Taxi standards vary from one area to another and it is impossible to generalise. Things to look out for in judging local standards include:
Are drivers required to undertake operational and customer care training?
This will not tell the whole story since there are some very poor courses and tutors involved in provision and there is an urgent need to improve training standards.
‘The course run by the college was an insult – half the drivers couldn’t read English and so the tutor said just tick the boxes I tell you to. The next time I was the only one who turned up but still they all passed.’
We will be campaigning on behalf of NATU to improve the relevance and quality of training. Our aim is for the government to set up a national qualification for taxi drivers on a par with those required for freight and bus drivers.
Age of vehicles and frequency of inspection
Vehicle ages range from no age limit to five years. Generally purpose-built taxis last longer than saloon car taxis. Our view is that private hire vehicles should not be older than 5 years and purpose-built not more than 10 years. Currently some local authorities are introducing even stricter standards in part due to clean-air requirements. Clearly the frequency and rigour of inspection is another factor. There are certainly shocking accounts of the number of taxis regularly needing to be taken off the road as a result of spot checks.
Health and criminal record checks are carried out by most local authorities. A contentious issue is whether criminal activities can be taken out of consideration once seven years have passed without re-offending. Many local authorities take the view that in the case of violence or sexual assault there should be no such limitation, but this decision is sometimes overridden by magistrates even in the case of drivers with recent records of offending.
Another issue is the standard of geographical knowledge and language ability required of drivers. The general view is that private hire drivers do not need geographical knowledge, since pre-booking allows the driver to check. However, with the growth of sat-navs it may be that such knowledge is no longer required or is at least a substitute. Others disagree and argue that it is an entry requirement that is essential to ensure good driver quality and commitment.
Finally, we strongly advocate an English language ability test – for many taxi users it is very alarming to be alone with a driver who cannot communicate. NATU will firmly lobby for language tests for all drivers.