(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the private hire sector
In recent years there has been:
- a steady increase in demand for private hire or minicab services, stimulated to a large extent by the introduction of strict drink-drive legislation
- an increase in many areas in the number of private hire vehicles and drivers, creating a very competitive environment
- a move towards tighter regulation by many licensing authorities - including setting age and emissions limits for vehicles and requiring phvs to be tested regularly. In 2016 Northern Ireland introduced new rules for applying to renew a taxi driver licence (including new periodic training requirements) and for new taxi classes and taxi licence test. Visit the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure website for details
- the introduction of minicab regulation in London - new regulations for the private hire industry in London introduced in 2016 include a formal English language requirement for all drivers (to come into effect from 30 April 2019), stricter insurance requirements and improved record keeping. All newly licensed taxis and private hire vehicles which travel in central London need to meet new emission standards. Visit the TfL website for more information
- significant increases in fuel costs while fare levels have remained under pressure. Although prices eased back in 2015 and 2016, they started to rise again in 2017 and continued to rise in 2018
- the introduction of the London Congestion Charge, which may have increased demand for minicabs in London. At present when they're undertaking private hire bookings Minicabs licensed with London Taxi and Private Hire (TPH) don't have to pay the charge, although at the time of writing (October 2018) Transport for London is consulting on a proposal to remove the exemption. Clean Air Zones are being introduced in many cities and taxis and private hire vehicles will have to meet tough emission standards to be allowed to enter the zones
- legislation allowing licensed private hire vehicles to operate as a local bus service
- customers increasingly using smartphone apps to book a cab. In 2018 the taxi-hailing firm Ola started to operate in the UK in competition with Uber and other operators are considering moving into the market as well
Although overall demand for private hire vehicle services has grown over the last few years, it's important to establish whether:
- demand will be high enough in your particular area to support your proposed business. If you plan to trade in a rural area, there simply may not be enough customers who will want to travel on a regular basis
- there is room for another private hire vehicle business - this is a very competitive sector and you may encounter some unpleasant opposition from other private hire businesses if there are already too many firms operating locally. There have been calls for the rules to be changed so that local authorities can limit the number of cabs in an area
Keeping up to date with the private hire vehicle sector
Joining a trade association is an excellent way of staying up to date with developments.
The National Private Hire Association represents the interests of the private hire sector in the UK and produces Private Hire and Taxi Monthly journal which contains articles and advertising features of interest to all those operating in this sector. Contact PHTM, PHTM House, 501 Oldham Road, Failsworth, Manchester M35 9AB for further details or visit the PHTM website. The Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) started out by representing London-based private hire operators but now is active in more and more parts of the UK. You can download Private Hire News journal from the LPHCA website. Their address is 56 Austins Mead, Bovingdon, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP3 0LH.
Visit the Transport for London (TfL) website for developments affecting the London minicab trade.
At the moment the taxi licensing regime in Northern Ireland is being reformed. In the future it is likely that private hire vehicles will be able to ply for hire both within and outside Belfast. You can keep up with changes to Northern Ireland phv legislation on the Department for Infrastructure website.