In December, TfL co-hosted the fourth international taxi seminar in London.
Members from the International Association for Public Transport (UITP) from 23 countries joined Helen Chapman, general manager of TPH, to discuss the future role of taxis and private hire vehicles in a rapidly-changing technological landscape.
Although legislation differs across the globe, the challenges facing the industry are roughly the same and cover four main areas:
An increase in the number of vehicles and congestion
Accessibility and social inclusion
On the horizon
One of the liveliest sessions of the conference took delegates straight into the future world of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and their impact on the taxi and private hire trades. Led by Matthew Daus, president of the International Association of Transport Regulators in New York, it provoked more questions than answers.
With AVs already being trialled in many countries, they are a science fact rather than fantasy, but what will happen when they operate on our roads? Will there have to be segregated lanes separating them from conventional cars? Will passengers feel safe in them and how will insurance work if they are involved in collisions?
With the technology advancing fast, and Chancellor Philip Hammond wanting fully-autonomous cars to be on UK roads by 2021, AVs are a subject that will continue to provoke a lot of debate.
A number of measures to enhance the safety of passengers were set out in the Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan published in 2016.
Driver safety is also very important because drivers work alone, sometimes at night with inebriated passengers in their vehicle. The requirement for taxi drivers to accept credit cards and the increasing shift to cashless payments in both taxis and private hire vehicles could help to reduce crime against drivers.
Accessibility and social inclusion
Mobility-impaired customers and people from low income groups often rely on taxis and private hire vehicles for travel. In London, all taxis are wheelchair accessible and from 6 April last year, taxi and private hire drivers operating a wheelchair-accessible vehicle have been required to transport passengers in wheelchairs at no extra cost. Assistance dogs must also be carried with no extra charge to the passenger.
Dr Clare Linton, a researcher at the Urban Transport Group, which co-hosted the event, said: ‘Taxis and private hire vehicles provide consumer choice and a means of getting from A to B when public transport isn’t available. They are also a major source of employment. However, as the sector changes and grows the implications for a host of issues, including air quality, public safety and congestion, mean that we need a far more strategic approach at both national and local level. This will ensure the taxi and private hire sector provides a good and safe experience for users and drivers while going with the grain of wider policies to make our cities greener, more inclusive and less congested places.’
Mobiles for mobility
The area of technology that has had the biggest effect on the taxi and private hire trades isn’t in car design but the rise of the smartphone. This has led to a number of transport businesses developing apps to match drivers to passengers. Known as Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), their success has encouraged existing taxi and private hire operators to adopt TNC-type approaches, such as launching their own apps. Customers like them because they offer convenience and ease of use, while for companies they create security of payment and a record of vehicle location at all times.
The way ahead
As the industry changes there are a number of issues TfL would like to see addressed (as set out in the Mayor's Taxi and Private Hire Action Plan). These include:
Clear, statutory definitions of plying for hire and pre-booked services
Limiting the number of private hire vehicle and driver licences issued
Stopping cross-border hiring