Yes, we can hear readers once again wondering, What are they going on about now??! Quite simply, we are referring to the recently issued document “Future Proof – Taxi and Private Hire Services in London” published in December 2014 by the London Assembly Transport Committee. This is quite an eye-opening critique of the current overseeing of the capital’s taxi and private hire trades by the Mayor and Transport for London. The report’s recommendations – and the rationale behind them - really do merit a read.
First and foremost, it is interesting to note that the members of the London Assembly Transport Committee who considered this rather large albatross of a subject matter and put forward the recommendations to mend its wings, are considerably more versed and experienced in transport issues than, say, those of the Transport Select Committee who heard evidence in the initial stages of the Law Commission review. That’s a relief, for a start.
We will echo the sentiments of major trade stakeholders in London, and say that the recommendations are welcomed and applauded by most of those who have commented; however, we would also ask if the suggested to-do list has gone far enough to bridge the gaping chasm of communication, and relations generally, between TfL and the industry.
We’ll not reproduce word for word the 19 recommendations made by the Transport Committee in the document; you can see the full proposals at:
What we will say is that, amongst those recommendations, one of these is supposed to be dealt with immediately; six are down for adherence by March 2015 (one month away); eleven are deadlined by May 2015, and one is contingent upon the Law Commission review coming to fruition.
Is all this realistic? Are these deadlines achievable? Well... we’ll take a look at some of the recommendations and, rather than make accusations or inflammatory statements – which are both counter-productive and could be deemed to be inaccurate – we’ll tackle this as we do when preparing a case for hearing in a court of law: a touch of cross-examination by way of questions.
Recommendation 1 says that by May 2015, the Mayor should publish a long term strategy for the development of both taxi and private hire industries. This should encompass the continuance of both services; improvement of passenger and driver safety; guarantee sufficient numbers of quality drivers and vehicles; ensure all services meet the highest possible standards for accessibility; set out now TfL will strengthen its enforcement, and clamp down on illegal activity, within a clear and transparent governance and decision making framework.
Whoa! One recommendation? That covers the entire rest of the 18 of them! We can see how this was formulated, in response to such comments, for example, from business leaders who called upon TfL “to be proactive in setting standards for consumers and managing the regulating system in London rather than just seeing what the competition throws up.”
Recommendations 2, 3, and 4 mainly concern themselves with public awareness campaigns, driver and vehicle identification, a more comprehensive database to link drivers to vehicle and operator information, and a revised signage strategy. The NPHA has been jumping on these soapboxes ever since PHVs were licensed in 1998. Can the Mayor deal with all this before the General Election, in which he is also running for Parliament?
Recommendation 5 looks at incentivising cashless payments. Across the board? Mandate? What types of incentive? A lot of drivers are already up for it, and many already take cashless payment.
Recommendation 6 is all about monitoring and improving supply and demand for both services, leading specifically into the subject of taxi rank space provision. Evidently a “ranks plan” was one of the commitments in the Mayor’s 2012 transport manifesto; this has been awaiting clearance by TfL since September 2013. Meanwhile, TfL reported to the Transport Committee that appointing a new rank costs on average between £2,000 and £10,000; even assuming the lowest cost estimate, for their rank budget TfL would only have been able to appoint six ranks in total over the three-year period 2010-2013.
Meanwhile, the report confirms that – in line with the rest of the country, to be fair – London currently provides one rank space for approximately every ten taxis. But think on: according to TfL’s own website, on September 12, 2015 five entire Underground lines are to have most of their designated stations open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. And looking at the London Assembly document, we counted up at least 73 of those stations that still do not have a taxi rank within 250 metres of their entrance. Conservatively, it would cost in excess of £260,000 to put this right... has TfL got that in their 2014/15 budget?
So does that make Recommendation 7, where the Mayor and TfL are supposed to ensure by May that all Underground stations on the Night Tube network have a taxi rank in place by September, ever so slightly unrealistic? But this recommendation also prioritises rank provision in outer London, stresses public awareness of rank location (only a third of the public knew how to locate their nearest taxi rank), and requires clear guidance from the Mayor and TfL for event planners to ensure level-playing-field planning takes place in transport planning for major events and attractions. Bring it on.
As for accessibility issues, unless and until central Government enacts sections 165 to 167 of the Equality Act 2010, all the talk in the world about improved services for disabled passengers, or compellability to carry them as examined in Recommendation 9, is total wheel-spinning (pardon the expression). This legislation can, and would, bring private hire vehicles into the scope of wheelchair accessibility, and would enable the recommended 25 per cent WAV across the private hire fleet by 2018 to become a reality. We’ve been waiting for the nod on percentages of WAVs for both sides out in the provinces for some five years now... over to you, DfT.
We appreciate the concerns of TfL, the trade, safety groups and everyone who voiced their opinion about including destination in the private hire operator booking records. However, out in the sticks it has been upheld in Court that you cannot impose a condition on the passenger: if a lady wishes to keep her destination away from the base records, you can’t refuse to take her. And if the job is from HM Prison or Government offices, under the Official Secrets Act it would be an offence to record the journey for the purposes of complying with a condition of the licensing authority. As one barrister said (during an actual case), what’s it to be: risk a fine under the 1976 Act, or a ten-year prison sentence under the OSA?
So much of the Transport Committee report revolves around enforcement (or lack of same, with touting still rampant), increasing funding for more resources, stronger links between TfL and the Met Police, satellite offices, and a plethora of London-specific issues we just don’t have space to elaborate upon here. Recommendations 11 to 14 deal with these issues; will they merely be paid lip service, as was the ‘Cabbies Cabinet’ in 2012?
Some would say that the NPHA has no truck in the capital as we are national. We would debate that on two fronts: we have London members, and we believe we know the legislation. Further, we can confirm without a shadow of doubt that we field phone calls and emails every week from people who wish to get into the trade in London; when we refer them to TfL, they cannot get to speak to anybody. Existing licence holders with ‘issues’ often cannot speak to anybody. We cannot speak to anybody. So is this the breakdown in communication everyone is banging on about?
Let’s face it: very rarely do industry members in the capital see a human face from TfL. Penton Street is closed. Licence applications are dealt with at the Post Office. Vehicle testing is done in various locations; topographical testing for private hire drivers is outsourced to a number of centres across London, at least one of which we have been advised is – how shall we put this? – helping the drivers a bit too much with the answers. It is no wonder TfL is portrayed as the faceless overseer that, to quote one London private hire driver, is “just a cash machine. They are taking the money [for licences] but not doing anything for it.” Hello... is there anybody out there?
Back to the future: As one might imagine, there was quite a lot to say from all sides about the rising – one might say raging – trend towards app-based booking services. Everyone is well aware of the controversy surrounding Uber, most particularly in the capital where its first UK licence was first granted in 2012. Notwithstanding the current legal action pending in the courts, the Transport Committee highlighted the fact that “a lack of a level playing field on which future taxi and private hire service developments will occur would be a clear challenge to the public interest.”
So they’re not just considering what might be, justifiably, very sour grapes from the trade’s side surrounding the perceived threat from app-based companies, but globally the safety of the travelling public – which says a lot. “...The Mayor and TfL need to be prepared for the inevitable consequences of a transport environment in which technology is evolving faster than the legislation that is needed to govern its use.”
And again from the report: “Passengers will ultimately decide what they value about taxi and private hire services and which service providers best fulfil their needs. However, if TfL is seen to be publicly supporting companies that challenge its authority as a regulator, then it weakens its own position in dealing with future challenges.” Now that will be interesting... we all have to watch this space, with magnifying glass in hand.
Still looking forward, how does this London Assembly report dovetail with TfL’s proposals to conquer clean air by way of their “proposed world-first Ultra Low Emission Zone”? The consultation period for these proposals closed on the 9th January; it will be equally interesting to see how many of the proposals are to be enacted, particularly considering the effects on the licensed industry in the capital.
For example, it is proposed that cars and small vans must be Euro 6 emission standard for diesel engines (registered from 1 September 2015 so five years old or less in 2020) and Euro 4 for petrol engines (registered from 1 January 2006 so 14 years old or less in 2020). Non-compliant vehicles could still drive in the ULEZ (sorry... the Ultra Low Emission Zone, which doesn’t quite match up with the Congestion Charge map) but they would be required to pay a daily charge of £12.50.
Let’s see, what else... From 2018, it is proposed there will be a new requirement for all taxi and new private hire vehicles presented for licensing in the capital for the first time to be zero emission capable. Private hire vehicles would also be subject to the ULEZ standards in central London, and therefore liable for the charge if they don’t meet the emissions standards.
As London taxis are the second largest contributor to NOx and the largest contributor to PM10 emissions from road transport in central London, the ULEZ proposes to reduce the London-wide age limit for non zero emission capable taxis from 15 years to ten years. Ah, but in considering the impact of the reduced taxi age limit, the Mayor and TfL are proposing a specific fund (doesn’t say how much) to assist taxi drivers to replace their vehicles.
No mention of the 56,167 private hire vehicles in that compensatory clause, of course... So do they charge their customers the £12.50 then? Just wondering...
Anyway, following the consultation and recommendations to the Mayor, and contingent upon his decisions, TfL will decide whether to make changes to the licensing requirement for these vehicles. Here we go again. But how many of those requirements will yet again clobber the trade in their back pocket? In the Transport Committee report: “Both the taxi and private hire industries have expressed concerned about the [ULEZ] proposals, arguing that the constantly shifting goalposts create such uncertainty in the trades that drivers and operators have little incentive to absorb the cost of switching to newer, greener vehicles... Nissan has already suspended its work on a cleaner petrol taxi mode, and the future development of its electric model is also in doubt due to a lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles in London further depressing the market for new vehicles.”
Doom and gloom? You bet... but in terms of moving the industry forward in London generally, the reality is that a lot of homework needs doing – especially in the fields of transparency and communication – before TfL can get a more favourable or positive report card than, “Could do better next time...”
We await with extreme interest both further reaction from the London industry, and from TfL, in respect of the Transport Committee’s report – and indeed, what actions if any have resulted from its publication. In fact,
Recommendation 17 requests that “the Mayor, TfL and the industry should publish a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ which clearly sets out terms of reference – including specific service level agreements – and defines the respective roles, responsibilities and expectations of each party.”
This we gotta see!