The majority of people could be at risk of using illegally operating or ‘fake’ vehicles because they have little knowledge of how taxis and private hire vehicles (minicabs) can legally operate, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by Suzy Lamplugh Trust.

The poll reveals that eight out of ten people (80%) say that they have little or no knowledge about what taxis and minicabs are legally allowed to do. Only 15% of people feel knowledgeable about how taxis and minicabs can legally operate.

Private hire vehicles, which are also known as minicabs, can only be pre-booked via the phone or an app, and cannot be hailed on the street. In comparison, taxis can be pre-booked, hailed on the street and pick up customers at a taxi rank. Each type of vehicle should have a taxi or private hire vehicle licence plate clearly displayed.

Most worryingly, people do not know what minicabs are legally allowed to do when picking up passengers. Although all private hire vehicles must be pre-booked by law, one in five people (21%) think that minicabs can be hailed on the street, and a quarter of people (26%) believe minicabs can take passengers who approach them while parked.

This is concerning as licensed minicab drivers that pick up un-booked passengers are committing a criminal offence, and drivers that operate without a licence pose a serious risk to passenger safety. These illegal drivers and their vehicles are not subject to regulations, checks and journey recording. They are uninsured, unsafe and could be linked to more serious crimes, such as assault, rape and robbery.

The results of the survey suggest that illegal and unsafe touts may be able to pick up unsuspecting passengers. Across the country, two fifths of people (42%) have taken a taxi or minicab without checking for a licence on the vehicle first, and over half (57%) have taken a taxi or minicab without asking to see the driver’s ID badge first. Furthermore, 4% of people admit that they have used a taxi or minicab that they knew was illegal, with this number rising to 7% in London.

These statistics, which are published on National Personal Safety Day, raise personal safety concerns around illegally operating private hire vehicles. If people are unaware of how taxis and minicabs can legally operate, they are unable to check vehicles are acting legally, and cannot make a safe and informed choice.

Suzy Lamplugh Trust advises anyone using public transport to plan their journey before they go out, and to share information about their journey with someone they trust. If you’re using a taxi or minicab, check that a taxi or minicab licence is displayed on the vehicle, and ask to see the driver’s badge before you start your journey. If you’re using a minicab, remember it must be booked in advance. Always trust your instincts- if you feel worried or threatened, ask the driver to stop in a busy area so you can get out.

Rachel Griffin, Chief Executive of Suzy Lamplugh Trust, commented:

‘People have the right to be able to choose between the modes of transport they use, and to be safe when doing so. We are concerned that many people are unaware of the difference between taxis and minicabs, and may therefore not have the knowledge to make safe choices about which vehicles to use.

It is important that people are informed about their choices, and can easily identify licensed vehicles and distinguish between taxis and minicabs in their area. Licensed taxis and minicabs are regulated, and each type of vehicle must abide by rules which help to keep passengers and drivers safe.

It is never a victim’s fault if they are assaulted or experience aggression as a result of using a taxi or minicab, and any reports or concerns about drivers should be taken seriously by the police. Violent and aggressive incidents which take place on public transport are completely unacceptable, and perpetrators must be held to account for their actions.”

James Button, President of the Institute of Licensing and Solicitor, said:

“Taxis and private hire vehicles are a very safe and convenient form of transport, driven by drivers who have been vetted by the licensing authority and who provide a great service; however, there are always those who will try to take advantage of unsuspecting people. Although you might want to get home quickly, it is far better to get home safely. Always check that the vehicle has a licence plate or sticker displayed identifying the vehicle as either a hackney carriage or private hire vehicle, and ask to see the driver’s badge. Any licensed driver should be happy to show a passenger his badge, and if they can’t or won’t, don’t get into the vehicle. It is better to wait a few minutes for another vehicle than get into an unlicensed vehicle or ride with an unlicensed driver. You might be okay, but you might not, and that is simply not worth the risk.

I am delighted the Suzy Lamplugh Trust are emphasising taxis and private hire vehicles as part of their National Personal Safety Day and I am sure that it will help the public understand what they need to check before using a taxi or private hire vehicle. I hope that the licensed drivers, operators and vehicle proprietors will support it wholeheartedly, and the public will heed the advice.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2102 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th - 18th September 2017.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

For further information, please contact Alice Shaw at Suzy Lamplugh Trust at [email protected] or 07747 611 308.