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Regulation of London cabs and PHVs


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London Hackney Carriage Act 1831

1831 CHAPTER 22

An Act to amend the Laws relating to Hackney Carriages, and to Waggons, Carts, and Drays, used in the Metropolis; and to place the Collection of the Duties on Hackney Carriages and on Hawkers and Pedlars in England under the Commissioners of Stamps

cartoon of london black cab

(c) Binkski | - Taxi Cab Photo


The regulation of the taxi industry in London could be said to have begun in 1636 under Charles I, who was concerned about congestion in the City of London. He issued a proclamation restricting the number of hackney coaches to 50 and preventing them from carrying passengers less than three miles. In 1654 Oliver Cromwell authorised the establishment of the Fellowship of Master Hackney Coachmen, leading to the present day definition of "hackney carriage". [Source: Private Hire Vehicles (London) Bill 1997/98 - Commons Library Research Paper]

The present London taxi licensing system dates back to 1710 in the reign of Queen Anne or earlier. The London Hackney Carriage Act 1831 repealed more than fifteen earlier statutes. Unfortunately, the process began again and the result now is that the legislation currently in force includes the London Hackney Carriage Act 1853, Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, London Cab Act 1896, London Cab and Stage Carriage Act 1907, London Cab Act 1968 and the Transport Act 1985.

By contrast, until the enactment of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, there was no regulation whatever of the London minicab or private hire trade.

London taxi cab regulation

In addition to the various Acts listed in the Introduction. The London Cab Order 1934 (SI 1934 No 1346) contains detailed regulations for cab proprietors and drivers in London.

In 2000, with the establishment of the Greater London Authority and Transport for London, responsibility for London cabs was transferred from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London (TfL).

Grant of Cab Licences [London Cab Order 1934 art. 7]

TfL must grant a cab licence if it is satisfied that:

* the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a cab licence;

* the vehicle in respect of which the application is made conforms to the conditions of fitness from time to time laid down by Transport for London; and

* the insurance requirements for third party liability are met.

Comment: in order to qualify for a cab licence, London cab drivers are required to pass the celebrated (or notoriously difficult) ‘Knowledge’ test of London roads and landmarks.

Plying for Hire

The London Hackney Carriage Acts contain a number of provisions relating to plying for hire, including provisions which prohibit the driver of a taxi from plying for hire except at certain places, and provisions which determine the circumstances in which a taxi driver is under a duty to accept a fare:

Restrictions on plying on hire [Act of 1843 s. 33]: a taxi driver may not ply for hire elsewhere than at some standing or place appointed for that purpose. A taxi driver is thus prohibited from taking up a position in any other place and remaining there for the purpose of plying for hire.

Duty of taxi driver to accept a fare [Act of 1831 ss. 35-36; Act of 1853 ss. 7/17; Act of 1968 s. s3; Order of 1934 art. 34]: a taxi driver, unless required by the hirer to drive more than 12 miles, or more than 20 miles in respect of a journey which begins at Heathrow Airport, London, or for a longer time than one hour, is under a duty to accept a fare:
(a) when his taxi is on a standing or rank appointed for that purpose; or
(b) when his taxi is found standing in any street or place not being a parking place (whether on a rank or not) and is not actually hired.

Refusal by the driver to accept a fare when his taxi is so found is an offence (Penalty standard scale 3).

Defence to charge of refusal to accept fare [Act of 1831 ss. 35/36]: if the driver is summoned for such a refusal he will not be liable if he proves that he was actually hired at the time. Further, if he also proves that he so informed the would-be-hirer in civil and explicit terms, the justice before whom he appears may award him compensation for loss of time in attending to make his defence.

Refusal to stop when hailed: [Hunt v Morgan 1948 2 All ER 1065]: On 8 July 1947, the appellant, a taxicab driver, was driving along a London street with the flag of the taximeter in the “For hire” position when he was hailed by a person wishing to hire the taxicab. The appellant, without reasonable excuse, refused to stop and accept the fare. The court held that a cab driver commits no offence under the Act of 1853 by refusing to stop when hailed and can only be required to accept anyone who chooses to hire him when his cab is on a rank or in certain circumstances is stationary in a street, and, therefore, the appellant was not liable to conviction under s 17(2).

Law reform of London taxi cab legislation

Lord Goddard CJ in Hunt v Morgan observed in the case of Hunt v Morgan [1948 2 All ER 1065] “..there are no fewer than six Acts on the statute book dealing with cabs in London, Acts of 1831, 1843, 1850, 1853, 1869 and 1907. Some of the sections in these numerous statutes are obsolete. Many are obscure, as may be seen from the judgment of this court in Goodman v Serle, and others, as this case shows, are out of date. It is, therefore, not surprising that cab drivers, the police, and magistrates, to say nothing of the general public, have difficulty in ascertaining the law on this subject and make mistakes about it. It would seem that an Act consolidating and amending, and, if possible, simplifying, the law with regard to cabs, is very desirable”.

Nearly seventy years after Lord Goddard made his comment on the state of the legislation, The Law Commission has proposed a radical reform of the legislation covering taxis and PHVs in England and Wales; see Law Reform on the page Passenger transport – hackney carriages and private hire vehicles. See also below under What's new for the TfL proposals.

London private hire vehicle operation

Requirement for London operator's licence

Any person who makes provision for the invitation or acceptance of  bookings for private hire vehicles in London must hold a private hire vehicle operator's licence for London (London PHV operator's licence) [Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (PHVL) s.2]. There are detailed regulations in the Private Hire Vehicles (London) (Operators' Licences) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000/3146).

London operator's licences

Applications for a London PHV operator's licence should be made to Transport for London (TfL). TfL must grant a London PHV operator's licence to the applicant if it is satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to hold a London PHV operator's licence and the applicant meets the operating requirements relating to operating centres and otherwise. TfL has information on Becoming a private hire licensee

A London PHV operator's licence is normally granted for 5 years, and may be subject to standard and special conditions.

[PHVL s.3]

Obligations of London operators

A holder of a London PHV operator's licence (London PHV operator) may only accept in London a private hire booking at an operating centre specified in his licence. A London PHV operator must ensure that any vehicle hired out for a private hire booking accepted by him in London is covered by a London PHV licence and is driven by a person holding a London PHV driver's licence or is a London cab driven by a person holding a London cab driver's licence. [PHVL s4]

A London PHV operator must comply with certain record keeping requirements

London PHV licences

An owner of any private hire vehicle used in for London must have a London PHV licence for that vehicle. Applications are made to TfL which must grant a licence if the vehicle meets certain safety and technical criteria. A licence is normally given for one year [PHVL s.7]

Owners of PHVs in London must ensure that when on a private hire booking, the vehicle is driven by a licensed London PHV driver or cab driver. Owners must make London PHVs available for inspection to TfL. Change of ownership must be notified to TfL within 14 days [PHVL s.8]

Prohibition of taximeters: no vehicle to which a London PHV licence relates may be equipped with a taximeter. A ‘taximeter means a device for calculating the fare to be charged in respect of any journey by reference to the distance travelled or time elapsed since the start of the journey (or a combination of both). [PHVL s.11]

PHV London drivers

Drivers of a London PHV licence must hold a licence [PHVL s.12]. Applications are to TfL which must grant the licence if it is satisfied that  the applicant has attained the age of 21, is (and has for at least three years been) authorised to drive a motor car and is a fit and proper person to hold a London PHV driver's licence; and if any further prescribed requirements are met. An enhanced DBS check is required (see Recruiting and hiring). A licence is normally granted for 3 years.


Appeals: there is a right of appeal to a magistrates' court against a decision not to grant a London PHV operator’s licence, vehicle or driver’s licence, and against any condition (other than a condition laid down in the rules) to which the licence is subject.

Tacit consent: tacit consent is not specifically provided in the legislation and does not appear to be applied by TfL.


Civil enforcement

TfL may suspend or revoke a licence under this Act for any reasonable cause including e.g.:

* where it is no longer satisfied that the licence holder is fit to hold such a licence, has failed to comply with any condition of the licence or any other obligation imposed on him under the PHVL;

* in the case of a vehicle if it no longer fit for use as a PHV or the owner has failed to comply with any condition of the licence or any other obligation imposed on him under the PHVL;

* in the case of a licensed London PHV driver, his licence may be also suspended or revoked where he has, since the grant of the licence, been convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, indecency or violence.

Appeals: there is a right of appeal to a magistrates' court against a suspension or revocation.

Criminal enforcement

A breach of the requirements of PHVL for a London PHV operator’s licence, vehicle licence or driver’s licence person is an offence punishable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

There is a due diligence defence available to the driver or operator for the offence of driving an unlicensed PHV, and to the operator for the offence of operating a PHV whose driver is unlicensed.

What’s new item on this topic [see What’s new page or archive for full item]:

16/02/2018: TfL publishes proposals to improve passenger safety

Transport for London (TfL) has published proposals to improve passenger safety among private hire vehicle (PHV) operators. The proposals would primarily affect private taxis and ride-hailing services, including Uber, currently appealing a ruling after being stripped of its operating licence in September 2017. TfL’s proposals include ‘women-only’ journeys, additional clarity regarding reporting offences, and greater data sharing.

22 September 2017: TfL will not renew Uber phv licence

Transport for London announced on 22 September that Uber London Limited that it would not be issued with a private hire operator licence after expiry of its current licence on 30 September. TfL's regulation of London's taxi and private hire trades is designed to ensure passenger safety. Private hire operators must meet rigorous regulations, and demonstrate to TfL that they do so, in order to operate. TfL must also be satisfied that an operator is fit and proper to hold a licence.

Note: an appeal against the TfL decision by Uber London is pending at the time of writing.

17/10/2015: High Court rules in favour of Uber in taximeter case

The High Court has ruled that a taximeter as defined in the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, does not include a device that receives GPS signals in the course of a journey, and forwards GPS data to a server located outside of the vehicle, which server calculates a fare that is partially or wholly determined by reference to distance travelled and time taken, and sends the fare information back to the device.

The ruling was made following an application brought by Transport for London (TfL) for a ‘declaration’ on whether such a device contravenes s.11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 which makes it an offence to use a licensed private hire vehicle equipped with a taximeter. This application was prompted by the claim made by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (representing drivers of London black taxi cabs) and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (representing private hire vehicle operators) that the device used by drivers using the ‘Uber’ application and operated by Uber London Limited (Uber) amounted to a taximeter which in London may only be used by licensed ‘hackney carriages’ i.e. London black taxi cabs.

14/01/2015: EU court rules law limiting bus lanes to black cabs only is not state aid

The EU Court of Justice has replied to the question on the application of EU state aid rules referred to it by the UK Court of Appeal (CA) in R (on the application of Eventech Ltd) v The Parking Adjudicator.

The court ruled that the practice of permitting, in order to establish a safe and efficient transport system, Black Cabs to use bus lanes on public roads during the hours when traffic restrictions relating to those lanes were operational, while prohibiting minicabs from using those lanes, except to pick up and set down passengers who had pre-booked such vehicles, did not appear to be such as to involve a commitment of state resources or to confer on Black Cabs a selective economic advantage for the purpose of art 107(1) TFEU. However, this was for the referring court to determine.

The court also ruled that it was conceivable that the practice of permitting Black Cabs to use bus lanes on public roads could be such as to affect trade between member states within the meaning of art 107(1) TFEU. However, again it was for the referring court to determine.

30/09/2015: TfL consults on private hire vehicle regulation

Transport for London (TfL) has launched a ‘second and final’ consultation as part of its wide-ranging review of private hire vehicle regulations. The consultation will close on 23 December 2015 and responses will be analysed in early 2016 ahead of any amendments to the regulations being announced and implemented.

[Page updated: 101/05/2018]


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