London proposes stricter vetting for ride-hailing drivers

London’s transport regulator is asking for public views on a series of new proposals aimed at boosting the safety of private hire vehicles (PHVs), such as cars served via ride-hailing platforms like Uber.

Among the measures Transport for London (TfL) is considering are:

  • Enhanced background checks for private hire drivers — with a proposal to introduce a minimum three-year enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check for drivers to “guarantee that a full and comprehensive period of criminal history is available for consideration as part of the licensing process”
  • Advanced driving tests for private hire drivers
  • Additional signage on PHVs — including showing details of TfL’s customer complaints procedure
  • Additional insurance requirements for PHVs and a requirement for drivers to display their IDs inside the vehicle

“Our overriding concern in developing these proposals is to improve passenger safety. We are also committed to maintaining a clear distinction between the taxi and private hire trades and further improving the quality, safety, accessibility and overall standard of private hire vehicle provision in London,” TfL writes.

“We believe that the proposed measures will contribute to this aim and invite comments and views before making any changes.”

Last month TfL published a policy statement setting out its intentions for adopting transport regulations to fit the fast-changing sector — with the safety and welfare of passengers and drivers being chief among its stated objectives.

It also cited concerns about safety as one of the reasons for withdrawing Uber’s license to operate in the city last September — sending a major shock through the Silicon Valley giant.

Uber is appealing that decision and can continue to operate during the appeals process.

The regulator currently requires PHV drivers to undertake an ‘enhanced’ criminal records check from DBS through its service provider, GBGroup — although DBS checks can’t access criminal records held overseas, and that’s one aspect of the current vetting process that TfL says it wants to improve. 

“TfL needs to have confidence that an applicant’s past criminal behaviour is known if individuals have lived for an extended period outside the UK or come to the UK from another country,” it writes.

“A number of steps could be considered to address this issue including self-declaration of criminal convictions by applicants, references from professionals or those of standing in the country of origin; or a minimum residency in the UK requirement for example.”

Commenting on its consultation in a statement, Helen Chapman, TfL’s interim director of licensing, regulation and charging, added: “The experiences of passengers and their safety is at the heart of everything we do. We’ve worked hard to drive up the standards of the industry, from significantly increasing the number of compliance officers to ensuring passengers know who their driver is and what the vehicle details are.

“With the dramatic recent changes in the private hire industry transforming passengers’ experiences we need to go further. This consultation demonstrates our clear commitment to keeping passengers safe and our proposals would be pivotal in protecting the public and giving them the reassurances they need while out and about in our city.”

The public consultation on TfL’s safety proposals runs until June.

There’s currently no firm timeline for the regulator’s full reworking of its PHV framework.