Taxi Touting Sting Operations Are They 'Fare'?

26th August 2014 Driving Offences

I have seen a large number of enquiries lately from private hire taxi drivers accused of plying for hire without a licence or "Taxi Touting' as it's commonly known. It's not clear if this has become a more prevalent issue recently but it is apparent that there appears to be a crackdown on the issue with "sting operations' being implemented by various councils.

In case you're not aware, plying for hire is when somebody stops to pick someone up in their vehicle and agrees to take them somewhere in their vehicle for hire or reward. Only those with a hackney carriage licence (commonly those in "black cabs') and appropriate insurance can do this. Anyone else will be committing an offence. As such a private hire taxi can only take fares that have previously been booked through their operators and I commonly see cases where these drivers have stopped to pick up an un-booked fare.

The repercussions first appear to be modest as the offence of plying for hire simply carries a fine and does not lead to endorsement on someone's licence. However it has been established that plying without a licence means that you are using the vehicle in contradiction of any insurance that you have and as such could see you prosecuted for driving without insurance which carries penalty points or a disqualification. Thereafter a taxi driver convicted of these offences would then expect to face repercussions from the licence issuing authority which could result in a suspension or revocation of their badge meaning they are unable to work.

Whilst it is appropriate that someone is prosecuted if they are caught breaking the law is it right to set someone up by pretending to be a prospective fare. I have always been dubious as to the fairness of entrapping someone but in this instance the High Court have decided that it is appropriate for undercover police officers or council enforcement officers to approach vehicles pretending to be potential customers. This seems harsh but the idea is that if the private hire taxi driver is not plying or intending to do so then they should refuse to engage with the "customer' which should end the matter. There has been legal argument on this issue as to whether there needs to be any actual "reward' for the offence to be made out but in short if a taxi driver agrees to take a passenger and engages in discussions about where they want to go and the cost then this is sufficient to make out an offence. It becomes less clear when the driver doesn't drive off or when he has engaged with the "customer' with the best intentions to book the fare through his operator himself.

My advice would therefore be that if a driver is approached by a prospective passenger the only safe way to respond is to refer them to their operator and provide them with the contact information. I would hope that this would then avoid any confusion but I am not entirely convinced that this will stop an over-zealous undercover officer looking for an offence.

Whether or not this is a wide spread issue I do understand the seriousness of the offence and the concerns raised by local authorities. They are doing their job in regulating the drivers that they endorse and seeking to protect the public from being picked up by rouge drivers and potentially being unprotected in the result of an accident. However the tactics adopted by some authorities do concern me as I have seen clients prosecuted who are of previous good character with no intention of committing an offence and would have otherwise never have been before the courts.

If you face prosecution for plying for hire or any other driving offence and are concerned about the impact on your licence and private hire badge please call our stay On The Road Team on 0800 804 8159 for expert advice on your matter.

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Hojol Uddin is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Driving Offences department

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