ACTION could be taken to address issues caused by taxi drivers working for multiple apps or operators at once, but councillors have said there is no simple solution.
The Welsh Government is consulting on new legislation covering taxi and private hire vehicles including the possibility of minimum national standards for the trade, which is currently subject to local regulations, and new powers for councils which as licensing authorities take action if drivers or firms aren’t complying with requirements.
A white paper, which sets out rules and standards the government thinks it should introduce, has asked if it should address “the negative consequences of ‘multi-apping’” which is the term used to describe drivers working for multiple app-based booking systems, or operators, at the same time to increase their potential for fares.
The government says the practice has resulted in passenger journeys being delayed and or cancelled and that complaints about cancelled bookings are now “common” as drivers may show themselves as available for hire on one app while having already accepted a booking on another, and sometimes cancelling bookings for more lucrative ones from another app.
It also says a “risk to passenger safety can arise” from cancelled bookings.
Torfaen Borough Council’s licensing committee discussed the white paper, and how it should respond, and Abersychan councillor Lynda Clarkson said: “Multi-apping does seem to be a problem occurring more often now and people are waiting longer.”
But the Labour councillor said she struggled to see how the council could enforce the government’s suggestion a driver’s freedom to use more than one operating app at once should be limited. Instead she said the council should back the other suggested option of holding operators to account for cancelled bookings.
Cllr Clarkson said licensing staff could then look to see if multi-apping was the cause of the cancellations.
“The drivers are trying to maximise their potential to have work and maybe working for food deliveries as well as a taxi,” said the councillor.
Cwmbran independent councillor Elizabeth Haynes suggested restricting work drivers are able to do may be necessary in some of Wales’ larger cities but questioned if it was practical in smaller areas.
She said: “It may be that some drivers need to be multi-apping to earn a decent living.”
A report to the committee confirmed there had been complaints of drivers arriving late, or failing to turn up for bookings, in the last quarter of 2022 and first quarter of 2023 in Torfaen along with allegations of overcharging and general poor service.
The government also wants opinions on how it should tackle drivers who are licensed in England, where it says standards may be lower, but mainly carry out pre-booked work in Wales.
It has suggested that private hire drivers, firms and vehicles that operate wholly or mainly in Wales must be licensed by a Welsh council so they meet the Welsh national minimum standards and that would allow English-based drivers to still carry out work in Wales provided most of their bookings take place in England. The government favours this approach rather than preventing those based in England from taking bookings that start and finish in Wales.
Councillors agreed the Welsh Government’s suggestion “seems to be the most deliverable” though the government itself has noted determining where the majority of an operator’s work takes place “may be challenging”.
A register of drivers who’ve had their taxi licenses revoked or suspended or applications refused, which is already in use in Torfaen, could also be made mandatory across Wales.
Llanfrechfa and Ponthir councillor Karl Gauden said he thought making its use a requirement for all 22 local authorities is “really important”.
The Labour member said: “We do need to do that particularly in south east Wales where authorities are very close together. Someone could be refused for perfectly legitimate reasons in Newport, we do not want them chancing their arm in Torfaen.”
Councillors were also asked how the take up of zero emission vehicles could be encouraged and whether there should be a deadline for switching to electric cars.
Cllr Clarkson said she preferred the option of an age limit to give drivers and firms a transition period though Llantarnam independent David Thomas said as the council and Welsh Government have declared a climate emergency the authority should back setting a deadline for the switchover.
Councils, drivers and passengers have until June 1 to respond to the consultation.