No action on number of taxis and private hire cars in Highland

The Highland Licensing Committee agreed on 27 March 2018 to take no action towards introducing restrictions on the number of taxis and private hire cars (PHC) licensed to operate in Highland or any particular part of the Highland area. This follows consideration of a specialist and independent legal opinion commissioned to seek clarification of the Council’s powers in this regard.

The Council commissioned the opinion in response to requests by some taxi and PHC operators, who operate predominantly in Inverness city, to restrict the number of vehicles licensed to operate within the city.

While the opinion confirmed that the Council does have power to impose licence conditions restricting the validity of licences to particular zones within its area, this is a discretionary power which the Council is under no obligation to use.

Having considered the matter fully, the Committee members agreed that the cost and practical difficulties inherent in introducing such restrictions were not outweighed by any potential benefit to the public.  Government guidance confirms that it is the benefit to users of the service, and not the benefit to the operators providing the service, which must underpin any case for introducing these types of restriction.

Inverness District Council, the former licensing authority for the Inverness area, operated a policy of “capping” the number of taxi operator licences with validity to operate within an 8-mile radius of Queensgate Post Office.  However, when The Highland Council inherited these licensing powers in 1996, they resolved, by a majority of 40 votes to 16, that such restrictive practices should cease and that market forces should be allowed to prevail.  Highland has since been considered a single licensing area for taxi and PHC licensing activities, with no restriction on the number of taxi or PHC licences which may be issued.

The Committee is aware that its decision not to take further steps towards re-introducing a cap on numbers of licences in Inverness city will disappoint those Inverness-based operators who have called for such a cap to be brought back into force.   The process, however, would have first required procurement of “unmet demand” and “overprovision” surveys both Highland-wide and in Inverness city.  These surveys, which are carried out by independent traffic consultants, would be necessary to provide evidence in support of introducing any restrictions.  The cost of these surveys, estimated to be in excess of £30,000 (plus VAT), together with the on-going costs of the regular survey updates required, would lead to an increase in all taxi and PHC licence application and renewal fees.  The Committee did not consider it reasonable to incur such costs for the potential benefit of Inverness-based operators but at the expense of all Highland operators.

Later this year, the Committee will also be conducting its regular review of the Highland maximum taxi tariff.  This was increased in 2017 to bring it up to the Scottish national average.  There are no proposals at present to consider, as part of this review process, introducing separate tariffs for different areas of Highland.  All operators will remain free, however, to charge any tariff they wish, provided it does not exceed the maximum tariff fixed by the Council.

27 Mar 2018