Taxi and Private Hire Car Licensing: Best Practice for Licensing Authorities, Second Edition, April 2012

Guidance for local licensing auhtorities on the licensing of taxis and private hire cars and their drivers.

Chapter 5 - VEHICLES

Vehicle specification

5.1. The legislation gives local authorities a wide range of discretion over the types of vehicle that they can license as taxis or private hire cars. Some authorities have adopted criteria as to vehicle specification that in practice can only be met by purpose-built vehicles but the majority license a range of vehicles.

5.2. While purpose-built vehicles are amongst those which a local authority could be expected to license, licensing authorities should be cautious about specifying only purpose-built taxis, with the strict constraint on supply that this implies. Similarly, it may be too restrictive to rule out considering Multi-Purpose Vehicles, or to license them for fewer passengers than their seating capacity (provided of course that the capacity of the vehicle is not more than eight passengers).

5.3. Some licensing authorities operate a policy of specifying as many different types of vehicle as possible. Indeed such authorities might also consider a policy that allowed the taxi/private hire car trade to propose vehicles of their own choice that met a range of general criteria as to specification set by the licensing authority. Such an approach could provide greater flexibility in allowing new vehicle types to be considered. See also paragraphs 5.13 - 5.14 under 'Environmental considerations'.

Imported vehicles: type approval

5.4. It may be that from time to time a local authority will be asked to license as a taxi or private hire car, a vehicle that has been imported independently (that is, by somebody other than the manufacturer). Such a vehicle might meet an authority's criteria for licensing, but the licensing authority may nonetheless be uncertain about the wider rules for imported vehicles being used in the UK. Such vehicles will be subject to the 'type approval' rules. Information about 'type approval' and the procedures for licensing and registering imported vehicles can be found on the Department for Transport's website under 'EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval':

Vehicle testing

5.5. There is considerable variation between local licensing authorities on vehicle testing, including the related question of age limits. The following can be seen as best practice:

  • Frequency of tests. The legal requirement for taxis requires that they should be subject to an MOT test or its equivalent one year after first registration and annually thereafter. For private hire cars annual MOT testing should commence after the vehicle is three years old. Notwithstanding MOT requirements, authorities generally undertake inspection of taxis and private hire cars at first licensing and annually or more frequently thereafter. This approach is considered best practice in the interests of public safety. Annual testing for licensed vehicles regardless of age is considered best practice although more frequent testing may be appropriate for older vehicles (see 'age limits' below). Local licensing authorities may wish to note that a review carried out by the National Society for Cleaner Air in 2005 found that taxis were more likely than other vehicles to fail an emissions test. This finding, perhaps suggests that emissions testing should be carried out on an ad hoc basis and more frequently than the full vehicle test.
  • Criteria for tests. Similarly, for mechanical matters it seems appropriate to apply the same criteria as those for the MOT test to taxis and private hire cars. The MOT test on vehicles first used after 31 March 1987 includes checking of all seat belts. However, taxis and private hire cars provide a service to the public, so it is also appropriate to set criteria for the internal condition of the vehicle, requiring for example the internal passenger accommodation, upholstery and fittings to be maintained in a serviceable condition. Further advice and details of publications about MOT testing can be accessed on the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) website at:
  • Age limits. The setting of an age limit beyond which a local authority will not license vehicles is somewhat arbitrary and disproportionate particularly as it is perfectly possible for a well-maintained older vehicle to be in good condition. A greater frequency of testing may, however, be appropriate for older vehicles - for example, twice-yearly tests for vehicles more than five years old.
  • Number of testing stations. There is sometimes criticism that local authorities provide only one testing centre for their area (which may be geographically extensive). So it is good practice for local authorities to consider having more than one testing station. There could be advantage in contracting out the testing work, and to different garages. In that way the licensing authority can benefit from competition in costs. The Vehicle Operators and Standards Agency - VOSA - may be able to assist where there are local difficulties in provision of testing stations.


5.6. Licensing authorities should actively promote and facilitate good links between the taxi and private hire car trades and the local police force, including active participation in any crime reduction initiatives.

5.7. The owners and drivers of vehicles will often want to install security measures to protect the driver. Local licensing authorities may consider that this is a matter best left to the judgement of the owners and drivers themselves. However, it is recommended practice for licensing authorities to consider sympathetically, or indeed actively encourage, their installation. Security measures could include a screen between driver and passengers or CCTV.

5.8. Installation of CCTV in taxis and private hire cars may offer a degree of security in terms of safety of both passengers and drivers alike. It could also prove a useful tool in corroboration in cases of fare disputes, vandalism and other anti-social or criminal behaviour committed within the vehicle. Authorities in assessing the suitability of CCTV equipment must be aware of any responsibilities for themselves and/or the drivers and operators of the CCTV systems under the Data Protection Act 1998. The Information Commissioner's Office is a helpful source of information and advice. Where CCTV systems are installed in taxis and private hire cars, operators should ensure that they comply with the Information Commissioner's Office CCTV code of practice. Images recorded on such systems are personal data and their processing is subject to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998.

5.9. Care should be taken that any security measures within the vehicle do not impede a disabled passenger's ability to communicate with the driver

Vehicle identification

5.10. Members of the public can be unaware of the fact that private hire cars and taxis operate differently, that private hire cars are not available for immediate hire and must be pre-booked. It is important, therefore, that it is easy to distinguish between the two types of vehicle.

5.11. Section 14 of the 1982 Act prohibits the display on, or in, a private hire car of any feature which could suggest that the vehicle is available for hire as a taxi. The display of rooftop signage on private hire cars may lead to confusion and we suggest as best practice the inclusion of a condition of licence for private hire cars precluding the display of any type of rooftop signage on such vehicles (condition 14 of the model conditions set out in Annex B to Scottish Development Department Circular 25/1986 refers).

5.12. In addition to the specified local authority licence plate or disc identifying the vehicle as a private hire car some clearer identification is best practice. This is for two reasons: firstly, to ensure a more positive statement that the vehicle cannot be hired immediately through the driver; and secondly because it is reasonable, and in the interests of the travelling public, for a private hire car operator to be able to state on the vehicle the contact details for hiring. In this regard authorities might consider introduction of a licence condition which requires a sign on the vehicle in a specified form. This will often be a sign of a specified size and shape which identifies the operator (with a telephone number for bookings) and the local licensing authority, and which also has some words such as 'pre-booked only'. This approach identifies the vehicle as private hire, helps to avoid confusion with a taxi and gives useful information to the public wishing to make a booking.

Environmental considerations

5.13. Local licensing authorities should consider how far their vehicle licensing policies can and should support any local environmental policies that they may have adopted, bearing in mind the need to ensure that benefits outweigh costs (in whatever form) and in discussion with those responsible for environmental health issues. Local authorities, may, for example, wish to consider promoting cleaner fuels or training for drivers in eco friendly/economic driving (see Training section at paragraph 8.12). Authorities may also wish to consider in any review of their list of approved vehicles for licensing purposes the availability of increasing numbers of hybrid/electric and low carbon vehicles on the market. The Scottish Government would encourage licensing authorities to be flexible in considering alternative technologies perhaps in collaboration with private companies. Authorities in considering approval of eco-friendly vehicles will doubtless have due regard to their obligation to be satisfied as to a vehicle's suitability for licensing as a taxi or private hire car in terms of type, size and design and that it is comfortable and safe for use as a taxi or private hire car (section 10 of the 1982 Act). Such considerations should form part of any wider environmental policy strategy.

5.14. A recent Scottish Government survey of Scottish local authorities suggests that few have adopted specific environmental policies with regard to taxi and private hire car licensing in their areas. A number have however advised that they operate, or are considering a policy, of varying in their vehicle specification the minimum engine capacity (typically 1800cc) to allow for the licensing of environmentally friendly vehicles e.g. hybrid/electric/hydrogen as taxis or private hire cars. Such policy is to be encouraged and would go some way to reducing levels of fuel consumption and thus emissions.

Exemptions from licensing

5.15. Section 22 of the 1982 Act sets out certain exemptions from licensing requirements. Operators wishing to rely on the limited exemption provided in Section 22(c) will want to ensure that they fall within its scope. Section 22(c) states:

Nothing in sections 10 to 21 (with the exception of subsection (7) of section 21) of this Act shall …apply to any vehicle while it is being used for carrying passengers under a contract for its exclusive hire for a period of not less than 24 hours.

'Exclusive hire' is defined in a report commissioned by the (UK) Department for Transport in 2009 as a hiring in which the vehicle is hired as a whole by a single person or group.

5.16. The "Notes on Clauses" which accompanied the 1982 Act stated, in respect of this exemption:

It is not the intention of the taxi and private hire car licensing system to apply to a vehicle used for carrying passengers for hire and reward under contract for its exclusive hire for periods of not less than 24 hours and sub-paragraph (c) specifically exempts such vehicles - on the argument that longer hires are likely to be the subject of informed individual inspection and negotiation - e.g. company hires - where there is not the same need to protect the casual hirer.

5.17. Licensing authorities will be aware that this exemption allows drivers and vehicles being used exclusively for contract work to fall outwith the licensing regime. This is on the assumption that the person/body contracting the work will be responsible for the scrutiny of the person/company fulfilling the contract. However, the use of unlicensed individuals or firms to provide transport services, particularly to vulnerable groups, should be carefully considered. Any tendering process and final contract must clearly be compliant with relevant legislation (i.e. registration with Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme where appropriate) but should also build in time and capacity to effectively establish the safety and suitability of the drivers and vehicles. Considering the wide range of factors that this covers (road worthiness, accessibility requirements, criminal records checks, driver training etc), the use of licensed drivers and vehicles may be more efficient.

Licensing of stretch limousines and other special events vehicles

5.18. Special events vehicles (stretch limousines, decommissioned emergency service vehicles etc) typically booked for party occasions are appearing on our roads in increasing numbers clearly demonstrating a public demand for the special service that they provide.

5.19. Concern has been expressed that some such vehicles may be operating outwith any specific licensing regime. These vehicles and their drivers may not therefore have been subject to appropriate scrutiny either under the private hire car or public service vehicle licensing arrangements (the latter applies primarily to vehicles that have more than 8 passenger seats. Responsibility for this legislation is reserved to the UK Government).

5.20. Section 23 of the 1982 Act defines 'hire car' in the following terms:

"hire car" means a motor vehicle with a driver (other than a vehicle being a public service vehicle within the meaning of section 1(1)(a) of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981) (the 1981 Act) which is, with a view to profit, available for hire by the public for personal conveyance.

5.21. Section 7 of the 1982 Act provides that any person who, without reasonable excuse, does anything for which a licence is required under Part II of the Act (which includes sections 10-23) without having such a licence, shall be guilty of an offence.

5.22. In terms of section 10 of the 1982 Act, licensing authorities have discretion over the types of vehicles that they license as private hire cars. We understand that some authorities license limousines, that some do not and that few if any authorities license other special events vehicles. In some instances, therefore, it is currently not possible for an operator of a special events vehicle to secure a private hire car licence. The view the licensing authority takes in relation to the licensing of special events vehicles is a separate issue from whether a licence is required to operate or drive such a vehicle.

5.23. The Scottish Government takes the view that a blanket policy to refuse to license these vehicles simply as a matter of principle presents an unacceptable safety risk to the travelling public. Public safety considerations are best served by the adoption of policies that ensure through the licensing process the vetting of operators and drivers and inspection of vehicles.

5.24. In the light of the above, we would encourage licensing authorities:

  • to consider applications on their individual merits having regard to the above advice
  • to adopt, in liaison with the police, a proactive approach, to the question of the operation of vehicles without a licence required under the 1982 Act.

5.25. Licensing authorities in considering any variance in regard to its technical specification of vehicle for licensing as a private hire car, perhaps in recognition of the particular nature of the service provided by special event type vehicles, will wish to ensure that the principles of section 10(3) are not compromised in any way.

5.26. It should be emphasised that the above advice applies to vehicles with capacity up to 8 passenger seats. Vehicles with greater seating capacity may fall to be considered under public service vehicle legislation.

5.27. In the exercise of their discretion as to the suitability of a particular vehicle for licensing as a private hire car, authorities might wish to consider whether policies for example setting age limits on vehicles (see paragraph 5.5) and/or excluding left hand drive are not unduly restrictive.

5.28. Imported stretched limousines have in the past been checked for compliance with British regulations under the Single Vehicle Approval inspection regime, prior to registration. This has now been replaced by the Individual Vehicle Approval (IVA) scheme. The IVA test verifies that the converted vehicle is built to certain safety and environmental standards. A licensing authority might wish to request sight of the IVA certificate to ensure that the vehicle was tested by VOSA before being registered and licensed (taxed) by DVLA. This can be done, either by checking the Registration Certificate (V5C) of the vehicle, which may refer to IVA under the 'Special Note' section, or by writing to VOSA ( providing details of the vehicle make/model, registration number and VIN number.

5.29. Some councils have reported difficulty due to the size of some vehicles precluding them being properly tested in conventional MOT garages. If there is not a suitable MOT testing station in the area we understand that it may be possible to arrange to test the vehicle at a local VOSA test station. The local enforcement office may be able to advise (

Quantity restrictions on taxi licences

5.30. The present legal provision on quantity restrictions for taxis is set out in section 10(3) of the 1982 Act. This provides that:

…the grant of a taxi licence may be refused by a licensing authority for the purpose of limiting the number of taxis in respect of which licences are granted by them if, but only if, they are satisfied that there is no significant demand for the services of taxis in their area which is unmet.

5.31. Local licensing authorities will be aware that, in the event of a challenge to a decision to refuse a licence, the local authority concerned would be required to establish to the satisfaction of the court that it had first satisfied itself that there was no such significant unmet demand.

5.32. The Scottish Government remains of the view that decisions as to the case for limiting taxi licences should remain a matter for licensing authorities in the light of local circumstances. Licensing authorities that presently restrict numbers of taxi licences are, however, encouraged to periodically review this policy and to examine the wider policy direction.

5.33. Licensing authorities in reviewing their policy with regard to quantity restrictions on taxi licences should consider whether any restriction presently in place should continue. The matter should be approached in terms of the interests of taxi users. What benefit is achieved for them by the continuation of controls and how might they benefit if the controls were removed? Is there evidence that removal of the controls would result in a clear and unambiguous deterioration in the amount or quality of taxi service provision? Authorities in assessing the case for quantity restrictions will wish also to have regard to the availability of an appropriate supply of accessible vehicles within the hire car fleet such as to meet the needs of passengers with a disability.

5.34. Authorities may find the information in Annex A helpful. The Annex sets out a number of questions which may be helpful to licensing authorities in any review of policy in regard to the quantity control of taxi licences.

5.35. The Scottish Government agrees that the question of the restriction of licences should be left to the discretion of licensing authorities. However, there is a need for review of the frequency and component parts of the surveys used by local authorities to measure unmet demand. In regard to frequency, licensing authorities should carry out a survey sufficiently frequently to be able to respond to any challenge to the satisfaction of a court.

5.36. Some key points which authorities should consider are:

  • The length of time that would-be customers have to wait at ranks. However, this alone is an inadequate indicator of demand.
  • Waiting times for street hailings and for telephone bookings. But waiting times at ranks or elsewhere do not in themselves satisfactorily resolve the question of unmet demand.
  • Latent demand, for example people who have responded to long waiting times by not even trying to travel by taxi. This can be assessed by surveys of people who do not use taxis, perhaps using stated preference survey techniques.
  • Peaked demand. It is sometimes argued that delays associated only with peaks in demand (such as morning and evening rush hours, or pub closing times) are not 'significant'. The Scottish Government does not share that view. Since the peaks in demand are by definition the most popular times for consumers to use taxis, unmet demand at these times should not be ignored. Local authorities should consider when the peaks occur and who is being disadvantaged through restrictions on provision of taxi services.
  • Consultation. As well as statistical surveys, assessment of quantity restrictions should include consultation with all those concerned, including user groups, the police, local businesses (e.g. hotels, pubs and clubs and visitor attractions) and providers of other transport modes (such as train operators who want taxis available to take passengers to and from stations).
  • Publication. All the evidence gathered in a survey should be published, together with an explanation of what conclusions have been drawn from it and why. If quantity restrictions are to be continued, their benefits to consumers and the reason for the particular level at which the number is set should be explained.
  • Financing of surveys. It is not good practice for surveys to be paid for by the local taxi trade (except through general revenues from licence fees). To do so can call into question the impartiality and objectivity of the survey process.

Return of Plates - Section 10(6)

5.37. The Scottish Government are aware that some authorities have experienced difficulties over compliance with the return of taxi licence plates required under terms of Section 10(6) of the 1982 Act.

5.38. The Task Group which undertook a review of the licensing provisions of the Act recommended in its report that in order to address their concerns over non-compliance authorities should be encouraged to use their powers under Schedule 1 to insert an expiry date on licence plates at time of issue.

5.39. The Scottish Government supports this recommendation and would encourage licensing authorities to consider the inclusion of an expiry date or car registration number on licence plates at time of issue to discourage non-compliance and assist enforcement personnel in identifying any cases of inappropriate use.


Email: Joanna Mackenzie

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