Clause 1 - Power to regulate pedicabs

Part of Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 3:00, 26 March 2024

I accept that, but those concerns relate to the use of pedicabs when they are plying for hire, and people then getting into them and being—to put it colloquially—“ripped off.” There should be regulation of fares in those circumstances, but where the pedicab is a private hire vehicle—where an agreement has been made prior to its hire—the terms and conditions will be a contractual arrangement between the hirer and the pedicab operator. That is exactly equivalent to what happens in the private vehicle hire sector at the moment, where there is no regulation of the fare. I do not understand why TfL is seeking powers to regulate the pedicab fare even when that is a private hire arrangement, rather than the subject of a hire arrangement made on the street.

Page 5 of the potential licensing framework for pedicabs in London states, “TfL would seek to introduce controls on fares for pedicabs, including fares for pre-booked journeys.” That is completely inconsistent with the point TfL makes in the previous paragraph, which says, “TfL does not regulate fares for private hire vehicles. As private hire vehicles are pre-booked, passengers are in a position to make a consumer choice before hiring the vehicle. Private hire vehicle fares are thus set by the operators in a competitive market, which allows price to be one of the factors passengers take into account when choosing which operator to book with.” So why is TfL seeking to introduce controls on fares for pre-booked journeys?

The next issue of concern, which has not been resolved, is whether pedicabs should be able to charge per passenger. Currently, taxis cannot charge per passenger; they charge per journey. One can understand why, because the taxi is licensed for a certain number of seats—for example, five—and the number of passengers does not make much difference to the speed of the vehicle. The situation for pedicabs is significantly different, because taking four passengers in a pedicab requires a lot more cycling effort from one person than one passenger does. So surely it is reasonable that pedicabs should be able to charge per passenger, rather than just per journey irrespective of how many passengers are there.

Alarmingly, the potential licensing framework makes reference to the possibility that TfL might require pedicab operators to accept any fare that was offered. So if a group of people got together and said, “You’ve got four seats in your pedicab, we wish to take all four of them and we require you to take us to Leicester Square”, the pedicab driver would be required to accept those four people, who might be heavy. That would be the case despite his wish to have only one or two people in his pedicab because he was not sufficiently fit to transport all four people in his pedicab. Those are further concerns I have about what is contained in these draft regulations.

The cycling fraternity are very worried about pedicabs being legislated out of existence, which is why they have argued that the pedicab regime should be national, rather than limited to London, and that it should not be an extension of the rules relating to taxis and private hire vehicles. I tabled a question to the Minister following his helpful intervention on Second Reading, when he talked about the issue of licensing authorities across the rest of the country and referred to paragraph 8.3 of his Department’s publication “Taxi and private hire vehicle licensing best practice guidance for licensing authorities in England”, which was updated on 17 November. In that update, the Department advised that licensing authorities “should make appropriate adjustments” to take into account the demand for pedicab services in their area.

During the earlier debates, we had heard that some such areas include Oxford, Salisbury, Bristol and Cambridge. So I tabled a written question to the Secretary of State asking

“what information his Department holds on (a) the number of pedicabs outside Greater London that are licensed as (i) taxis and (ii) private hire vehicles and (b) the number and proportion of those pedicabs that are in (A) Oxford, (B) Salisbury, (C) Bristol and (D) Cambridge;
and if he will make an assessment of the potential impact on the number of licensed pedicabs of paragraph 8.3 of his Department’s guidance entitled Taxi and private hire vehicle licensing best practice guidance for licensing authorities in England”.

The answer I received from the Minister on 25 March rather ducked the question:

“Outside London pedicabs can be licensed as taxis. Pedicabs cannot be licensed as a private hire vehicle as legislation defines a private hire vehicle as a motor vehicle. The Department for Transport issues guidance on licensing taxis and private hire vehicles to authorities who should consider the recommendations made and their obligation under the Regulators’ Code to carry out their activities in a way that supports those they regulate to comply and grow. The Best Practice Guidance…sets out that where there is local interest….licensing authorities should make appropriate adjustments…Subject to the legal requirements, it is for licensing authorities to consider”.

What the Minister did not say was what impact, if any, the change in the best practice guidance that he issued has had on pedicab operators or on people being able to start pedicab operations outside London. The answer, as far as one can gather, is that outside London there are no licensed pedicab operations, because, despite the Government’s apparent best intentions, those who wish to operate pedicabs outside London using the taxi and private hire vehicle regulations are unable to get their operations off the ground. That is largely because of the regulatory burdens and the costs associated with insurance, apart from anything else.

There are those who believe, as I do, that pedicabs are a highly environmentally advantageous means of transport: the pedicab driver is taking good exercise in cycling his pedicab and it is not causing any emissions. In addition, pedicabs enable people to get from one part of London to another and to have an enjoyable experience. In the same way that not many people in Venice use gondolas as a means of getting from A to B quickly, pedicabs are not used as an alternative to the bus or the underground. They are there for a bit of fun and recreation. Why would this Conservative Government want to legislate them out of existence? I do not think they want to do that, which is why I have proposed a series of amendments designed to tighten up the pedicab regime.

My first amendment

“requires Transport for London to have regard to any guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to the making of pedicab regulations and exercising TfL’s functions under those regulations.”

My point is that the making of the regulations is what is important rather than the exercising of the functions under them, so the amendment requires Transport for London to have regard to that. That links to the requirement in amendment 19 to ensure that the Government produce the guidance within six months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. Without that provision we could have a situation where the Government are required by law to produce regulations, but there is no time limit on that.

As an example of how time lapses, I remember that just over five years ago, on a Friday in this Chamber, my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight brought forward a Bill to control bad behaviour by rogue parking operators, who can cause abuse at the behest of transport organisations, access driver and vehicle details, and impose severe penalties, including enormous fines, on alleged miscreants who have parked on private property. The Government assured us that a code of practice would be drawn up, and I put forward an amendment specifying the period within which that should be done. I was assured by the then Minister—none other than the person who is now our Prime Minister—that my amendment was unnecessary, but five years later that code of practice has still not been produced, to the frustration of motorists up and down the country. That is why we need to include an amendment that specifies the timescale within which the Government must produce their guidance.

Amendment 19 suggests a timescale of six months. Transport for London could introduce its regulations thereafter, having taken into account the Government guidance. Clause 7 is purely permissive: it permits, not requires, the Government to issue guidance to Transport for London. It is essential that the Government issue guidance that ensures Transport for London realises it will not be allowed to prevent pedicabs plying for hire in London; it will not be able to require pedicab operators to put a maximum of four heavy people in their cab and not get any extra fee for transporting them; and it will not be able to require other potentially damaging provisions in the draft regulations.

My next amendments relate to consultation. Amendment 1

“would require Transport for London to carry out a public consultation… to include details of the proposed licensing framework.”

It is clear from the document that has been produced that Transport for London is intent on doing that, so I will not press that amendment. However, we need to be more specific about the people with whom the consultation should be carried out, so amendment 2 says that the consultation must include

“the London Pedicab Operators Association, Cycling UK and whoever else”.

Currently, the Bill says:

“Before making pedicab regulations, Transport for London must consult whoever it considers appropriate.”

Why is that so vague? It needs to be much more specific. I am pleased that Sarah Olney has tabled an amendment that deals with the same concerns. She seeks to spell it out in a slightly different way, but her amendment 21 reflects our joint concern.

Amendment 4 provides that

“Transport for London shall not make provision for regulating pedicabs in public places in Greater London until the Secretary of State has issued guidance under the provisions of section 7.”

As I have said, if we have a requirement for the Secretary of State to issue that guidance within six months, that point is covered off as well.

The London Pedicab Operators Association and Cycling UK have raised the issue of where pedicabs will be able to stand. We already have taxi ranks. If we are to have a properly functioning pedicab regime in central London, there needs to be some provision for the designation of places where pedicabs may stand for hire. Amendment 12 requires that the regulations

“make provision for the designation by traffic authorities” of pedicab stands. When one walks around London these days, one often finds the pavements littered with bikes, many of which have fallen over and some of which are still on their stands. They obstruct the pavements and there does not seem to be any effective regulation of them. It would be ironic if Transport for London were to single out pedicab operators as not being able to have anywhere to put their pedicab and rest while plying for hire, while the users of what I still call Boris bikes seem to be able to dump their bikes wherever it suits them in London, causing obstruction to the highway and pavement.

Amendment 17 would ensure that the offences created by the pedicab regulations apply only when the pedicab is being used to carry passengers, when travelling to or from carrying passengers, or when plying for hire. Many pedicabs are used for the transport of goods around London, which is obviously an environmentally friendly means of doing so. Concern has been expressed that if the regulations are designed only to protect passengers and their safety and security, there could be a situation that we do not want to see where the pedicab driver who is just carrying goods finds himself subject to the same potential offences as those carrying passengers.