Under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013, the National Transport Authority, NTA, is responsible for regulating the small public service vehicles, SPSV, sector. This sector encompasses taxis, hackneys and limousine services and the regulatory framework applies to the vehicles, the drivers and the services to the travelling public that they provide. The overall objective of the legislation and the regulatory framework is to protect the consumer interest and to uphold safety for passengers. The rules do not limit the number of operators; rather, they concentrate on ensuring standards of safety and service that will benefit the public.
The 2013 legislation and the NTA's subsequent implementation of it was informed by the Taxi Regulation Review Report that was published by the Government in January 2012. Among its recommendations, the review suggested the introduction of a local area hackney licence so as to address transport deficits that would not otherwise be addressed in certain rural areas.
The NTA made regulations permitting the issue of such licences with effect from December 2013. The aim was to enable a special part-time hackney service to be provided in rural areas which are likely to be too small to support a full-time taxi or hackney operation and which are also too far away from adjacent centres to be serviced by normal taxis or hackneys from those adjacent centres.
To address transport deficits in certain rural areas, the local area hackney licence continues to be offered by the NTA. However, take-up has been low. Despite the fact that the costs of a local area hackney licence are deliberately set low and some of the standards that must be met are lower than for a normal taxi or hackney operation, only a very small number of such licences are in use. The NTA has looked at this and identified that one of the main deterrents to the take-up seems to be the cost to an operator of the insurance needed to cover carrying passengers for reward compared to the restricted nature of the part-time service that can be provided under the licence.
The NTA is currently undertaking a review of key aspects of taxi, hackney and limousine operations with the intention of developing a five-year strategy for the entire small public service vehicle industry. The strategy will guide regulatory development for the sector over that timeframe. With the assistance and input of the advisory committee on small public service vehicles, the review is considering a variety of issues including vehicle licensing, vehicle standards, driver licensing, wheelchair accessible vehicles, fixed-payment offences and technological developments. As part of its work, the review is looking at the matter of local area hackneys and the scope for improving their effectiveness in addressing rural connectivity gaps.
The NTA plans to conduct a public consultation process in the first half of this year on the proposals emerging from the review process. This will give the public and public representatives the opportunity to provide their views and to inform the outcome of the work.