If you’re a northerner like me, then, the next time you get a taxi, have a look at which local authority the car is registered with. You may find that, rather than being registered with the authority for the area that you are in, it’s been registered with Rossendale Borough Council.
I’ve noticed this both in Bradford, where I work, and in Calderdale where I live. Whilst the majority of cars are registered with Bradford and Calderdale councils respectively, some are registered in Rossendale, even though they carry operator logos for local companies. In other words, there are taxis working in Bradford, with a Bradford operator, but registered with a completely different local authority.
It’s a strange situation, but one that is entirely legal. It’s perhaps worth delving into a bit of history first though.
In Britain, we have two types of taxis:
- Hackney carriages, also known as ‘black cabs’, which can be hailed from the street without pre-booking. These are well-regulated, especially in London where drivers are required to pass a series of exams called ‘The Knowledge‘. Hackney carriages will always have a meter on display and most modern vehicles can accommodate a wheelchair.
- Private hire, which in London are known as ‘minicabs’. These have to be booked in advance via an office – you can’t hail a passing private hire vehicle nor can a private hire driver tout for business. Drivers for upstart services like Uber and Lyft come under this type. Private hire vehicles were completely unregulated until 2001 when councils were able to introduce registration. In some areas, the fare has to be agreed in advance, but others permit the use of meters.
For more, see the Wikipedia article on taxicabs in the United Kingdom.
To drive a taxi and be able to pick up customers, you have to be registered with a local authority – but there’s no requirement for it be the authority in the area that you choose to work in. I assume that this is mostly because some journeys will inevitably result in crossing local authority borders. In particular, I’ve taken taxis from Bradford to Sowerby Bridge and it would be a bit silly if the Bradford taxi driver was required to end the journey at the border between the Bradford and Calderdale districts.
Because registration is handled by individual local authorities, and each local authority handles registration differently, it’s therefore possible to ‘cherry-pick’ a local authority that is less stringent. This seems to be the allegation that has been laid at Rossendale Borough Council – it’s seen as being lighter on regulation than other authorities. This has a knock-on effect in areas outside Rossendale where drivers who are registered there operate. In Bradford, it means that Bradford council can’t carry out safety checks on these drivers as they have no jurisdiction – even though the drivers are working in the Bradford area for Bradford taxi operators.
It’s also meant that the borough of Rossendale, which is a largely rural part of Lancashire with only three towns and a total population of under 70,000 people, has over 1200 licensed taxis registered there. That compares with a little over 200 in Bradford, which is home to almost ten times as many people and is a major city.
It would appear that Rossendale Council are aware of the problems and are proposing changes, which has resulted in the threat of strike action. One of the changes that the council is proposing is that it can refuse or revoke a license on the ‘presumption’ that a licensee is operating primarily outside of the area. If these changes go through, then those drivers registered in Rossendale but primarily working elsewhere will need to register with a different authority. And whilst I’d hope that this would be the authority for the area that they work in, I can’t help but feel that some will just move on to whichever other authority is seen as being soft on regulation.