Northampton Borough Council’s licensing committee last night (8 May) opted to unify its taxi licensing policy for both Hackney Carriages (black cabs) and Private Hire Vehicles as long as they meet a new condition policy.
The decision follows a three-month consultation on whether the policy in relation to the age and engine capacity of vehicles needs changing in the interests of public safety and so that the rules are the same for both types of taxis. Before making its decision the committee considered the results of the consultation as well as industry research that had been carried out to analyse MOT inspectors’ reports on all Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles over a three-month period.
The existing policy introduced in 1997 stipulates that Hackney Carriages (black cabs) must be less than three years old when licensed for the first time, but after that there is no upper age limit. There is also no lower and upper limit for Private Hire Vehicles, which currently must have an engine capacity of 1400cc.
The consultation and research were commissioned to see if the age and engine capacity of vehicles impacted on their safety and performance. The majority view of the 165 respondents who took part in the survey was that age has little impact on safety. Most felt that good maintenance, care, regular servicing, testing and checks were the determining safety factors, with one respondent commenting, "A well kept older vehicle will be more roadworthy than a neglected newer vehicle.”
Industry research presented to the committee backed up the findings of the survey. The main observation of the research was that "it is often how the vehicle is looked after and maintained in between MOTs by the driver/owner that is the most important factor in determining the condition of a vehicle.” As there is no evidence to suggest that the age of a vehicle determines its safety, the committee decided against introducing a new age limit.
The current disparity between the age policy for Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles was also addressed. As there is again no evidence to suggest that the age of Hackney carriages determines their safety anymore than that of Private Hire Vehicles a decision was made by the committee to scrap the requirement for Hackney Carriages to be less than three years old when licensed for the first time. A decision was also made to scrap the policy condition relating to engine capacity. These changes will be introduced once the detail of a new condition policy is worked out. A working party will now be set up and will consult with the industry on the new policy, which is expected by the end of 2012.
As the authority responsible for ensuring vehicles are as safe, reliable and comfortable as possible, the committee upheld the need for both Hackney Carriages and Private Hire Vehicles to have two MOT tests each year and for all vehicles, including new vehicles, to undergo a six monthly test and check by the council. The committee called for additional checks on the condition of vehicles to make sure required standards are maintained. These conditions will apply to all hire vehicles including those adapted for wheelchairs and those employed for specific events such as weddings.
Councillor Christopher Malpas, chair of Northampton Borough Council’s licensing committee, said: "Having considered the evidence it is apparent that the safety of vehicles has less to do with their age and more to do with their care and maintenance.
"Our primary concern is for the safety of those who travel in taxis. Regular services and tests are key to making sure vehicles are safe and reliable. There will now be additional checks on their condition and any vehicle not coming up to the standards expected will be taken of the road.”