The taxi industry in the UK is a large and growing sector of the transport provision, but didn’t appear on the radar of the transport planners and policy makers in the past. However, it is now going through a period of changes in several areas. Currently, the UK Parliament’s Transport Select Committee is conducting an enquiry into certain aspects of the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles mainly into the cross-border hire issues and aspects relating to passenger safety. The last major review of the taxi industry in the UK was eight years ago when the Office of Fair Trading, a government agency, carried out a substantial inquiry into taxi regulation. Other current developments include the consideration of what an increased role for taxis in public transport provision might look like in the light of potential cuts to bus service networks outside London. A recent legislation has made it easier for taxi operators to run bus services using taxis, although so far very few of these taxibus services have appeared. Cuts to local authorities’ budgets in the light of the recent financial crisis are likely to lead to significant reductions in bus services in some areas of the country, particularly rural areas, and some organisations are now pressing for taxibuses to be explored as a replacement.
In the UK, taxis are defined as vehicles with eight seats or fewer: Types of taxis in the UK are split between hackneys (and to which the term ‘taxi’ strictly applies legally) which can be hailed in the street and which are required to carry anybody who wants to hire them for a local trip, and private hire vehicles (or PHVs) which must be pre-booked. Taxi use is growing substantially in the UK: Currently there are about 75,000 licensed taxis and 150,000 PHVs across some 300 licensing authorities in England and Wales. This makes a significant increase from the 69,000 hackneys and 132,000 PHVs recorded in March 2007 and the 67,000 hackneys and 81,000 PHVs recorded three years earlier (the system for licensing PHVs in London was only developed gradually since 1998). There is a substantial concentration of taxis in the metropolitan areas: (i.e. Greater Manchester; Merseyside – focussed on Liverpool; Tyne & Wear – focussed on Newcastle-on-Tyne; West Midlands – focussed on Birmingham; West Yorkshire – focussed on Leeds; and South Yorkshire – focussed on Sheffield), and on the large cities of Scotland and Wales, such as Glasgow.
Tuk-tuks have been tried in the UK since 1999 on a small scale, fundamentally as a ‘novelty’ attraction in certain well-defined and small locations. In the south coast city of Brighton tuk-tuks were run for a time on one major corridor under bus service licensing legislation rather than taxi legislation but the requirement of adherence to the operating conditions seemingly proved difficult and the service was withdrawn after a comparatively short time.
Various reasons have been put forward for the large growth in the number of taxis. These include the growth of night clubs and a 24-hour culture in some city centres, and also a continuing rise in real-term bus fares, which can make sharing a taxi with family and / or friends more economical than going by bus. Developments in ITS which make booking a taxi easier than it used to be, and the growth in low-fare airlines and air travel generally (leading to a consequential growth in taxi travel to and from airports) have also been put forward as reasons.
There are separate legal systems for PHVs and for hackneys, both in and outside London, leading to a complex legislative regime. These legal systems are primarily ‘enabling’, which means that local authorities are able to frame their own policies tailored to their own assessment of local conditions and circumstances. Some of these local authorities have quite small areas and, to give an example, within the metropolitan area of Greater Manchester there are 10 different taxi licensing authorities, although they do liaise on policies within a common framework.
The different policies can lead to quite a large degree of variation across the country, and between adjacent areas, particularly concerning hackneys, where licensing authorities have rather more powers than they do over PHVs. To give some examples: In some areas the number of hackney licences is limited, whilst in others it is not. Some licensing authorities require all hackneys to be London-style cabs, others do not. Some require hackneys to be fully wheelchair-accessible, others do not; and in some areas the licensing authority requires all hackneys to be in a particular livery (e.g. bright yellow).
Taxis play an important role in public transport in the UK, although this is different from that which they perform in India. For instance, taxis do not provide the main public transport provision along certain main corridors as they do in India, nor are there different groups of taxi ranks in a town centre to serve different corridors or destinations, like India. Nevertheless, in some locations, and at particular times of day, they can play a vital role in the transport infrastructure. For instance, they are essential in removing crowds from outside bars and nightclubs in city centre locations at night time. Yet, to date, their role as a provider of public transport has not been fully recognised – they appear only infrequently in local transport plans.