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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Hiring stretch limos or minibuses with drivers

It is important to know that any vehicle you hire is safe and the driver is fully licensed. This includes limousines, novelty vehicles such as fire engines, or minibuses. Learn about the licensing rules and how to check whether a firm or driver is licensed.

The basics of hiring

If you are planning to hire a vehicle with a driver for a big night out, it is important you use a licensed operator. If the operator is unlicensed, their vehicles and drivers may not meet legal requirements - they could be unsafe and uninsured.

When you hire a vehicle with a driver exclusively for your group, the licence the operator needs depends on the size of their vehicles.

Vehicles that carry eight or fewer passengers and are hired exclusively to an individual or group are classed as private hire vehicles (PHVs). The operating company must have a PHV operator's licence and the driver and vehicle also need PHV licences.

Vehicles that carry more than eight passengers are classed as public service vehicles (PSVs) and the operating company needs a PSV operator's licence.

Vehicles for eight or fewer passengers (PHVs)

Finding a licensed private hire vehicle (PHV) in London

PHVs in London are licensed annually by Transport for London (TfL). TfL also makes sure all licensed vehicles meet safety and accessibility standards.

PHVs licensed in London must have special discs on their windscreen and rear window showing their licence status.

To find or check a PHV operator in London, follow the links below.

Finding a licensed private hire vehicle (PHV) outside London

Outside London, local authorities (district/borough councils or unitary authorities) are responsible for licensing PHVs and taxis.

The PHV licensing rules mean that a local licensing authority can grant a PHV licence for a vehicle so long as it is:

  • suitable in type, size and design for use as a private hire vehicle
  • not designed to look like a hackney carriage (black cab taxi)
  • in a suitable mechanical condition
  • safe
  • comfortable

Local licensing authorities will also check that the vehicles are properly insured.

You can find out more, including which operators are licensed in your area, by contacting your local council.

Check your PHV driver is licensed

Every driver of a PHV must by law have a PHV driver licence. This is separate from the standard driving licence.

Before they grant a PHV driver licence, authorities will check that an applicant is a fit and proper person to hold such a licence. Local authorities vary, but their checks would normally involve:

  • criminal record check
  • local area knowledge test
  • medical check
  • special driving test (the Driving Standards Agency has devised a special taxi/PHV driving test)

PHV and taxi drivers should normally wear a badge showing their licence number. You can also check whether a driver is licensed by contacting your local council.

Vehicles for more than eight passengers (PSVs)

A vehicle that carries more than eight passengers is classed as a public service vehicle (PSV). These are licensed by Traffic Commissioners.

Check a PSV operator is licensed

Look for the disc

A licensed public service vehicle must display a disc like the one shown in the top part of the picture

You should check that a PSV is licensed before you book. Always ask the operator if they are licensed, and make a note of their licence number.

If you want to check further you can do so by calling the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) helpline on 0300 123 9000. Ask the VOSA adviser to check the PSV number and confirm the company it has been issued to.

You can also run the same check yourself by following the link below to the VOSA database.

Find a licensed PSV operator

The VOSA database covers all PSVs (mostly buses and coaches). To get a list of licensed operators, search by 'operator/trading name' and enter a broad search term like '*limo*'. The asterisks allow the search engine to find the term even if it has other words before or after it in the company name.

Ensure your PSV hire includes a driver

Avoid hiring a PSV from a company that does not supply a driver with the vehicle. Operators that tell you to hire a driver separately and give you a list of possible drivers are likely to be unlicensed and operating illegally.

How to report illegal activities

Firms that are not licensed are operating illegally and putting passengers at risk.

It is also illegal to sell alcohol to passengers as part of an 'all-in' deal.

If you suspect a firm is acting illegally you can call the VOSA hotline on 0300 123 9000 and report the matter in confidence.

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