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....LOOKING FORWARD


As society recovers it is tempting to wait until demand for licensed vehicles stabilises and the trade finds a new equilibrium, before evaluating how things have changed and whether any new measures such as policy changes or infrastructure changes are required. There is no certainty regarding when matters will stabilise. Equally, there is no real clarity regarding how we would know that matters have stabilised.


It is unlikely that rail passenger numbers will return to previous levels. Travel to work journeys are unlikely to return to previous patterns for many people. Changes in the way people work and where they live are already having an impact on residential rental values and property prices in urban centres and suburbs. Broadband capacity may become more important than proximity to a good rail service, when choosing a new home.


When we compare the number of licensed drivers to the num- ber of licensed vehicles in a licensing area, this statistic offers a good insight, in conjunction with other information, about the level of provision to the public. Indeed, in areas with a strong night-time economy (during pre-Covid times) a high driver to vehicle ratio was a good indicator that the trade responded to the increased levels of demand by utilising part- time drivers to increase levels of provision on Friday and Saturday nights.


Ultimately, we need to consider that, no matter how many vehicles are licensed as private hire vehicles or as hackney carriages, none of these vehicles drive themselves.


FLEET PROFILE CHANGES VERSUS DEMAND PROFILE CHANGES


A few years ago, we helped one authority to understand that potential changes to licensing policies would lead to a significant loss of WAV style vehicles in their fleet. The policy was modified to ensure that impact did not occur and the overall result was a much more measured and thought through implementation of their proposed policy changes.


We have also seen instances where policy changes have resulted in more vehicles operating in both private hire and hackney carriage fleets. However, the number of drivers did not increase significantly over previous levels. The consequence was that levels of provision overall did not rise significantly, but the profile of when services were provided did change. Anecdotally, there was increased overprovision of vehicles during periods of low demand and reduced availability during periods of peak demand. The reduced number of ‘second drivers’ or ‘weekend drivers’ in multi-shift vehicles meant that some of the previously multi- shift operated vehicles no longer serviced the Friday and Saturday night demand.


Covid has resulted in changes in the profile of demand. The night- time economy has been badly hit. Some feel that it will never recover to previous levels. Rail travel has been severely reduced. Rail passenger estimates from the Government’s Office of Rail and Road indicate that in the first quarter of 2020/21 financial year (April to June inclusive, 2020), rail passenger levels were around eight per cent of the equivalent level a year earlier. This 92% drop in passengers has had a knock-on impact on demand for hackney carriage and private hire vehicle hires from railway stations.


NOVEMBER 2020


As matters change and stabilise, it is important that all involved in licensed vehicle services, as providers and as licensing practition- ers, know what has changed and how this affects the provision of services to the public. We have included some illustrations of how some changes, such as more vehicles but no more drivers, or fewer drivers for existing vehicles, can influence provision, some- times to the detriment of the public. Some of these effects can be rather counter-intuitive. A ‘wait and see’ approach may result in damaging changes creeping in and resulting in poorer public benefit and long-term damage to the licensed vehicle trades.


LVSA AND THE WAY FORWARD


As an independent commercial organisation, people can be entirely honest and open with us about their expectations, reasons why they chose to leave the industry or to persevere, or what they are planning to do in reaction to future expected or unexpected changes. We can present results in an aggregate manner that protect the individual but benefit the public, trade and all involved in licensing for the good of all. We can very easily analyse the available information and propose mitigation based on hard evidence.


CONCLUSIONS – GET AHEAD OF THE GAME!


By Spring 2021 there will be over 30 authorities whose demand surveys will be beyond the three-year horizon suggested by the current Best Practice Guidance. There are already people putting in applications for licences in such areas hoping the lack of an up to date set of information will get them their licence. Beyond that, every single licensing authority will have been impacted by Covid-19 and possibly by other matters that have an enduring impact. The key is to think ahead and plan. If possible, gather some evidence such as from industry structure and from leaver interviews now.


Many are talking to us to obtain external independent help. If you are not already one of them, join in!


You can contact us by first emailing: ian.millership@lvsa.co.uk or iain.macdonald@lvsa.co.uk.


LVSA (Licensed Vehicle Surveys and Assessment) is a joint trading name of CTS Traffic and Transportation and Vector Transport Consultancy


www.lvsa.co.uk 71


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