was common practice in London.
The Committee had concerns about the erection of advertising signs on the roof of private hire vehicles. The potential health and safety issue was highlighted regarding roof signs, especially on windy days, and the Committee was content to leave the current rules unchanged.
(1) That consent to use people carriers as private hire vehicles within the District be deferred until the next meeting of the Committee on 8 April 2015, pending further information concerning:
(a) the conditions attached to such vehicles used at Stansted Airport by Uttlesford District Council;
(b) the conditions attached to such vehicles used in London by London Borough Councils; and
(c) the accident statistics for such vehicles from the Police;
(2) That vehicles with accommodation for less than four people be permitted for use as private hire vehicles;
(3) That the minimum number of passengers such a vehicle could be licenced to carry be one;
(4) That sports cars with occasional seating in the rear of the vehicle not be permitted to carry fare paying passengers in such seating; and
(5) That the current conditions concerning advertisements on private hire vehicles be retained without amendment.