What is taxi touting? The term can be used to cover a number of offences which relate to the carrying of passengers for hire or reward.
First of all, there is a particular offence of touting which is committed when a person who is not the holder of a "Hackney Carriage" licence (a licence to operate a taxi, as opposed to a Private Hire vehicle) "solicits" a person to hire him for a journey.
There are then a number of offences which are contrary to the regime of licensing operated in London by TfL - Transport for London - and elsewhere by Local Authorities. These make it an offence for a person (whether he has a Private Hire Driver's permit or not) to accept a private hire booking, other than at the designated office of a licensed private hire operator: where a private hire driver accepts a booking in the street from a passenger, he has committed that offence. It is also an offence to take private hire bookings, without an operator's licence.
The offence of touting for hire car services is committed even where a properly licensed taxi driver touts for trade - i.e. approaches customers rather than waiting to be approached. This would rarely be prosecuted.
"Plying for Hire" is yet another distinct offence, which is committed when a vehicle without a hackney carriage licence, is located in such a way that it can be said to be seeking to attract customers on the street to hire it. This offence is most often prosecuted when TfL detects a vehicle with a licence from outside the TfL area, waiting on TfL regulated territory for bookings to be relayed from the operator's office.
Most prosecutions result when a driver with a private hire vehicle ("PHV") licence accepts or touts for a booking in the street, or where a driver with no taxi licence of any description offers to carry passengers for hire or reward. Many city police forces including the Metropolitan Police mount "sting" operations to detect taxi touting, deploying officers in plain clothes who pose as potential customers, and TfL has its own staff of Inspectors engaged in the same activity. Even where such a "customer" initiates the booking, the offence can be committed if the court is sure that the officers did no more than provide an opportunity for the accused to commit the offence.
An unfortunate consequence of this offence is that touting, or driving/operating a PHV vehicle in breach of the terms of TfL licence, almost always means that the terms of your insurance policy will have been broken, meaning that you will likely also be charged with the offence of driving without insurance.
Penalties for Taxi touting
Disqualification is discretionary for this offence. A driver with a PHV licence who touts of or accepts a booking other than through the operator's office is likely to face a fine and three to six months' disqualification. A driver with no taxi licence at all, may face up to twelve months' disqualification.
These penalties will normally be accompanied by a fine which may vary from 50% to 175% of "relevant weekly income" - which means weekly income after deductions and the subtraction of living expenses. Relevant weekly income is always assumed to be at least £100 and may be assumed to be £350 where the court has no information about a defendant's income.
If the vehicle is in a poor or dangerous condition or has no MOT certificate, this will be considered to make the offence more serious.
Repeat offences will result in disqualification in all but the most exceptional cases.
Even, however, if a driver is not disqualified from driving by the Court, he will almost inevitably lose his TfL PHV Driver's permit. It is a condition of holding a TfL driver's permit, that the holder notify the Public Carriage Office of any motoring conviction - including any touting conviction - within 21 days. Failure to do so can itself lead to the withdrawal of the licence.
It is TfL's policy that a person convicted of a touting offence or a breach of licensing regulations, is not considered a "fit and proper person" to hold a PHV Driver's licence. TfL will in almost all cases, cancel the driver's PVH Driver's licence and will not grant an application for a new PHV Driver's licence for at least twelve months.
Mounting a successful defence to charges of this nature can be very difficult as the evidence against you will almost always come from "professional witnesses" - police officers or TfL Inspectors, who know exactly what they need to say in the witness box, to be sure of a conviction. But it is not impossible, and it is understandable that a driver who is facing the loss of his only livelihood, may want to take even the slimmest changes of escaping conviction and the inevitable penalties.