Taxi drivers who aren’t licensed by St Helens Council are coming into the borough to work from as far as Wolverhampton, a new report has revealed.
Cross-border working has been an issue for many licensing authorities since the introduction of the Deregulation Act in 2015.
Currently licensed taxi drivers can obtain a licence in one area of the country and then lawfully work in another.
This means it is not possible for St Helens Council as the licensing authority to hold drivers all of the drivers working in the borough to account.
St Helens Council’s licensing and environmental protection committee heard that a “significant numbers” of drivers and vehicles licensed in neighbouring authorities and further afield regularly operate in St Helens.
According to new council report, the biggest areas of other licensed vehicles working in St Helens are from Knowsley, Sefton.
But some drivers are even coming from as far afield as Wolverhampton.
“It cannot however be underestimated the impact that ‘out of town’ drivers operating ‘cross border’ have had on our licensed trade,” the report says.
“As licensed drivers are self-employed it is imperative that the council does all that it is able to support their efforts.”
Lorraine Simpson, the council’s licensing manager, told councillors that the competition to come into areas like St Helens is “huge”.
This is despite there being no shortage of St Helens-licensed drivers.
Ms Simpson said: “In St Helens there has undoubtedly been an impact on the local license community as operators with multiple licences have flooded the area with licensed vehicles and drivers.
“The effect of this has been to eat into their revenue streams of our locally-licensed drivers.
“As no minimum standards currently exist in law for the granting of taxi driver or vehicle licence, as the licensing authority we cannot say with any certainty the checks which these drivers have undergone would meet the same high standards that we set in St Helens.
“Its impact cannot be underestimated but the most significant factor for us as a licensing authority is the safety of the travelling public.
“And the public are understandably confused when they call for a taxi from a local operator and a vehicle plated from somewhere else in the country arrives to collect them.
“For the more vulnerable members of society this is perhaps even more problematic as they may not feel able to address issues such as this.”
To help tackle this issue, St Helens Council has developed the #KnowYourRide campaign, in consultation with the taxi trade.
A key part of the campaign is recognising licensed drivers in St Helens who maintain the high standards required to hold a license in the borough.
Another key message is about encouraging the public to support the many self-employed drivers who live and work in the borough.
This means members of the public will be encouraged to specifically request a St Helens driver for their journey.
Ms Simpson said: “Part of the campaign will be to give people advice on how they can secure a St Helens-licensed driver and vehicle and that they don’t have to accept a vehicle from outside the area.
“And they’re perfectly within their rights to request that from the operator when they make a booking.”
All drivers licensed in St Helens go through strict checks and are tested on their essential skills and knowledge, while also being trained to spot and report safeguarding issues.
As part of the #KnowYourRide campaign, licensed vehicles – both private hire and black cabs – will receive a ‘Gold Standard’ badge that will sit proudly on the car bonnet, while drivers will receive a gold lanyard and lapel badge.
Coun Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety, said drivers “jump through hoops” to be licensed in St Helens and it is important to recognise this.
The #KnowYourRide is due to run from mid-November through to the end of January.
Coun Bell said: “By choosing a local driver, you’re supporting local business and getting that local knowledge, for which there’s no substitute.
“You can also rest assured that the vehicle you’re in and the driver you’re with are held to and maintain the highest standards.
“Merseyside Police are working closely with the council and will be actively supporting enforcement operations across the borough to ensure our communities are safe.”