Licensed taxis, more commonly known as black cabs or hackney carriages, can ply for trade on the streets, and at taxi ranks or be pre-booked. On the other hand, private hire vehicles can only be pre-booked. They operate in a manner completely different from that of black cabs, and imposing standardisations of this nature makes little sense.
As a matter of law, consumers can only access the services of private-hire vehicles through pre- booking by phone or online. The consumer would thus know, in advance, the colour, model and other characteristics which identify the vehicle, which makes the council’s rationale of making private-hire vehicles easier to identify rather redundant.
If anything, imposing a standardised colour makes it easier for the minority of private-hire drivers who illegally tout outside of bars and nightclubs on a Saturday night to succeed in attracting custom.
The public are likely to perceive that if a vehicle is white or black, it is a licensed and insured taxi which can be used without a prior booking. This of course is far from true. Unless it is a cab, it cannot tout for business. It must be pre-booked.
There is no evidence to support the notion that standardising the vehicles’ colour makes them safer, a fact acknowledged by Chief Superintendant Stuart Johnson. If anything, it may make customers complacent. Instead of looking for appropriate license plates, consumers may automatically assume that any white car is a legitimate private hire vehicle, to the detriment of their safety.
Furthermore, DMBC has failed to grasp the disproportionate impact of the decision on vulnerable people. As the Dudley Private Hire and Taxi Association contends, mandating that private hire vehicles be white pushes up operating costs. This increases the cost to consumers and potentially reduces the number of private hire vehicles on the road to the detriment of consumers.
According to an Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report dated in 2003, people in the lowest 20 per cent of incomes use taxis and PHVs 40 per cent more often than those in the highest 20 per cent. Adults living in households without a car made 30 trips a year on average compared with nine for those in households with a car.
Even more significantly, disabled people, especially those who use wheelchairs, rely on taxis 67 per cent more than non-disabled people. In the current economic climate, in which both groups have suffered disproportionately, the council’s decision will only serve to make life even harder for these people if the end results are fewer taxis on the streets, charging more expensive fares.
In light of the above, especially the parts regarding the decision’s potential wider implications, we would urge the Dudley Council to reconsider their decision.
Halesowen-based Union of Law LLP (www.unionoflaw.com)