Lewes sees surge in taxi applications after Uber closes London loophole

Posted On 07 Mar 2018 at 12:21 pm

Scores of taxi drivers have applied for new licenses in Lewes following Uber’s announcement it was to stop TfL licensed drivers using its app in Brighton and Hove, sparking fears Uber drivers are simply exploiting a different licensing loophole.

Brighton and Hove taxis protest in Lewes yesterday over fears Uber is directing its Brighton drivers to apply there for a licence

Brighton and Hove taxi drivers protested in Lewes yesterday – where 130 drivers have applied for a licence since Uber announced it was creating new regions within which its drivers would be able to work.

Many will have been directed there by the Uber website, which directly compares the estimated cost and time taken to obtain a license in the two authorities, saying it takes £1,112 and 40 weeks to get a drivers’ licence in Brighton compared to £422 and eight weeks in Lewes.

Brighton and Hove also has some of the stiffest licensing conditions in the country, many of which are outlined in what is known in the trade as the “blue book”, and include a requirement for CCTV and all new vehicles to be wheelchair accessible.

All Brighton and Hove based private hire operators require their drivers to be licensed by the city council – but Uber has until now allowed drivers licensed anywhere in the country to use the app within the city, taking advantage of the deregulation of cross-border restrictions.

Following protests from local authorities, who are unable to carry out enforcement on rogue drivers working on their patch if they are licensed elsewhere, Uber last month announced it was splitting the UK into regions, and drivers would only be able to work in the region in which they held a license.

But city taxi drivers – both private hire and hackney – say Lewes District Council’s taxi rules are more relaxed than Brighton’s, and believe Uber is directing Brighton based drivers previously licensed with TfL to apply there instead.

Andy Peters, secretary of the GMB Brighton and Hove taxi section, said: “The creation of oversized mythical ‘regions’ by Uber, serves only to further complicate, confuse and add more potential acrimony to a previously (prior to Uber’s arrival) simplistic system of local licensing.

“It will do nothing to eradicate the spectre of Uber vehicles licensed in one area but operating in another many, many miles away from enforcement and the prying eyes of their home licensing authority.

“Where this leaves passenger safety is again, anyone’s guess? This announcement is nothing more than the usual ‘smoke and mirrors’ and should be viewed with extreme caution and what’s more, taken with a bucket load of salt!”

A spokesman for Lewes District Council said: “If Lewes District Council receives an application for a Private Hire Licence, we have a duty to process the application.

“A licence will be granted if the driver is a fit and proper person. We are not able to refuse a licence on the basis that there are too many drivers or that they might operate outside our geographical area, in particular Brighton.

“The council understands the frustration this causes the taxi trade, but we are obliged to work within the legislative framework.”

The new regions are set to come into force on March 14. However, Uber is understood to have told drivers in some areas of the UK such as Surrey that they will be able to continue driving here until June.

Latest figures from TfL showed that 78 drivers were licensed with them using addresses with a BN1, BN2 or BN3 postcode.