On the 20th August 2020 at a trade licensing council meeting, the subject of Southampton private hire drivers being allowed to work for two or more operators was brought to the consultation table.
As chairman of the Southampton Hackney and Private Hire Association (SHPHA) www.southamptontaxis.org our hackney carriage members were concerned with the proposal of names being removed from private hire vehicles on the grounds of public safety.
It would appear that some UK authorities have relaxed the ruling of private hire door stickers displaying the name of the operators or a company, to allow private hire drivers to work for predominantly app based companies, the door sign would have no name at all apart from the identification plate number at the rear of the vehicle and the area it is licensed from.
Myself and fellow colleagues some time ago campaigned with Southampton licensing councillors and licensing officers with advice from the police to have door signs with appropriate company names which eventually became part of our licensing conditions. Unscrupulous drivers in the past, had used magnetic door signs, removing them when doing different jobs which resulted in incidents occurring with female customers.
Under the heading, Identification, the Southampton City Council (SCC) Private Hire Vehicle Licence Policy and Conditions 2021, clearly state paragraph 8.6, magnetic signs will not be permitted and paragraph 8.7 state, the name of the operator and their telephone number or domain name shall appear in bold clearly legible lettering.
We can all agree passengers safety is of paramount importance, with private hire drivers working from multiple apps, can proper records be kept? How does a licensing authority know which driver and vehicle are working for whom? Whose operators' licence are they working under, if they do not have their own and could this have an effect on vehicle insurance?
In 2019 at the Private Hire and Taxi Exhibition in Milton Keynes, I was introduced to Desmond Broster, Desmond is the National Director for Safeguarding and Licensing with the VEEZU group, the UK's leading multi-region taxi and private hire company. Desmond is also the National Safeguarding & Policy Officer for the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers (NALEO) and previously Head of Taxi & Private Hire Licensing with Leeds City Council for 15 years.
Des has been a strong campaigner for all issues around public safety and door signage for private hire door vehicles was a key issue for him and he felt it essential that existing conditions remain in place and for the required names of companies/operators to be clearly visible to customers and the general public. He contacted me some weeks ago and after meeting him, he highlighted his concerns and arranged to visit Southampton to meet with SCC licensing manager Mr Phil Bates.
Des also discussed the door sign subject at a meeting with Joseph Jones director of Door2Door cars and Simon May CEO of Radio Taxis. Both gentlemen on behalf of their companies want company names to remain on the two front doors.
On the 3rd November 2021, the trade council meeting took place resulting in councillors voting for door signs to remain. We all took part in presenting our deliberations to the councillors present. The excellent submission from Des and his colleague Kirsty Oram, was enthralling to listen to, but extremely alarming.
Let us make sure that whilst we rebuild our economy, private hire door signs clearly displaying operator and company names remain where they should be on the doors of a licensed vehicle, otherwise you will have unidentified private hire vehicles working for many different app based companies which will result in the more profitable job accepted ahead of the one the driver had already committed to. The consequence of that is that some vulnerable person is left without transport time and again – people miss hospital appointments – the pressure from the big foreign App companies to remove door signage is all about their profit margins and price surging and nothing at all to do with the principles of the legislation – Public Safety. There will be serious incidents occurring with these unidentifiable vehicles and Operators and only then will some licensing authorities start to rush to do the right thing – just as they did with Rotherham – and exactly why Leeds City Council introduced permanent stickers 20 years ago.