17 Jan Deregulation should not be at the expense of safety
Deregulation of the minicab industry was championed as a way of opening up the market to lower costs by increasing competition. And whilst lower prices and high employment are good for an economy, the role of the government is to step in to correct market failures.
It’s why we like doctors to have qualifications before they operate and don’t let anyone pilot a plane but make them pass tests. And the same approach could bring about a reverse in the worrying trend of attacks by taxi and minicab drivers which has caused not only distress to those involved but has damaged the reputation of the industry.
“One of the most alarming trend of a deregulated taxi environment is the rate at which safety of passengers declines,” says Fareed Baloch, chief operating officer at Zoom.taxi.
“Due to the lowering of barriers to entry because of the Deregulation Act 2015 we have seen an influx of untrained drivers with insufficient background checks. The newspapers regularly feature stories of rapes and attacks far outweighing the ‘good news’ stories featuring the community spirited local cabbie which we all took pride in. I believe this deregulation and the ability for licenses to be granted without the rigorous testing which we previously had has led to a variety of alarming incidents, including sexual assaults, kidnappings, and physical altercations.”
One of the first moves was the increase in the duration of licenses from 12 months to 36 months. DBS checks are a requirement before a license is handed out, however some have raised concerns that the the length of time between checks is now too long particularly given the
“It’s often argued that regulations are unnecessary because market forces can effectively regulate companies. However, in the absence of appropriate regulations, we will see a little difference between the Great Depression’s unlicensed cabs and today’s ‘rideshare’ services.”
The Deregulation Act essentially allows private hire vehicles to operate across the whole of England and Wales. It’s quite possible that, not only can drivers be sub-contracted across neighbouring areas, drivers from further afield can be brought in for certain bookings. This means that people can book a car through a service whose license was given by an authority that has rigorous checking procedures but the car they are sent is subcontracted from a completely different area and could just have filled in a form online. There is no obligation for the hirer to be made aware of this, something we think should change. This was introduced by the government without them first addressing the existing gaps in vetting drivers. The Local Government Association, concerned about these changes, briefed the government on the importance of councils being able to check drivers against the barred lists and the police sharing information about criminal investigations into drivers but this was taken no further.
In addition to increasing the willingness to report sexual assaults, we also need better background checks for drivers. We should move to a model like the United States where minicab companies are required to use “Live Scan,” a fingerprint-based background check of drivers. Because drivers are in a position of power when someone gets in their vehicle there should be that extra level of safety for passengers. The UK can regulate such checks using IDENT1 – our national fingerprint database: the systems are already there, what we need is the political will for it to happen.
However, what seems to be stopping this is the prevalence of companies like Uber who can afford the power and influence which ‘advisory boards’ and ‘non executive directorships’ can bring. Businesses always want to have lower prices and these can of course be passed onto the consumer, but what people may not understand is that this can be at the cost of more rigorous safety checks.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust made last year’s personal safety day about the taxi and private hire industry. The ‘Know Your Ride’ campaign highlighted the importance of using licensed companies and drivers. But there can still be risks if local authorities compete in a ‘race to the bottom’ in order to attract drivers to register with them at lower cost with simpler requirements.
The vast majority of people working in this industry are hard working and trust worthy and want to deliver the best service to their customers in a competitive market. But it only takes one person to slip through the net for lives to be ruined.