14 Feb ‘PH’ Taxis: Regularisation from an Insurance Law Perspective
Operating a motor vehicle as a ‘PH’ taxi (private hire taxi) is illegal. Some argue that PH taxis provide a necessary service for the general public in Trinidad and Tobago particularly in areas or along routes that are not routinely serviced by public transportation vehicles or registered taxis. This argument does not change the fact that operating a private motor-vehicle as a ‘PH’ is in direct violation of existing laws and likely the insurance policy obtained in respect of such a vehicle. Unfortunately, arising from several recent tragedies involving young women who were allegedly passengers in such vehicles, comes clamour for change, including a renewed vigour to examine the issue of ‘regularising’ PH Taxi’s.
All public transportation services are legislated and regulated at a national level. The relevant laws and regulations include the Motor Vehicles Insurance (Third-Party Risks) Act Chap 48:51; the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act Chap 48:50 and Regulations and the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Enforcement and Administration) Act Chap 48:52. Pursuant to the MVRT Act and the MVRT Regulations, a distinction is made between private vehicles and vehicles used for public transportation. Accordingly a motor vehicle approved by the Licensing Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (“the Authority”) for private use exclusively with seating accommodation for not more than eight persons is considered a private motor car and a motor vehicle used for carrying passengers for hire or reward, whether at separate and distinct fares for their respective places or not is considered a public service vehicle.
A motor car registered by the Authority for private use is prohibited by law from providing rides in exchange for money. Pursuant to section 8 of the MVRT Regulations, “No person shall use a motor vehicle for a purpose other than that for which it is registered.” As such, the use of a private registered motor vehicle for hire or reward is an offence in Trinidad and Tobago. According to the MVRT (Enforcement and Administration) Act: First Schedule, item 2, failure to comply with the regulation attracts a fixed penalty of TT$750.00.
As we are no doubt aware, this law is not enforced with any real consistency and there are in fact many motor vehicles registered by the Authority for private use which are illegally plied for hire and reward, referred to as ‘PH’ taxis.
Motor Vehicle Insurance Requirements
The Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act, Chap 48:51, Section 5 requires that a Certificate of Insurance be issued as evidence that there is an insurance policy in force that covers personal injury and property damage that may be caused by the motor vehicle. Motorists are required to produce a valid Certificate of Insurance on demand by a law enforcement officer or an officer of the Transport and Licensing Authority. This Act requires that, at a minimum, every motor vehicle must be insured against third party risks. It is therefore compulsory for all vehicles to carry at least third-party motor insurance cover for use on all public roads.
Limitations to Use
Typically, a policy of insurance obtained in respect of a motor vehicle would indicate “limitations as to the use” of that vehicle. Limitations as to the use may specifically restrict the use of a private motor vehicle to “social, domestic and pleasure purposes” and the carrying out of such activities may be done by an authorized driver. Therefore, the operation of a vehicle for hire with these limitations is in fact in contravention to the policy of insurance. The risk is a heavy one for those who use their private motor vehicle as a taxi. If there is an accident, the law does not permit an insurance company to deny liability to a third party even if the driver of the insured motor vehicle was not operating in accordance with the terms of the insurance contract. However, the insurance company can refuse to pay its client’s own damage – that is, the damage to your own motor vehicle even under a Full Comprehensive section of the policy, since you are in breach of your contract. Moreover, even where an insurance company settles third party claims, it is generally entitled to recover its pay-out from its insured personally.
If ‘PH’ taxis are ‘regularised’ – whatever this means, how will the licensing of private hire vehicles affect existing Insurance laws and policies? Would premiums rise? Have Insurance companies been consulted with respect to the insurance of such vehicles to cover passengers? This is just one of the many issues to consider. In this regard, the national discussion in this arena should continue to a sensible and meaningful resolution, hopefully without further tragedy as its impetus.