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Hawthorne, J P
Sinclair Knight Merz (Europe)


1.1 Background

This paper sets out to consider a wide range of issues concerned with the
ambiguous status of taxis and PHVs on the private-public transport spectrum.

This is a very broad area, and research has identified more material than can
be included in a paper of this length. However, the role of taxis in airport
surface access illustrates many of the themes common to taxi operation in
other situations; the paper concentrates on this.

1.2 Structure of this paper

This paper initially considers taxis in relation to private car use, and draws out
possible definitions of taxis as public or private transport. It then sets in
context the value of modal shift from private cars to taxis at a national and
local level.

Using survey data from London, some inferences are drawn regarding taxi
activity when not engaged. Practical policy regarding taxi use is then
illustrated by examining the surface access strategies of a number of UK

Finally, the paper draws conclusions, and suggests further areas for

1.3 Definitions

Within the UK there are two main types of licensed vehicle which may
commonly be referred to as taxis:

• Hackney carriages
o Can be hired anywhere within the licensing area without pre
booking, e.g. from ranks or hailed on street. Can also be pre-
booked if required.
• Private Hire Vehicles
o Can only be pre-booked, by telephone/internet or at the
operator’s office. Cannot ply for hire on the street or use ranks.

In strict terms, only hackney carriages should be referred to as taxis.

However, at many locations where “taxi” services are advertised, in practice
this is through a PHV office with vehicles available for immediate hire. This
includes a number of airports.

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 1

Where this paper makes general reference to taxis, this usually includes
PHVs., However in later sections distinctions are drawn where necessary
between taxis and PHVs.


2.1 How do taxis compare with private cars?

Some of the commonly accepted benefits of using a private car to make a

journey include:

• Demand responsive – can travel at any time

• Door to door transport
• Privacy during journey – choice of travelling companions
• Capacity for luggage, shopping etc.

A common factor running through many of these benefits is that the car driver
is in control of the journey, whereas the use of other forms of transport implies
some surrender of control to the service provider.

However, it can also be argued that remaining in control of the journey also
brings responsibilities:

• Must be vehicle available

• Vehicle must be fit to make journey
• Driver must be licensed
• Driver must be in a fit state to drive
• Driver must make choice of route
• Driver must decide what to do with car when not being used – e.g.

Indeed, for some users, these responsibilities can be regarded as barriers to

entry; for example a non-car owning driver may only enjoy the benefits of car
use if they hire or borrow a vehicle, and non drivers can only enjoy the
benefits of car use as passengers.

Thus the benefits of using a private car are balanced with a set of
responsibilities, and the trade off between these benefits and responsibilities
can affect the choice between car and public transport.

Let us therefore consider how taxis fit into this analysis. Compared with the
benefits of car travel, taxis can offer broadly similar benefits: Yet using taxis
transfers many of the responsibilities using a car to the taxi operator and/or
taxi driver. Thus taxis can offer many (or even most) of the benefits of using a
private car with the advantage that the taxi driver also assumes responsibility
for route selection through to the passenger’s ultimate destination. Indeed, in
situations where the traveller is unfamiliar with the local roads, traffic, or the

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 2

exact location of their intended destination, taxis can offer significant
advantages to the use of private car.

Given this combination of benefits without responsibilities, it is hardly

surprising that taxis are a widely understood concept throughout the world,
which can transcend linguistic and cultural boundaries.

It can therefore be argued that much the attractiveness of taxis as a mode of

transport is achieved by externalising the responsibilities which are associated
with the use of private cars, even if the traveller is not themselves a car owner
or driver. As far as the person making the journey is concerned, they become
SEPs - Someone Else’s Problem.

And as Transport Planners, we are often the Someone Else.

2.2 Different perspectives on taxis as private or public transport

The concept of transfer of responsibilities inherent in using taxis also gives an

interesting insight into the question of whether taxis are private or public

• If we chose to define public transport by potential availability to a wide

range of possible users without the need for prior ownership or direct
control of the vehicle used, then taxis can be defined as public transport.

• But if we define public transport on the basis of potentially shared use of

the means of transport by more than one individual user (or group
travelling together), then non shared taxis could be defined as private

• And if as argued above, we regards taxis primarily as a means of

externalising the responsibilities which would otherwise fall on private car
users then they should surely be defined as private transport.

2.3 What characteristics do taxi journeys share with private car


Let us start by considering the differences between car use as driver and
passenger. In practice there are three main non-commercial categories as

• Car as driver
• Car as passenger – same journey as driver
• “Kiss and ride” (Car as passenger – driver as chauffeur)

In all cases below we will consider the journey as a means to an end, rather
than an end in itself.

• For car as driver, the main objective is to get from the origin to the
destination as effectively as possible, within a wider set of time and cost

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 3

considerations. Thus, although the route and even the end points of the
car journey may be varied according to the impact of congestion, tolls,
parking costs and congestion charges, the overall aim will be to minimise
“unproductive” distance travelled.

• For a passenger making the same, or a similar, journey as the driver, the
objectives will be as above if the passengers are part of a group. In a “car
pool” situation, there may be some additional distance travelled by the
driver to pick up (or set down) the additional passengers, but the overall
journey is also for the benefit of the driver.

• But for kiss and ride, the specific journey is purely for the benefit of the
passenger(s) and not the driver. In broader terms, there may still be
benefits to the driver, for example in availability of the vehicle for
subsequent journey, or as an element of trip chaining. Or there may be
benefits to the passenger which can be transferred to or shared with the
driver, such as the avoidance of parking costs at the destination. Indeed,
because the “unproductive” distance for the driver will always exceed (and
may even be double) the “productive” distance for the passenger, it could
be argued that there must be some form of benefit to the driver, even if it is
in the form of goodwill, friendship, respect, etc.

2.5 How do taxis compare with kiss and ride?

It can be argued that the kiss and ride category above generates the most
vehicle km per journey km and is therefore the least efficient form of private
car use. It could also be argued that it has most in common with taxi
operation. However, there are other factors which affect the overall efficiency
of taxi operation.

For a taxi driver, when hired the specific journey objective is the same as for
car as driver. If the journey is metered the driver will seek to minimise the
actual cost incurred against what can be recovered in meter charges; for non-
metered journeys the driver (or the PHV booking office) will seek to agree a
fare which gives an acceptable margin above the anticipated costs.

Depending on the destination of the journey, the taxi driver may have to wait
some time for another hiring, and/or incur empty running to the next pick-up,
nearest rank, or in cruising. In the worst case, if the drop off is beyond the
boundaries within which a taxi driver is permitted to ply for hire (or within
which a PHV may reasonably expect a booking), the driver may have no
option but to make an empty journey at least as far as the boundary.

For metered journeys, the tariff will thus include some recompense for empty
running and/or waiting time between hires. For negotiated fares, the driver (or
the PHV booking office) will seek to agree a fare which will include suitable
recompense for these factors. However, in situations where the use of a taxi
offers an opportunity for the passenger(s) to avoid additional costs at the
destination (e.g. parking charges), there may be scope where fares are
negotiated for drivers to seek to recover a share of the “savings” made by the

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 4

passenger(s), and thus allow a margin to cover higher levels of empty running
or waiting time than they might otherwise tolerate.

Thus although there remains an overall incentive for taxi drivers to minimise
empty running and/or waiting time, the actual levels tolerated may be higher if
there is scope to pass on the costs to passengers.


3.1 What can modal shift achieve?

In general terms, modal shift from private to public transport is regarded as a

“good thing”. But as the status of taxis as public transport is unclear, under
what circumstances is it sensible to encourage modal shift from private cars to

There are two key objectives where modal shift may potentially offer benefits,
but these have a different emphasis at national and local levels. These are:

• Reduction in vehicle numbers

• Reduction in vehicle kms

At national level, the objective is an absolute: an overall reduction in vehicle

numbers and/or kms (or at least restriction on rates of growth). But at a local
level, the objective may be achieved through displacement, with the vehicle
numbers and/or kms shifted to somewhere else (ideally where they will have
less impact!)

Objective National emphasis Local emphasis

Reduction in vehicle numbers • “Whole life costs” • Congestion
• Road capacity • Parking
• Road space
• Kerbspace
Reduction in vehicle kms • Emissions • Emissions
• Fuel supplies • Road capacity
• Road capacity

In comparing taxis to private cars on a journey by journey we can make two

general observations:

• Taxi journeys have a higher proportion of empty running to loaded

journeys than private cars (though there is generally an incentive for
drivers/operators to keep this to a minimum)
• Taxis have a higher proportion of loaded journeys per vehicle than private
cars, as there is an incentive for drivers/operators to maximise their return.
(However this will be skewed by the relative proportions of local and longer
distance journeys.)

In broad terms this implies that:

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 5

• Taxis can offer potential benefits in reducing vehicle numbers
• Taxis are less likely to offer benefits in reducing overall vehicle km, but
may do so in local situations

However this implication is primarily based on “car as driver” journeys. We

have already identified that kiss and ride journeys share many characteristics
with taxi journeys, but that taxi drivers will generally have a greater incentive
to minimise the empty running associated with these journeys than car

This implication is also based on the assumption that the taxi journey is a
direct replacement of the equivalent car journey. If the availability of taxis for
part of the journey influences the decision to switch the mode used for the
majority of the journey to another form of public transport, then the overall
saving, for example in road vehicle kms, could be much greater.

Thus the benefits or disbenefits of mode shift from private car to taxi are by no
means clear cut.

3.2 National effects

Taken at a national level the main emphasis on mode shift from private cars
to taxis would have to be based on reduction in vehicle numbers. In practice,
there are already financial incentives which can be recognised by car owners
(or potential owners) who are primarily seeking convenience. Avoidance of
the “standing costs” (depreciation, licensing, insurance, maintenance, etc) on
a low usage vehicle can cover the cost of a lot of taxi journeys (and short-term
hire when necessary)!

This logic can also be applied when considering the incremental costs and
benefits of additional cars in an existing car-owning household.

3.3 Local effects

At a local level, there may also be a desire to achieve absolute reduction in

vehicle numbers, for example in the context of parking provision for new
residential development. However, the primary focus of local reduction may
simply be a desire to reduce the number of cars entering an urban area from
elsewhere, as with the London Congestion Charge.

Particularly within the urban context, the higher proportion of loaded journeys
per vehicle which can be achieved by taxis can offer significant advantages in
requirements for parking spaces. Where on-street hailing is common, this can
also reduce the pressure on kerb space which might otherwise be required for
parking of private cars or ranking of taxis.

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 6

3.4 Wider benefits

Looking wider still, it can be argues that there are further factors which should
be taken into account when comparing taxis with private cars, for example,

• The overall value to the national economy of employment (including the

opportunities for self employment) within the taxi sector
• The potential value in accident savings in persuading unfit drivers to use

These are beyond the scope of this paper.


Where taxis are fitted with meters, these are regularly inspected by the local
licensing authorities. However, this inspection is solely to ensure that fares
are calculated accurately and in accordance with the current tariff – no data is
collected regarding the pattern of use or details of the fares actually charged.
Drivers and operators are free to arrange patterns of working to their own
benefit and requirements.

However, the Public Carriage Office (PCO) in London now conducts regular
Diary Surveys, the most recent of which was in 2006. This provides a useful
insight into the pattern of taxi operation in London. Three types of taxi/PHV
are considered:
• Green taxi badge – permitted to ply for hire across the whole of Greater
• Yellow taxi badge – permitted to ply for hire in one of nine suburban
sectors around London
• PHV badge – permitted pick up pre-booked passengers across the
whole of Greater London

Only Green taxi badge holders can ply for hire in central London or at

In the following summary “taxi” refers specifically to hackney carriages, with

separate data for PHVs. Key findings from the 2006 survey are:

Proportion of engaged time

• Taxi drivers are engaged (i.e. carrying a fare) for around half their shift,
a lower proportion compared with 2003 (50% v 57%). However
disengaged time prior to first fare was collected in the 2006 survey, but
not in the earlier 2003 survey.

• The proportion of engaged time was much higher for Green (all
London) taxi badge holders (52%) than Yellow (suburban, 35%).

• On average, PHV drivers are engaged for less than half (44%) of their
shift, a significant decrease compared with 2003 (57% engaged time).

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 7

Again, this probably reflects the fact that the calculation of the 2006
shift hours includes time spent before the first fare.

Activity during disengaged time

• Looking at taxi activity during the remaining disengaged time – when

the driver is not earning a fare – nearly half of the disengaged time
(47%) is spent cruising (looking for a fare). By comparison, time spent
waiting at rank (25%) or empty running (14%) account for a much
smaller proportion of disengaged time.

• Just under two in three of all taxi drivers (64%) work regularly from taxi
ranks although the proportion is much higher amongst Yellow
(suburban) badge holders (87% v 61%)

• For PHV drivers, the main activity during the disengaged time was
empty running (34%) followed by waiting elsewhere (27%) and waiting
in the office (25%).

Number of passengers carried

• Two in three taxi and PHV journeys carry just one passenger. Multi-
occupancy journeys are more evident amongst journeys made for
leisure and during the weekend night time bands.

Because the engaged/disengaged split is based on time, it is more difficult to

gauge the relationship between loaded and empty km. In this context cruising
for fares should also count as empty km. However, we can make some
inferences by cross reference with the activity during disengaged time, as

• Although Green taxi badge holders have more engaged time than
Yellow badge holders, more of their disengaged time is spent cruising.

• Yellow (suburban) taxi badge holders have less engaged time, but
spend more of their disengaged time on ranks.

• Because PHV drivers cannot ply for hire, most loaded journeys have a
matching empty journey. Because there is no scope for cruising, the
remainder of periods of disengaged time is typically spent waiting (in
the office or elsewhere)


5.1 The relevance of airport surface access

Airports are a natural focus of taxi operation, particularly if passengers arrive

or depart at times when they are less well served by other forms of transport.
They therefore provide a good opportunity to examine many of the issues
relating to the role of taxis in a relatively well defined environment.

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 8

Where airports are required to publish Surface Access Strategies, these
provide a useful insight both on the perception of the role of taxis as private
transport, and the relative importance of key issues between airports.

The following airports are considered in this paper:

Airport Approximate taxi/PHV share

of surface access
Heathrow 27%
Gatwick 13%
Stansted 11%
Luton 12%
London City 39%
Birmingham 15%
Manchester 27%

5.2 Strategies and Targets Paper

A Working Paper on “UK Airport Surface Access Strategies and Targets”

published in 2004 examined the Surface Access Strategies of 15 of the 27 UK
airports charged with producing a strategy. The aim of the paper was to
critically assess the targets for modal shift used by UK airports in order to
address their surface access problems.

The paper includes some relevant comments on the role of taxis and the
definition of public transport. The authors note that at one airport:

“Targets to achieve a certain percentage of surface access trips by

public transport modes had led to the relocation of car parks to a site
outside the airport boundary. Passengers park and catch a courtesy
bus into the terminal area and these are counted as public transport

They suggest that a metric of percentage using public transport may be

selected because it is relatively easy to measure, and that a metric based on
the ration between vehicle movements and number of passenger delivered
may be better. However they note that

“A target based on such a measure would expose the problem of

empty taxis circulating, the full implications of kiss and fly, and the
issue of courtesy buses from remote car parks carrying few people per

“This might incentivise airport management to promote long stay

parking for which two vehicle trips are made, as opposed to the
practice of taxi or Kiss and ride access where four vehicle trips are
made to deliver a passenger to/from the airport”

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 9

5.3 Manchester

Of the airports considered, this has one of the highest levels of private hire
and taxi use at any UK Airport (27%), and the Manchester Ground Transport
Plan has a particularly well-developed policy towards taxis. The Plan notes

“Passenger access is still dominated by private car drop off and taxi. In
2005, these modes accounted for 60% of passenger movements. Taxis
and private car pick up and drop off generate four vehicle trips per
return air trip. This is in contrast to two trips when passengers park at
the Airport.”

The high level of taxi use brings a number of problems:

“Despite the obvious benefits that taxis bring to users, there are issues that
follow from such a high level of use
• As private hire taxis have to be pre-booked, most taxi journeys are
made on a one-way basis, with the taxi either leaving or entering the
Airport empty. This inevitably generates twice the number of vehicle
trips than if the same journey was made in a car that was parked on
the site. Conversely, taxis may carry more passengers than a private
• The high level of private hire taxi use puts added pressure, and
increases congestion on our forecourts.
• Fly parking on local residential roads around the Airport, and on
commercial premises such as the petrol stations while drivers wait for
the passengers, is increasing.”

The plan sets out a hierarchy of preferred travel choices, which places parking
on site above taxi.

Source: Manchester Airport Ground Transport Plan

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 10

Each mode of transport serving the airport is subject to a SWOT analysis,
which is then used to draw out a series of policy objectives.

Source: Manchester Airport Ground Transport Plan

In particular, Manchester Airport is keen to reduce empty running:

“In order to reduce the environmental impact and improve efficiency of

our taxi operations, our strategy addresses ways to reduce the number
of ‘empty’ journeys to or from the Airport and to encourage multiple-
occupancy of vehicles through the use of taxi bus services.”

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 11

5.4 Birmingham

With only some 15% of passengers using taxis, Birmingham Airport’s profile is
somewhat different to that of Manchester or Heathrow. However, the
approach in the Surface Access Strategy encompasses some of the some of
the thinking set out in the “Strategies and Targets” paper noted in section 5.2.

“In terms of defining the targets, “public transport” is now defined as

everything except car and taxi, for both passengers and employees, so
that the targets effectively relate to reducing the percentage of people
arriving by car and taxi.”

So far so good, but

“In terms of passengers, off-site car parks are now included as public
transport, in order to reflect the fact that these passengers arrive in a
bus, thus reducing local congestion.”

This indicates a narrow focus on activity within the airport perimeter, however
there is a concession that “these trips will continue to be identified separately
in the more detailed figures”.

The focus on vehicle movements is further emphasised:

“However, regardless of the Public Transport Modal Share, it is the

overall level of surface access movements that is very important.
Therefore, a new measure has been introduced based on its key
visible impact - the total number of vehicles entering and leaving the
Airport site.”

In common with the other airports with broadly similar taxi shares,
Birmingham Airport is keen to emphasis that it remains committed to
developing taxi facilities:

“Appropriate and convenient facilities for taxi services (including

hackney carriages, private hire vehicles and executive limousines) will
need to be maintained as a matter of good customer service, and,
where possible, improved as the Airport continues to develop and

However, it is recognised that “such taxi services, particularly private hire

vehicles and executive limousines, generate ‘double’ vehicle trips per
passenger movements and contribute significantly to set-down and pick-up

But here again, the value of parking as a tool is emphasised:

“The biggest deterrent to car use is the cost of car parking. This leads
to above average use of taxis, private hire vehicles and set-down and
pick-up at airports, compared to other land uses. As these modes

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 12

generate twice as much traffic as passengers who park, the balance
between them is important in terms of the overall level of traffic

5.6 Heathrow

At Heathrow, some 27% of non-transfer passengers use taxis (2007 data), a

similar proportion to that at Manchester. The Heathrow Surface Access
Strategy is more specifically focussed on emissions than at Gatwick, and
takes a similar approach to Birmingham. Indeed, it identifies that:

“Airport surface access strategies (ASAS) have largely focused upon

improving the sustainable access to airports by seeking to increase the
public transport mode share of passengers travelling to and from the
airport. In general terms, such an approach does also bring about a
reduction in the carbon impact of surface access. However, a greater
focus on the individual surface transport activities should allow the
more carbon intensive activities to be identified and targeted.”

It goes on to estimate that 70% of CO2 emission from surface access modes
are generated by “Kiss and fly”, and 4% by taxis. Thus one of the stated ‘New
targets and objectives’ is to:

“Develop a scheme to reduce vehicle miles driven on the airport

landside roads, concentrating on taxi, visiting friends and relatives and
kiss and fly activities.”

As with Birmingham, this objective is carried through into the car parking
strategy, where:

“The overall objective … is to ensure that the parking facilities are used
as efficiently as possible. This objective is consistent with our approach
to sustainable development, which recognises the need to provide
parking spaces for passengers wishing to park and fly. Failure to do so
would result in an increase in kiss and fly, with four road trips being
made by car or taxi rather than two. We aim to reduce the present level
of kiss and fly; it should be noted that one potential route is to increase
the amount of long-term parking available to air passengers.”

However, there is some recognition of the value in reducing road journey kms
outside the airport boundaries. The strategy notes that the development of
Crossrail to provide a link to Canary Wharf could reduce demand for cross-
London taxi journeys. This presumably includes journeys to Paddington to
catch the Heathrow Express.

5.7 London City

With 39% of surface access by taxi, PHV or limousine London City Airport is
unusual among the airports in regarding taxis as public transport – though this

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 13

applies only to hackney carriages (22%) with PHVs regarded as private

The airport is close to central London, particularly to the financial centre at

Canary Wharf, and is in an area where taxis regularly ply for hire, thus
• there are more opportunities for taxis to seek hires both to and from the
• supply can be managed using a “beacon” arrangement to indicate to
passing taxis on the adjacent main road that there is a demand for

5.5 Gatwick

The Gatwick Surface Access Strategy 2000 – 2008 was the subject of a paper
presented to the European Transport Conference in 2004 by Roger Jones of
West Sussex County Council entitled “An innovative surface access strategy
for a major UK Airport”.

Whilst that paper was primarily concerned with innovations in partnership and
delivery, there is evidence that other airports have sought to match the
standards set by the original Gatwick Surface Access Strategy.

With a taxi/PHV share of 13%, Gatwick is in a similar situation to Manchester,

however unlike Manchester and Heathrow, local taxis are not permitted to ply
for hire at the airport, and arriving air passengers (except those who have pre-
booked with off-airport operators) are directed to contracted PHV operators
with booking offices on site.

The current strategy was published in 2007 and one of the three main
objectives is to:

“Reduce the rate of growth of trips by private car and taxi to and from
the airport by encouraging greater use of public transport”

However the strategy goes on to note that:

“Although [taxis are] not traditionally regarded as public transport, we

are keen to improve the sustainability of this highly flexible mode of
transport. We intend to do this by encouraging operators to proactively
market taxi-sharing and to seek bookings for in-bound journeys to the
airport, thereby reducing the number of empty return taxi movements.”

And that in the context of the increasing number of early morning departures
by low-cost operators

“At those hours there aren’t many public transport options, meaning
driving or getting a taxi are the only practical ways to get to the airport.”

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 14

5.8 Stansted

At Stansted, the proportion of passengers using taxis and PHVs is relatively

low at 11%. As with Heathrow and Gatwick, this is counted as private
transport. As at Gatwick local taxis cannot ply for hire, and arriving air
passengers are directed to a contracted PHV operator.

Thus the main objective of the Surface Access Strategy is to increase the
public transport share of surface access from a current level of 33% to 35%.

The Strategy makes no specific mention of kiss and fly.

5.9 Luton

At Luton, the taxi share of 12% is similar to Stansted. The Luton Surface
Access Strategy is positive about the role of taxis;

“Taxi remains a convenient and cost effective mode of transport for

many airport users.”

However, the Strategy notes that Luton Airport is considering the potential for
taxi sharing.

Interestingly, the strategy also notes that Kiss and fly at Luton is declining;

“An important consideration is the reduction in drop-off activity. Drop-off

typically requires vehicle trips for a returning passenger group, and as
such, would have a greater environmental impact, Since 2002, the
proportion of passenger drop-offs at LLA have decreased from 31% to
25%, against a growing passenger base.


Within the confines of this paper, there are many areas which it has not been
possible to cover. Even within the specific context of airport access, there is
not space to consider issues including permits and charges, and the
restriction of operators allowed to pick up.

However, there appears to be a general consensus, at least in the context of

airport access, that mode shift from car to taxis may not always be beneficial,
though there are difference policy approaches.

There is an increasing recognition of the problems of empty running, and a

new emphasis on the development of shared minibus services as a better
alternative to car and taxi.

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 15


Taxi/PHV Diary Survey 2006

Report prepared for Public Carriage Office
By GfK Consumer
June 2007
(with thanks to the PCO for permission to use in the preparation of this paper)

An innovative surface access strategy for a major UK Airport

Roger Jones, West Sussex County Council
Association for European Transport 2004

UK airport surface access targets and targets

Ian Humphreys, Stephen Ison, and Kelly Aldridge
Transport Studies Group, Loughborough University
Graham Francis
Department of Accounting, Waikato University

© Association for European Transport and contributors 2009 16