Are Council Regulations Stopping Fair Competition for Private Hire Drivers?

Uber drivers will ask Portsmouth City Council today for the removal of ‘unnecessary and overly burdensome’ signage on private hire vehicles, a move opposed by local council officers. Sarah Cheverton reports.

Three representatives of Uber drivers in Portsmouth are asking the Council’s Licensing Committee to consider removing the local authority’s requirement for private hire vehicles to display council signage on their vehicles on a permanent basis. Three drivers making a representation to the Council at today’s meeting say that the requirement is ‘making it impossible’ for Portsmouth private hire drivers to work for local operators as well as airport/executive operators.

In their representation to the Committee ahead of today’s meeting, the Uber drivers note that:

…the council’s corporate livery is still required to be displayed in permanent form, and we believe this facilitates a market-share practice between the local operators and the airport/executive operators. This is due to the fact that the industry standard for airport/executive work requires that cars are discreet in appearance (i.e. they display no signage/livery).

The drivers argue that the regulations mean the local authority can exempt a private hire vehicle driver from displaying the Council’s corporate livery in order for her/him to take bookings from local airport/executive operators, but prevent her/him also taking bookings from local operators unless they display the livery again.

Current rules imposed by the council are not required under statutory law, but form part of the Council’s licensing policy. The Uber drivers believe the council should exercise its power to change the signage requirement, citing guidance from the Competition and Markets Authority, which notes:

Conditions on vehicle signage that make it difficult for drivers to work for more than one operator…[also] make it difficult for firms to enter the market or expand by recruiting existing drivers on a part time basis. They may also encourage drivers to move to the largest operator. This may reduce the number of firms, thereby reducing competitive pressure to reduce prices or improve service quality.

The Council report that some drivers have also raised concerns about incidents of criminal damage to licensed vehicles, and ‘have advocated that no signage (including the council’s mandatory signage) should be affixed to vehicles’.

However, council officers oppose the change, highlighting that Aqua Cars Ltd (which operates more than 700 vehicles in the city) ‘fully endorse the Council’s policy’ on signage.

Officers include in their report a representation from Andrew Peters, the Secretary of the GMB Brighton & Hove Taxi Section, who responds specifically to concerns from Portsmouth drivers ‘who have unfortunately experienced break-ins to their licensed vehicles.’ Mr Peters drives a hackney carriage in Brighton & Hove (B&H), and whilst sympathetic to concerns from Portsmouth drivers, he states that many private hire vehicles that are not licensed with B&H council work in Brighton, and remove their livery in order to do so.

‘As there are many Portsmouth [private hire vehicles] working here in Brighton, we consider that it would be a retrograde step if these vehicles were allowed to remove livery identification’, Mr Peters said, and recommended that the council approves the use of window stickers highlighting that no money or valuables are left in the vehicle, which would reduce the likelihood of break-ins.

The Council also highlight a legal appeal in 2007 dismissing the case of drivers in Basingstoke who requested that the borough council approve the use of removable magnetic signage instead of permanent signage. The Judge and Justices determined that permanent signage on the vehicles was necessary for public safety.

Inspector Marcus Cator, Neighbourhood Inspector for Portsmouth, was asked by the Council for comment on the issue, who said the ‘clear branding [on private hire vehicles] encourages use and safeguarding’.

‘We have 11% of the population who are students and 4000 of these are foreign nationals…[For] vulnerable and lone persons at risk, seeing a marked and identifiable vehicle representing safe transport is a positive safeguarding measure. I personally believe that the livery and marking by PCC provides additional safeguarding to vulnerable persons.’

However, the report notes that in November 2019, Portsmouth City Council Licensing Service undertook a consultation with all licensing authorities in England, Scotland and Wales. Of the 340 authorities surveyed, 277 responded, and only 176 of these (64%) have a mandatory requirement for the display of livery on vehicles, leaving 101 that do not. Fewer councils, 160 of the 277 (58%), require Council livery to be displayed, leaving 117 that do not.

The report concludes with a recommendation that the Councillors on the Licensing Committee retain the current policy. The Committee is chaired by independent councillor, Cllr Udy, with Conservative Cllr Payter-Harris as Vice Chair. You can find a list of all sitting councillors and deputies on the Committee here.

Today at 4pm, the councillors on the Licensing Committee will make a decision on the issue, which you can watch live or at your leisure over at the Council’s webstream.


Further information

Portsmouth City Council report to the Licensing Committee on Operator and Council Signage on Licensed Vehicles (includes the representation from Uber drivers and GMB trade union)

Portsmouth City Council Impact Assessment on the local authority’s existing licensing policy

Webstream of Licensing Committee, 20th February, 4pm


Image by freestocks-photos from Pixabay.


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