The regulation of the taking of bookings:
Question 1. Should the current booking office licensing regime be updated and the definition of the licensed activity amended?
The overall majority agreed that the booking office regime should be updated and the definition of the licensed activity changed with support being strongest from Local Authorities and the Trade Organisations.
Overall forty-six responded "yes" and sixteen responded "no" to this question. The remaining respondents did not provide a response or were unclear.
Yes - the current booking office licensing regime should be updated and the definition of the licensed activity amended:
Of the thirteen Local Authorities that responded "yes", a number of reasons were given. The main ones were that the current arrangements did not reflect the recent developments in methods of communication such as mobile phones and smart apps which were used increasingly for the taking of bookings. Concern was expressed that the existing regulations were based on the location of physical premises which may no longer be necessary due to the modern technology. Other Local Authorities expressed concerns about cross border issues between neighbouring local authorities.
Trade Organisations from a variety of sectors agreed that change was necessary to keep up with the advance of modern technology. Representatives of the taxi trade were concerned that the regime should reflect modern technology and treat all businesses in the same way in the interests of public safety and preventing criminal activity. They suggested there was potentially a gap in the coverage of the current regulations.
Differing views were expressed on the need for office premises. One respondent stressed the importance of maintaining an office to deal with customers. However, more recent entrants to the trade suggested that there was no need for a physical office to be located within the local authority area. It was suggested that data can now be made available to the Police or local authorities electronically without the need for them to visit an office. A private hire car organisation also stressed the potential benefits of modern technology which should be encouraged to develop.
Individuals in favour of change (especially those from the taxi trade) believed this was needed to improve control and enforcement.
The Disability and Accessibility Organisations were concerned that the regulations should be made more enforceable and improved in the interests of safety and making services more accessible for the disabled.
Miscellaneous Organisations were also concerned that the regime be brought up to date with modern technology. There was a suggestion that modern technology could provide an opportunity for a more integrated transport system that could encourage the growth of this sector.
No - the current booking office licensing regime should not be updated and the definition of the licensed activity amended:
Opposition to change mostly came from Individuals and focussed on retaining the presence of physical premises in a licensing area to provide a point of contact and access to records. It was suggested that this was necessary for resolving complaints.
Question 2. In what ways should the booking office regime be amended?
Many Local Authorities suggested amending the definition of the licensed activity by removing the reference to premises and replacing it with the activity or business of taking of bookings which would need to be redefined. It was proposed that a single licence could cover all booking office activity across Scotland as long as it was still possible for bodies such as local authorities to access data.
Trade Organisations also proposed a focus on licensing the activity of taking of bookings rather than licensing premises.
Uber suggested "To obtain a licence, a business would not need to have a physical presence but would need to enter into a service level agreement with each relevant local authority, to ensure that the authority can contact the business at all times and have its queries responded to within a reasonable timeframe". It was suggested that the advantage would be consistent national standards enforceable through good established point of contact and enforcement could be undertaken by any local authority in whose area the journey begins, ends or passes through.
Some Individuals suggested that the regime should be amended so that smart apps bookings identify a specific office premises. Others suggested that it was important that the customer was able to contact a person in an office at any time of day or night.
The Disability and Accessibility Organisations suggested that mandatory national conditions for booking offices could lead to more consistency and higher standards for record keeping and accessibility for the disabled.
The Miscellaneous Organisations suggested that the regime could be amended to better reflect modern technology. The potential benefits of modern technology were also highlighted.
Question 3. What would be the impact for local Licensing Authorities, the trade and the public?
The Local Authorities suggested the updating of the regime and amendment of the definition of the licensed activity would improve protection for the public and enforcement. They also believed it would provide for greater consistency in the trade and remove the resentment among those who currently need a booking office licence against those that do not.
Generally it was felt that the cost of compliance and licensing fees, might increase for the trade, but any increases were not expected to be particularly significant.
Trade Organisations suggested that the changes would result in improved enforcement and control by local authorities as well as a more level playing field for operators. Others anticipated increased fees payable to local authorities to cover their additional work.
Individuals also believed the changes would result in improved public safety and more public confidence in the services being offered.
Disability and Accessibility Organisations suggested the impact could be improved controls and data to help study supply and demand to improve services. However concern was expressed that the beneficial impact could be reduced by the lack of network coverage in some areas as this means there are many passengers and operators who are unable to access mobile technology.
Other Miscellaneous Organisations also anticipated an impact of improved public safety and more flexible services.
Question 4. Should the current exemption to the licensing regime for booking offices with three or less relevant vehicles be amended?
A slight majority agreed that the current exemption should be amended with twenty nine responding "yes" and Twenty two responding "no" to this question.
A range of views were expressed. The Local Authorities were almost evenly split. And although there was a majority of the Trade Organisations in favour, there was a majority of Individuals against.
Yes - the current exemption to the licensing regime for booking offices with three or less relevant vehicles should be amended:
Some Local Authorities expressed concerns that the exemption was being abused by some operators leading to difficulties in enforcement.
Trade Organisations, Individuals, Disability and Accessibility Organisations and Miscellaneous Organisations that were in favour of removing the exemption gave reasons relating to enforcement. In particular Trade Organisations suggested there would be advantages in all operators being subject to the same regulations. Miscellaneous Organisations also suggested all licensed activity should be regulated.
No - the current exemption to the licensing regime for booking offices with three or less relevant vehicles should not be amended:
Of the five Local Authorities that responded "no", one suggested that there was no evidence that the exemption was causing any difficulty. Another suggested small businesses should be exempt and the current limit seemed to be reasonable. It was also suggested that the current exemption was proportionate as the additional fees imposed on small businesses would be unfair and that any problems could be resolved through the licensing regimes already in place for drivers and vehicles.
Trade Organisations and Individuals suggested there were no convincing reasons for this change. And one of the Disability and Accessibility Organisations was concerned the removal of the current exemption could cause the removal of necessary services in rural areas as they do rely on small businesses which could be adversely affected.
Question 5. What should the limit be amended to?
Responses were varied. But from Local Authorities, Trade Organisations, Disability and Accessibility Organisations, Miscellaneous Organisations and Individuals it was suggested that there should be no limit and the licence should be required irrespective of the number of vehicles involved or alternatively it was suggested the limit should be reduced to one or two vehicles.
Question 6. What would be the impact of amending the limit for local Licensing Authorities, the trade and the public?
Responses were varied. But Local Authorities, Trade Organisations, Individuals, Disability and Accessibility Organisations and Miscellaneous Organisations all suggested that improved scrutiny, enforcement and public safety could result.
Local Authorities expressed some concerns about the impact on small operators and additional work for local authorities, but it was also suggested that there were very few additional booking offices that would require to be licensed.
From the responses of the Disability and Accessibility Organisations, concern was also expressed the start-up of small businesses could be discouraged.
Question 7. Should the current position and status quo be maintained?
Due to an error this question was omitted from the online form. When this error was identified, respondents were contacted and offered the opportunity to respond.
Only twenty responses were received. The majority of the Local Authorities, Trade Organisations and Disability and Accessibility Organisations answered "no" many referring to reasons already stated. The responses from the Individuals and Miscellaneous Organisations were more evenly divided.
Glasgow City Council responded that the lower limit should be removed as "experience in Glasgow has shown that the lower limit is used to support the illegal activity of private hire cars taking hires which have not been pre-booked (i.e. pirating) where they claim to operate from a booking office with 3 or less vehicles. Without the requirement for a licence for booking offices with 3 or less vehicles there is no means to obtain information and records regarding any bookings taken, which causes greater difficulty in establishing sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a private hire car driver has been engaged in illegal pirating. It is difficult to understand the public interest rationale for requiring booking service providers with more than 3 vehicles to maintain records, but not make the same requirement of those with less than 3 vehicles."