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Part Two: TfL’s Helen Chapman talks EV taxis and The Knowledge

Helen Chapman has been a mainstay at Transport for London for a number of years. Occupying various roles within the taxi and private hire department, Helen is now TfLs director of licensing, regulation and charging. TaxiPoint’s UK Editor Steve Kenton would like to welcome Helen Chapman and you the reader to an EXCLUSIVE two part interview covering all things taxi related. Today we talk about the new electric taxis entering the trade plus the future of the Knowledge. 

So let’s get started! 

Can we hear your thoughts on the new electric EV taxi; what benefits do you envisage them bringing to the capital and to the driver?

I think the new vehicles are fantastic, they really are a modern, state of the art vehicle, you have the phone charger, the panoramic roof, the forward facing wheelchair access, which is really important and well received from the disabled community, as well as being zero-emission capable. Driver feedback has been very positive so far. Right now there are over 300 licensed and they look great and I’m not surprised there is a waiting list for them

We are also expecting the new Nissan Dynamo vehicle to enter the London taxi market later this year. It will be great to have two new and modern vehicles and, importantly, a choice for drivers which helps keep prices competitive.

There is a distinct lack of charging points across London, what is the plan to expand on the number of charge points.

At TfL we are working hard to increase the number of charge points across the capital as more and more ZEC taxis are licensed.

There have been challenges in trying to get agreement for the kerbside space to install more charge points. There are now, well over 100 rapid charge points in London and over 55 of those are dedicated to taxis only. We have come to a deal with Q Parks in central London whereby taxis won’t have to pay to enter the car parks and charge their vehicle. We are aware that there is a need for more rapid chargers in London and we are working on that. What we need is support from the taxi trade to lobby for kerbspace for chargers. We are also aware that residential chargers will be needed across London for cabbies to charge their vehicle overnight, which is also something which we are working on with the London boroughs. Drivers can approach local authorities directly and request a charger near where they live.

The 15 year age limit on taxis was brought in to try and tackle pollution in London, given that all new taxis are zero emission capable, is there any reason that the 15 year age limit cannot be lifted?

You are right in saying that the age limit was primarily brought in to tackle the air quality in London and now we have new vehicles it is something we will keep under review. It’s too early to consider policy changes with just over 300 ZEC taxis licensed right now.

At the moment out of 22,000 vehicles on the road, 300 are zero emissions capable, we expect that to rise as the manufacturer ramps up production to meet demand and the Nissan Dynamo becomes available.

A large proportion of the cost involved in buying a new EV taxi on finance centres around interest charges. For example, the current PCP offer from LEVC pushes the cash price of the vehicle from £55,599 to £68,007. Are TfL or City Hall considering establishing any initiatives to combat this, such as buying the vehicles and selling them back to drivers interest free to increase uptake?

As you know there are a number of grants in place to help drivers to purchase the vehicle, but we do understand that it's still quite a large outlay.

There are all sorts of issues, including state aid issues, if TfL were to purchase and then sell or lease back the vehicles to drivers because taxi drivers are self-employed. That said, it’s important we keep an open mind as to what we can do to accelerate cleaning up London's air quality and the taxi trade needs to play its part in this. Taxis are a significant contributor to pollution in the capital, and are responsible for over 20 per cent of both NOx and PM from road transport emissions in central London. Following the requirement that from 1 January this year all new taxis licensed for the first time have to be zero emission capable and no new diesel taxis being licensed, It is envisaged that by the end of 2020 NOx from black cabs in London could be reduced by around 45 per cent.

One of the issues that has been identified is that given the state of the trade at the moment a lot of driver's are struggling financially and are now suffering with adverse markers on their credit files, therefore making it impossible to either lease or buy a vehicle.

We have also been made aware that garages may be forced to close because they can't afford to either purchase the new vehicles or are re-invest money to bring their garages up to the conditions required to facilitate repairing electric vehicles, which could cost in excess of £100,000

We haven’t heard of an issue with garages and we understand there is a waiting list for new vehicles, I think we need to look into that a little bit more if drivers are struggling to get finance or if it's impacting specific garages. We have launched the delicensing scheme to help drivers and we will continue to lobby government to try and get more funding. Obviously we will continue to review what more we can do to encourage the uptake of the new, cleaner vehicles.

In relation to the garage issues it's probably something that garage owners need to speak to the manufacturers about. I recall it was something that LEVC were giving consideration to while they were developing the vehicle.

With the impending ULEZ charge starting in 2019 and ZEZ being brought forward to 2020, do you expect diesel taxis still operating within their 15 year age limits to be exempt from all emission charges operational in London at that time?

I think it's a bit too early for us to give a definitive answer one way or the other. The indications with there being a waiting list for the new vehicle is very promising, we need to look at how that plays out in the coming months and years and determine what else we need to do to encourage the uptake of cleaner vehicles.

It's something we would be very happy to come back and talk to you about next year but it's not something I can answer right now. There has been no plans to remove taxis from the list of exemptions from the ULEZ charge.

Given that the uptake of The Knowledge has decreased, quite alarmingly, would you consider an event or campaign similar to TfL‘s Year of the Bus 2014 that would help promote the taxi trade, the Knowledge and its history within London?

Also what can the taxi industry do to help promote The Knowledge?

There have been quite a few things we've been doing to help promote The Knowledge.

In 2014 we did an event at City Hall to celebrate 150 years of The Knowledge, we were also heavily engaged with Channel 4 when they produced The Knowledge documentary. That documentary sparked a real interest in The Knowledge and we saw a spike in people looking at the Knowledge pages of our website immediately after the documentary aired. . It was also the top trending item on Twitter in the UK when it aired.  We are working with other national broadcasters so as we can get more features done on The Knowledge. We are also working to try and get the Knowledge recognised as a professionally accredited qualification. What taxi drivers have to go through when doing The Knowledge is a professional qualification and it's right the taxi drivers should be recognised for that.

Regardless as to whether something is a recognised qualification or not, we have a situation at the moment where we have fully qualified men and women who have made a cerebral and financial investment in their career, juxtaposed against an unqualified workforce, specifically the private hire industry with no vocational qualification and no secondary driving licence to all intents and purposes operating as taxi drivers, not just in London but in the whole of the UK. 

Therefore it seems as though the knowledge become disincentivised, after all who would study for two or three years if an individual can get into a Toyota Prius or a Ford Mondeo, without jumping through any of the hoops forced upon the licensed taxi industry and in effect operate as a taxi driver.

I'm not sure I agree with you, we are driving up the standards within the private hire industry all of the time.

We had a huge review of our regulations back in 2016, which is when we implemented things such as the English language test, we implemented additional requirements on operators, we set out whole range of new regulations. Last week we closed a consultation as to how we can further drive up standards, including proposals for an advanced driving test, enhancing and improving vehicle signage. Later this year we will be launching another safety consultation on PHVs, which will go further,  looking at what requirements we can put on operators to provide training to drivers, to make sure passengers are safe when using ride-sharing services, which is legal under the Transport Act. So I think that there is a whole range of safety measures, and we have spent several years focusing on really driving up the safety standards in London, and we will continue to do that. Getting back to your question as to how the taxi industry can help promote itself, I think the taxi Trade does have a vital role to play in working with us (TfL) on promoting The Knowledge. We had a meeting with taxi trade representatives a few months ago to talk about general ideas as to how we promote the industry and how to make it clear that there is still a living to be had from the industry. I do think that sometimes the taxi trade doesn't help itself where social media platforms are concerned. I've seen some horrific social media posts that really aren't doing the taxi trade any favours,  aimed at customers that choose to use other private hire firms. Some of the vitriol that is directed at those people is mind-boggling, how anybody would ever think that they would get into the back of a taxi after enduring that is beyond belief. There isn't room in the industry,  and TfL doesn't want to be licensing anyone on either side,  whether it be a taxi driver or a private hire driver, if we think somebody might be a danger to the public, and some of the views expressed, whether it be sexist, homophobic, racist or whatever it might be, there is no place in the industry for those type of views. 

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